I have learned some things about early trains, planes and buses; don’t go to sleep before you have showered, shaved and dressed. Don’t go to sleep before you have shat, packed and checked your travel documents, don't go to sleep until you are ready, set and in position.
I had an early morning train to Warsaw, Monday at 9 and I had to go there only to leave on the late night train back to Gdansk to catch my mid-morning flight back to Oslo. And there was no way in the world I was missing that train. I’ll sleep on the train I told myself as I tried to get directions from a polish populace that don’t all speak English, I’ll sleep on the train I said as I went around and around the station trying to find my way to Warsaw, I’ll sleep on the train I said as finally with ticket at hand I had to wait for an hour on the platform before it was time to leave. While waiting I sank my eyes into another book by a highly recommended polish author, this time the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I had watched the movie based on this book and absolutely loved it. Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Ford Copolla, starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall. A story about a man whose soul was claimed by the jungle, a man who lost it all to the shadows and the divine darkness inside them, lost his way, lost his purpose and found a new one in service to the strange gods who live in places we can’t find unless we can't find ourselves.
Then I got on the train and slept. Oh polish trains, so comfortable, I stretched myself out panther like, well like a foetal panther but in comparison to most of the trains I had been riding I was sleeping in the living room of luxury, the lap of laziness. The toilets may have been my favourite, clean, sparse with the requisite no smoking signs on the windows and a stream of ice-cold water whenever I pressed the button, water gushing out in a stream so long and delicious my thirst was quenched and my bladder filled before another few hours passed. And I slept and got up and slept again and got up again .
And I remembered being at this AIESEC conference last year where I met the most charismatic man I have ever seen in action. At 50 years old he had this group of 20 somethings mum listening to his every word as he held forth on the ingredients of the normal aiesec relationship, in the middle of a night party. First it has to be this really great person. A person with all the ideals you grew up for, who wants to change the world or maybe just be happy in it. Someone who has had all these experiences that make them so different from whoever else is around, yet familiar to whoever you held in your head as the person you thought about. Then it has to be geographically impossible. A continent’s distance isn’t enough? What? Stick an ocean in there and then it begins to count.
And so here I was taking a 6 hour train to take a 6 hour train back just for the pleasure of 3 hours of company, and not even in a relationship just something I felt was too deep a connection not to make the 12 hour trip to see, not to make the journey to Europe to be able to, not to keep going back in Poland even when I had gotten jailed there once.
Sometimes, and am sure everyone has this, I’ll meet a girl and it will be perfect. "I’ll say one thing and she’ll say anther and next thing I know I’ll want to spend the rest of my life in the middle of that conversation"*. Those times are fewer and further between. Maybe youth has a better way of letting connections happen. Maybe we get more guarded with age. More jaded with experience, more cynical with the cycles of hope and heartbreak, wonder and wounds. But you always have that conversation. This piece of lyric from Good Charlotte stuck with me whenever I met my old primary school friends
“Some say that time changes/ best friends can become strangers
And I don’t want that/ no not for us.”
I always found it so haunting. This story of love lost, more like friendship deformed and reformed into something alien and the sounds that come out of your mouth are strangled, the speech that you try to build is swallowed in silences that feel so long, silences filled with memories of the time when all that existed was laughter.
And those are for some reason the stories its easy to write about. It’s easier to move with sorrow than with joy. Making people laugh may be the greatest gift given to man since it’s so hard to achieve. Comics and people who write feel good stories will always get my respect. It’s so hard to keep them memorable and it’s so hard to think that something you are doing has the shelf life of the last laugh it evoked. How to sustain joy in words is something i still want to learn.
But this meeting was perfect. She took me around the city and showed me this statue, “that’s one of our famous poets, when everyone went to war he stayed back and wrote a few poems instead.”
“Yer but what would one more soldier with one more gun have done for the war.”
“I agree what we really needed then was one more poet writing one more poem.”
I got to eat this
That is a house of bread. Inside there is meat, cabbage and am not sure what else. The entire dish is edible and oh, so filling.
“We polish people we say your food is your heart and you always welcome guests with your heart wide open so eat, eat. And do you want something to drink?”
All too soon it was time to go back home. We said goodbye at the train station and I hang around a little waiting for my train that turned up an hour late this time. And apparently I had come over on first class, now I got a second class ticket and really all I said about polish trains I take it back. The doors open and you rush into these tiny compartments. You and 6 or 7 others. The first thing you do is draw the curtain and hope noone knocks. The windows don't open, the space isn't enough and if you leave yourself exposed people will just pile on. You sit with your hands between your laps cursing the fact that you don’t have any vodka and then when you need to go to the toilet you rouse everyone around you.
Here the toilets are more Kenyan you can see the tracks right through the floor and they rush hypnotically past, passing, passing, passing. Then you let go and look at these no smoking signs lying right next to the smouldering ashes of the last cigarette that was put out there. You sleep like a statue. Your face in front and make sure you don’t nod into the shoulders of the guy next to you. Then you get home or what passes for home on these short trips, the tiny hostel you are living in. Just enough time to pick up a bag and leave again.
*paraphrased from Hank Moody's letter to Karen in season 2 of carlifornication.