The Joyful City of the Shepard: Arrival

Six AM. It’s a nice Wednesday. After two months of waiting, the day has finally come. After winning the National Theater Festival (In Spanish), we’re off to the International Festival in Bucharest.

It’s a strange place. It copies Paris, with all it’s glamour and luxury, but it’s a dustier, communist version. The food is horrible, some people are, too. It’s too much for me.

This was the first review we got from our Tour Guide teacher at school: an awesome, energetic woman who’s sometimes a bit too honest. I packed my stuff (after the worst job I’d done at a Biology test) and went to sleep, after repacking four times (thanks, Mom). In the morning, I barely woke up. In a hurry to be on time, I grabbed my stuff, passed through the bathroom, put my coat on and jumped outside. It wasn’t cold: a good omen, after the last three months… My Dad took me to the Central Railway station. I got out of the car and, after making a whole circle around it (they’re renovating the building, which is one of the oldest and most communist buildings in Bulgaria), I found my group. My friends were huddled around in a circle, each with their own problems. Some were talking with their parents, one was running from the pigeons, another was half-sleeping on the cold metal benches. I was as sleepy as always, barely standing with my backpack (stuffed with food) and my two bags (filled with clothes and theater stuff). We waited in the Hall for the train to be announced. “Platform 8”, a woman’s voice said said. We went there. It was as cold as it was two hours earlier. The red train, the same one you’ve seen in The Expendables 2, with the sign of the National Railways (БДЖ) on front. The platform, under construction. The people, way too old… We took our places and so started part one of the journey to the city of Bucharest.

An hour passed. We were sleepy but not enough: the ten of us kept talking, and talking, and talking. We didn’t squeeze into one compartment so we went to another part of the train, where there were only seats to choose from, like in a bus. We were traveling up the Iskar defile, on one of the oldest railway tracks in Bulgaria. We watched and thought about stuff. Just imagine: in the same way that we’re sitting here, our friends are sitting in class, not moving, listening to boring lectures about post-WW2 countries and 1900’s Spanish literature. Amongst the high cliffs of the defile, we watched the river flow peacefully. It was like another world, full of little people that looked back at us, that were working and walking and talking. Even the noisy train didn’t interrupt their daily tasks, and they continued whatever they were doing: as if we didn’t exist. I thought: do we really exist if these people don’t know about us? I mean, of course we exist, but in so few of these people’s worlds, in such a vague way…

Continuing along the river, we remembered a story we’d heard in Bulgarian Literature class. Written by Ivan Vazov, one of the biggest and greatest poets and authors in Bulgarian history, it told the story of an old blind man named Yotzo. Grandpa Yotzo lived in a small, cozy village along the Iskar river and all he dreamed of was Bulgaria’s freedom. And he had the luck of being born almost 400 years after the Ottoman invasion. When he Bulgarians were free, but he couldn’t (metaphor incoming) see it with his own eyes. He had heard the tales of this freedom, and he wanted to understand it for himself. Close to his home, at the bottom of the small cliff, railway was built, with Bulgarian money, by Bulgarian engineers. Grandpa Yotzo was so proud, finally being able to feel Bulgaria’s freedom, that every day he went to the edge of the cliff and waved at the passing trains. Even though he was a character from a simple story about freedom, he was a symbol, a legend. At the very cliff that Vazov had seen in his story, today there is a statue: a reminder that Dyado Yotzo is still there, watching. Waving. We exist in his world. And does he exist in ours?

Village after village, city after city, we traveled. In six hours time, we reached the city of Rousse. After half an hour (and a fast check at the customs), the train started its engines again to cross the borders into Romania. We crossed the Danube river slowly. We used the so called “Danube bridge 1”, an old steel construction, rusty from the rain and the years but impressive in size: a true border between two countries. After another hour, we were in the suburbs of Bucharest. Talking excitedly about how we were going to introduce ourselves to our hosts, we gathered our stuff and slowly started collecting the things we had left behind. We were alone in the passenger car, as the other people that were in the same car left it (we were quite noisy, I admit). The train entered the outskirts of the city. The excitement grew. The train slowed down. The excitement reached critical levels – we had gathered our stuff and left the train. The adventure had lasted so long till this moment, and at the same moment it had just begun. We had arrived.


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