Posted tagged ‘Train’

“Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.”

July 22, 2017

When I woke up, the day was bright and sunny, but it isn’t any more. Clouds have blanketed the sky. The weatherman claims those clouds will be intermittent, but I’m skeptical. A little rain would be welcomed, forecasted or not.

The spawns of Satan have mounted a new assault. They are chewing my outside lights. The gate had a trail of white lights coming from the giant star near the back door. Last night I noticed the trail had gone dark. I checked and found chewed wires. On the deck rail, two sets of colored lights have been chewed. I found bulbs from the newest set laying on the deck, chewed off the wire. The spawns seem to like the red bulbs, cementing their Satan connection. What perplexes me is those lights have been untouched for a couple of years. I’m guessing there’s a new spawn in the neighborhood. The next set of colored lights is here, but I haven’t put it on the deck rail yet. I’ve ordered a new white set. It’s crazy I guess. I’m beginning to feel like Sisyphus.

I went to Russia in the 1970’s. My friend and I took a train from Helsinki to Leningrad. We were in the last car. When it got to the border, the car was uncoupled and joined to a Russian train. A Russian train lady boarded our car. She brought us tea over and over throughout the trip. In Leningrad I learned there were two lines for taxis, one for women and children and the other for the rest of us. At the hotel they asked for our passports. Visions of the KGB jumped int my head. When I refused, I was told no hotel room so I gave in. Yup, I gave in that quickly. We had a tour guide. In those days everyone had a tour guide. We liked her. She brought us to the Hermitage Museum. Women sat in chairs in every room at the Hermitage, and it was the same in every museum. They also sat at the bottom of escalators in every metro station and on every floor in the hotels where we stayed. We saw the Winter Palace and Peterhof and the Peter and Paul Fortress. We saw a memorial commemorating the Siege of Leningrad. On buses, the honor system was in effect. At the hotel, the food was terrible. We went to a few Beryozka shops, which no longer exist, where you could buy Russian goods for hard cash. We bought snacks and some beautiful small wooden figures.

When it was time to move to our next stop, we got a new guide. We didn’t like her. She told us nothing and didn’t answer questions. We then got on the train which the Frenchman, a fellow tourist, likened to a cattle car in France. We were on to stop 2, a city on the Volga whose name I can’t remember for good reason. The tours in that city included a dental school and a publishing plant where they gave us all sorts of Lenin material. It was the worst.

We had more adventures, but I’ll save those for another day. I will say we had a spy who was uncovered in Moscow.

“When I was a kid, we never heard of smog, ozone depletion, acid rain, green house gasses.”

April 21, 2017

The day is overcast and dark. It’s raining again. Rain always makes me lazy. I have nowhere to go and nothing to do except water the plants, and I’m delighted. The house feels chilly so I have draped the afghan over my shoulders. I’m thinking all I need is a rocking chair and some knitting to complete the picture.

When I was a kid, I didn’t care about the rain. I didn’t care about getting wet. This was always spring vacation week and no day could be wasted, especially Friday, the last day. I think my mother applauded when we went outside, and I remember her gleeful goodbyes as we shut the door behind us.

We didn’t ever have a plan or a destination. We just walked. Our usual route was walking by the town barn to see the horses then we’d cut across the back lawn of the town hall and go uptown. We mostly window shopped. From there, our route often varied. Once in a while we’d walk to the zoo or we’d do the tracks again, the ones near my grandparents. When I was young, the train still ran a couple of times a day. The train stopped at the chemical plant then continued to the station, the end of the line, where the engine was switched to the back, now the front. Sometimes we were lucky enough to b there to watch. I remember putting a penny on the rail so the train could flatten it.

We’d head home when we were hungry or really soaked and cold. My mother would send us right down the cellar to take off and leave our wet shoes. I remember leaving footprints on the floor from my wet socks. The trail led from the cellar door to the living room to the stairs to the bedroom where I’d put on dry clothes and dry socks.

For the rest of the afternoon, we’d watch TV. We’d eat Oreos and drink milk. I was a dunker. I think that’s why I love biscotti.

