July 21. Train stories #3.

Someone pulls my arm and points at the window. Suddenly, it was there: Lake Baikal. Majestic, pristine, a venerable lady hidden somewhere in the center of the Eurasian landmass. It is wonderful, cameras are pulled out including mine, there is an atmosphere of gaiety on the train, people smile. And she never lets her visitors go empty-handed, that old lady. As the train halts shortly at what seems not more than a hamlet, delicious smoked fish from the lake is sold by some older women (it is very common that salespersons gather at the tracks to offer their specialties to the travelers). Back in the compartment I am now sharing with a mother and her two daughters from Bilgorod(?) we laugh together as we attempt to communicate relying on my makeshift brushed-up phrasebook kind of Russian. We share a fish together and it is absolutely delicious. I am fed, fish and bread, and I’m grateful in-depth.
“Priadno appetita!” says I to the Uzbek at the window-table close by. He takes a whole fish and just hands it to me.
“Spasiba.”
That was so kind. We share this fish too as the still lake watches us from the window that zooms along her now dark shores. There is a word for “to eat” that suits our fish-feast better than the “ect” I come up with, invoking laughter among my Russian friends because it translates to “munching” rather than having a decent supper. “Sabaka!” We all laugh now, and I feel happy sitting there with greasy, fishy fingers, listening to a typical discussion between the Uzbek boy and a Russian woman if the wodka should be honored with a typical small glass or if you can just drink it from a plastic cup. The mother of the two daughters, Victoria and Regine (I am not making this up) smiles showing her golden teeth. I’m back on track, I think. Quite literally in this case, I have this electrifying, enthousiastic, thrilling feeling again. I’m doing it. Yeah! I even temporarily forget that someone’s missing. It is as if the bumps of the train waggons on the tracks are very good for my liver.

July 21. Train stories #3.

Someone pulls my arm and points at the window. Suddenly, it was there: Lake Baikal. Majestic, pristine, a venerable lady hidden somewhere in the center of the Eurasian landmass. It is wonderful, cameras are pulled out including mine, there is an atmosphere of gaiety on the train, people smile. And she never lets her visitors go empty-handed, that old lady. As the train halts shortly at what seems not more than a hamlet, delicious smoked fish from the lake is sold by some older women (it is very common that salespersons gather at the tracks to offer their specialties to the travelers). Back in the compartment I am now sharing with a mother and her two daughters from Bilgorod(?) we laugh together as we attempt to communicate relying on my makeshift brushed-up phrasebook kind of Russian. We share a fish together and it is absolutely delicious. I am fed, fish and bread, and I’m grateful in-depth.
“Priadno appetita!” says I to the Uzbek at the window-table close by. He takes a whole fish and just hands it to me.
“Spasiba.”
That was so kind. We share this fish too as the still lake watches us from the window that zooms along her now dark shores. There is a word for “to eat” that suits our fish-feast better than the “ect” I come up with, invoking laughter among my Russian friends because it translates to “munching” rather than having a decent supper. “Sabaka!” We all laugh now, and I feel happy sitting there with greasy, fishy fingers, listening to a typical discussion between the Uzbek boy and a Russian woman if the wodka should be honored with a typical small glass or if you can just drink it from a plastic cup. The mother of the two daughters, Victoria and Regine (I am not making this up) smiles showing her golden teeth. I’m back on track, I think. Quite literally in this case, I have this electrifying, enthousiastic, thrilling feeling again. I’m doing it. Yeah! I even temporarily forget that someone’s missing. It is as if the bumps of the train waggons on the tracks are very good for my liver.

July 20. Train stories #2.