I love listening to the rain and watching it fall. I don’t love getting soaked and cold. I do love Oreos.

“You either get the point of Africa or you don’t. What draws me back year after year is that it’s like seeing the world with the lid off.”

August 14, 2016

Big surprise: today is hot, already 88˚, and combined with the 70% humidity it feels like 100˚. I was on the deck earlier checking the plants. They have to be watered again, but I’ll wait until later in the day hoping it will be cooler.

When I arrived in Ghana for Peace Corps training, I knew nothing about Africa. The books and mimeographed materials from Peace Corps didn’t do much in helping me understand where I was going. Knowing there were two seasons, rainy and dry, had me picturing what rainy and dry look like here, that was all I had for reference. Descriptions of Ghanaian culture were like excerpts from a geography book. I read about the different tribes and where they lived. The country was divided into regions, a bit like our states.

Before we left Philadelphia for Ghana, I found out I was going to be posted in the Upper Region, only a place on the map to me. The Upper Region spanned all the way across the whole top section of Ghana from east to west. I was to be posted in its capital, Bolgatanga.

When I went to Bolga for a week during training, it was the rainy season when everything is green, and the market is filled with all sorts of fruit and vegetables. I figured that would be Bolga all the time. I was totally wrong.

When training was over, I made my way home, to Bolga. I stopped overnight in Kumasi, about the halfway mark. I always added an overnight so I could visit friends along the way. The trip from Accra to Kumasi was a wonderful train ride. From Kumasi to Bolga was a bus or lorry ride, always hot and always crammed with people.

Bolga was still in the rainy season when I moved into my house. The rains stopped a month or two later. Everything dried. The ground split. Nothing stayed green. My lips and the heels of my feet split. I walked on tiptoes. I learned to take bucket baths. My meals never varied. Breakfast was two eggs cooked in groundnut oil and two pieces of toast. Lunch was fruit. Dinner was beef cooked in tomato broth, a necessity to make the meat tender, or chicken. Yams were the side dish, sometimes in a mash and sometimes cooked with the meat. I always drank water except in the morning when I drank instant coffee with canned milk.

I never minded the same meals or the dry season. I was astonished every day that I was  living in Africa. I loved Bolga whether rainy or dry. My friends and I would often look at the sky and say it looked like rain. That was a joke, and we never got tired of it. We knew the rain was months away. If we found something new in the market, it was cause for celebration. If we didn’t, it didn’t matter.

In about five weeks, I’ll be back home in Bolga.

“At Christmas I no more desire a rose, Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows; But like of each thing that in season grows.”

December 14, 2015

The rain is coming and should be here by the afternoon. It is welcomed as we are down from our usually rain amounts. The summer was pretty dry. Gracie and I were out early because we scoped out the kennel where she’ll be staying. The owners are quite nice and Gracie was on her best behavior. On the way home we stopped at the vet’s where Gracie got a shot against kennel cough and had her nails trimmed.

I was out the other night and meandered home so I could have a short see the lights ride. It is amazing how many houses have lights, the most I’ve seen in a long while. My street with only eight houses, including one which is empty all winter, is ablaze of lights. The houses are beautifully  decorated some with white lights, some with colored lights and others, like mine, with a combination. We’re talking fences, wreaths, trees and houses lit for the season. The house at the end of the street has a train lit up in its front yard. Blinking lights are wrapped around a tree, and they look as if they’re floating in air as the tree trunk is too dark to see. They have four kids who must be so excited to see their house decked out for the holiday. The other house with so many different lights has stars of light hanging from their tree. They have a tree of colored lights in their front yard. They too have four kids who must be delighted.

I remember how excited I was when my dad put the outside lights on the front bushes. They were the big bulbs which shone so brightly and were always so hot to the touch. After finishing outside, he’d find the window candles and tape them to the sills. The bases were made of plastic and had a tendency to be top heavy because of the bulb, always an orange bulb, so tape was a necessity.

At Christmas time the lights shine brightly against the dark of winter. They seem hopeful and remind us that winter will end. The days will get longer. We’ll all soon be back in the light.

“It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia.”

April 27, 2013

Today is another get out of the house and enjoy the weather day. It is a bit chilly but the sun is too wonderful to waste. Luckily, I have a few errands so I’ll venture out a bit later. For once Gracie is still outside enjoying the day. Usually she’s napping about now.

I mentioned that I had been to Russia in the 1970’s, and Birgit was curious about my trip given how long ago it was and how closed the country was especially to foreigners. She asked if I had ever told the story and I hadn’t. Today I will.

It was the summer of 1972. I flew from Boston to New York and boarded a flight which stopped in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, my stop. I was a bit unnerved when what had been a full plane came down to about 10 people for Finland. My friend and I had chosen Finland because we planned to book our Russian trip from there as it seemed easier and quicker than doing it from here. We stayed at a hostel in Helsinki which had been residences for the Olympic athletes in the 1952 summer Olympics. It was kind of neat to stay there. As soon as we could, we went to a travel agent and booked a trip by train to Leningrad where we would meet the tour then we’d go to Moscow and Tbilisi. It would take nearly a week for the visas so we left our passports and decided to travel north by train. As it was an overnight train we booked couchettes which really just meant 3 bunks on each wall of the compartment. Our train-mate was Finnish and spoke no English. Swedish is the second language in Finland. I never what I was eating: I just pointed. On the train she and I carried on a conversation by passing my Finnish-English dictionary back and forth. It was kind of fun and she laughed a lot. In the morning we arrived at Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. From there we took a bus to Lake Inari, north of the Arctic Circle, and we stayed at a hotel on the banks of the lake. I had reindeer for dinner. People always ask me how it tasted, and I answer delicious, but I tell them I found the blinking red nose a distraction. On the TV in the hotel was Eagleton stepping down from running with McGovern. I had a blue pin with white letters on my backpack: it said McGovern and Eagleton. I left it there the whole trip. I still have it. Reindeer were herded down the street, fir trees were all along the lakeside and it was midnight sun time. We stood outside where the sun hung down near the horizon and took pictures of ourselves late at night. It was absolutely beautiful.

When we returned to Helsinki, we toured the city. That just meant taking a certain streetcar with a loud-speaker system which pointed out the historic places and other places of interest for tourists. One of my favorite stops was the outdoor market. There were tables filled with vegetables and one had the largest strawberries I’d ever seen. I bought some and munched as I walked. Boats were moored and from them people sold fish. I remember the colors of the market. The umbrellas were mostly red, clothes were a variety of bright colors and the fruits and vegetables popped with color. In the late afternoon I walked where the market had been, and there wasn’t a single piece of paper or a slice of errant fruit. It was immaculate. We shopped at the Marimekko store, and I bought a red bag. It’s the same bag I still use when I travel; it’s a bit worse for wear, but I wouldn’t travel without it.

We picked up our passports and the next day we boarded our car to Leningrad. It was a single car connected to the Finnish train. When we got to the border, the car was disconnected then reconnected to a Russian train. There were three passengers: my friend with whom I was traveling and an African studying in Russia. The border guards came on the train, checked our passports and went through our bags. They seized a tomato from me and rifled through all my books. They obviously didn’t speak English as I was reading East of Eden at the time. The only crew member on that train was a woman, a train stewardess, who would come to us periodically and say,”Tea?” I drank glasses and glasses of strong Russian tea. I don’t remember how long the train ride was. I remember we arrived at the station in Leningrad, said good-bye to our car mate and went looking for a taxi to take us to our hotel. There were two lines, one short and one hugely long. We got in the short line and got screamed at in Russian by just about everyone. Someone was nice enough to tell us in English that we were in the line for women with children. We grabbed our backpacks and sheepishly walked to the end of the hugely long line, now longer by two people.

That’s it for today. I don’t ever remember writing as much, and the story has barely begun. I’ll continue the saga tomorrow.

Waiting For The Train To Come In: Peggy Lee

May 21, 2011