The fat singing man in the restaurant waggon. I don’t know if I can describe him, but I want to try. I am looking for some variation on the theme of being on the train, and hence start walking up and down the mighty machine. I reach the last waggon on one end and take a picture of the rails. Near the other end is the restaurant waggon, and the only person in there is the obese widely smiling unshaved man in blue. I approach him and he notices me. He begins to sum up what’s on the menu and before I know I’ve ordered borschscht. I like it, and I try to make friends by saying that I prefer the Ukrainian version which would work on the man since this is a Ukrainian train.
“Half-half” he explains. “Are you traveling alone?”
It’s a question that I’m asked very often in Russia, much more often than in South America. I nod and say something about spontaneous travel. The man interrupts me by waving around with his big hands and humming Mendelssohn’s wedding march. He stands up and embarks on a diverse musical journey.
“Louis Armstrong!” his hands mimic a trumpet, a wonderful world, summertime. He is almost dancing now, between the tables in the restaurant waggon and I look at him with surprise and a sense of joyful complicity. That man, doing that thing between cups of borschscht and unpolished silverwear on the train tables and old wooden crates full of cabbage and onions to be delivered somewhere along the way, he has filled the train with life and, after he gives me “five minutki” more to sit in his restauration waggon, sent back a fulfilled passenger to his bunk bed.

Two young women have entered the train. They wear big sunglasses that give them insect-like appearance. We have a short conversation in which one of the cute women tells me she has just bought twelve pairs of shoes in China and she wants a Dalmatian puppy.

July 20. Train stories #2.

The fat singing man in the restaurant waggon. I don’t know if I can describe him, but I want to try. I am looking for some variation on the theme of being on the train, and hence start walking up and down the mighty machine. I reach the last waggon on one end and take a picture of the rails. Near the other end is the restaurant waggon, and the only person in there is the obese widely smiling unshaved man in blue. I approach him and he notices me. He begins to sum up what’s on the menu and before I know I’ve ordered borschscht. I like it, and I try to make friends by saying that I prefer the Ukrainian version which would work on the man since this is a Ukrainian train.
“Half-half” he explains. “Are you traveling alone?”
It’s a question that I’m asked very often in Russia, much more often than in South America. I nod and say something about spontaneous travel. The man interrupts me by waving around with his big hands and humming Mendelssohn’s wedding march. He stands up and embarks on a diverse musical journey.
“Louis Armstrong!” his hands mimic a trumpet, a wonderful world, summertime. He is almost dancing now, between the tables in the restaurant waggon and I look at him with surprise and a sense of joyful complicity. That man, doing that thing between cups of borschscht and unpolished silverwear on the train tables and old wooden crates full of cabbage and onions to be delivered somewhere along the way, he has filled the train with life and, after he gives me “five minutki” more to sit in his restauration waggon, sent back a fulfilled passenger to his bunk bed.

Two young women have entered the train. They wear big sunglasses that give them insect-like appearance. We have a short conversation in which one of the cute women tells me she has just bought twelve pairs of shoes in China and she wants a Dalmatian puppy.

July 19. Train stories #1.

I feel comfortable on the train, playing in my head with reminiscences of my earlier Russian trainrides. The platzkart, the hot water tap, the linen, the short conversations in broken Russian, the angry looking young men, the smiling women – it is all the same here in the far east. The train rolls through endless empty green fields on its way to Chabarovsk. It’s a beautiful day. I open the Italian coffee I brought. At the moment I pinch through the vacuum foil with the tip of my scissors and it releases a short sigh, a child in one of the compartments cries. You know I always associated coffee with devil’s piss and believe every myth as long as caffeine intake is secured. I cut a slit into the coffee package, a large life-giving slit, and toss some coffee in a plastic mug I prepared with my knife from a bottle. It’s real coffee of course, not the soluble rabbit dung they sell for convenience. I avoid that whenever possible. I’m talking real coffee, real Italian coffee distributed to the Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Kazachstan. I pour hot water on it. The train attendant gives me a glass mug, I get upgraded. Back on my seat, the coffee tastes like it should. The child is silent, playing with his mother and uttering only satisfied toddler wawls. A woman is making the puzzles in a newspaper; most people are sleeping when we arrive in Verino.

Movie of the day: transsiberian.
I really watch this movie sitting on the transsiberian train myself. It is great to see the waggons on my computer screen sitting in a real one, and when a murderer appears in the movie, it gets an extra dimension. I liked the acting by Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley. The photography of Russia is beautiful and close to reality. The plot has the right level of complexity to make the movie entertaining. Its climax is a bit exaggerated, but not out of control. If you have a sense of nostalgia for trains and road-movies, I guess you’ll like this one.

Why don’t I talk to the pimply girl and do I talk to her more beautiful sister? I confess. And I will make up for it.