And A Hint of Myself

It’s quite ironic that the sound a moving train makes is “track-a-track”, isn’t it?

 

I’m sitting in the dusty train, thinking about that. How does a thought like this one all of a sudden form in my head? Look at my friends, sitting there, laughing. I was having fun with them just a moment ago, sitting on the dusty cushion of an old, moth-eaten chair in the train. I’m sometimes moody like this. Especially in situations that require so much self-control. Traveling to Bucharest, being completely alone for a week, with no family, no relatives and no “coincidentally” close family friends nearby. The train was shaking away the slight fear of the unknown. Their laughter helped. Writing was another option I had stuck to, spending an hour alone in the neighboring compartment of the train, building a syllabus of a blog post I was planning to write about the week to come. But I can’t do that for the whole eight-hour trip. All I had was isolating myself for a moment, to clear my thoughts out. And I was thinking about the damned rails of the train. I guess I’d be going back to my friends. Gosh, how I love these people. We had worked so hard the last months and we would finally be getting our reward. We crushed competition with our performance, our text adaptation, and our bold direction choices. We had won. I still can’t believe it, even two months later, even while we’re traveling that way. Ah, how fun this week will be. I could see myself meeting the family that’d be taking me in for the week. I wonder what their house looks like, what they look like… I know that I don’t actually care about that. I’m not sure if it’s selfish to say it, but having a great week is much more important than the social or financial status of the family. I was also excited to see the city. I’d heard it looks like Paris. I’ve never been to Paris. Based on my experience in Vienna, though, I know it’s going to be spectacular. I’m really curious about the tour of the Palace of Parliament – I heard it’s the second biggest in the world! I should really stop daydreaming… “Get up, Martin. Go to them. Attaboy.” I think I’ll sit over here for a second. I love these people. I’m so used to them. Yet right now, I feel like thinking. Just staring out of the window and processing everything that’s going on. We’re going to spend time together all week. We’re going to get to see Dracula’s castle! And the next day, we’ll be performing! I can’t imagine the nervousness when it’s our turn to get on the stage. I remember three years ago, when it was our very first time acting together. This was going to be our third play. Wow, how fast time flies! Yet we’re still together, bound by the Art. We have different endevors outside of It. One plays the guitar, his life is all music. Another‘s a book worm. She’s a total party animal, while she had just performed “Swan Lake” at the National Ballet. I hold that tiny blog and write about what I feel. It’s crazy how the arts are all parts of our lives. That’s what’s keeping us together in this train. Outside of it. We all need time to think, and we all need time for ourselves. But when we collide on stage, there’s no stopping us. No matter where, we’re united by this force. Except maybe on stage. I remembered the story our Drama teacher had told us. The story of how an actor gets on the stage, gives his heart to the audience, and then forgets about it. A “blackout”, she calls it. When an actor isn’t himself, when he drowns so much into his character that he doesn’t even remember his time on stage. In those moments, we were not ourselves, we were not together. But it’s for our own good. I’m sure this separation from reality is going to happen to me this week. I will give every single piece of myself and dissolve in front of those people from all around Europe, until I’m nothing more than the dying scum that my character is. Honesty and sincerity are things I like and I don’t plan on lying to people. So I’ll show them the self-indulgent, awful human being that the Baron is. I’ll make them hate me.  And then, I’ll be back, as that other person, that other guy that’s traveling and thinking. The guy who’s standing in the train, hesitating for a moment whether he should go and talk to his friends or drown in his own thoughts. I should go and laugh with them. I need a gulp of fresh air that isn’t contaminated by my feelings. After all, after a week in the capital of Bucharest, after such a majestic performance, I deserved a rest. I was going towards them, as myself minus one hour.

 

And the train was still going “track-a-track”, “track-a-track”…

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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?

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Raindance

Drop. Drop. Drop.

The little droplets slowly fall onto the windshield. Passing by the Balkan, the giant gray clouds swirl around in a graceful waltz. We fly by small gardens of trees and uncut herbs. There isn’t a car in sight.

Drop. Drop.

We pass little villages, the little chimneys smoking as we pass by. It is quiet. We’ve passed the bigger cities: Vratza, Mezdra, and nature is starting to take over. We cross a bridge. The river below is the longest river in Bulgaria – the Iskar river – but although it’s big, it’s barely moving. Peacefully, its waters flow, the surface untouched by the slight Eastern wind. I open the window to hear the river’s song. The air whooshing through is strong, loud, but warm and pleasant. I can barely hear the lazy river’s sounds. Through the window enters a fly. It makes a little circle and stops on my lap. It rubs its tiny feet one against the other, then makes a couple of steps. We are traveling fast. I hear the river no more as we pass from the riverbank towards the mountain. The fly buzzes back into the air. It gets closer and closer to the open window. Soundlessly, it gets sucked into the world outside.

 

Drop.

A droplet of rain lands onto my nose. It is slowly stopping. The clouds have started to rip away, torn apart by the spring winds. The sky is turning a grotesque shade of pink. Dusk is approaching.

Parting from the main road, we drive towards my great grandfather’s house. Five minutes worth of time into the fields on the third class road, a small horse is happily munching on some fresh grass. Alone the horse stands, far from people, far from houses and cars, and other horses. Farther along the old road, a dog chases a flock of birds. They swiftly fly off, but land again. The game continues. The stray jumps. The birds flap their wings. Annoyed, they decide not to come back. The flock lands on a high wire over the dog. We speed up along the new road, leaving the scene.
All of a sudden, the road comes to an end. An old dirt track continues into the field, leading to a small gate, made of chopped wooden sticks and rusty wire. We walk towards it in silence. I carefully pull the old gate open. We pass through, into the giant field that is the forgotten cottage’s yard. I close the gate after my sister.

Thump.

We talk for a half an hour and leave the old man to rest, as it’s almost dark. The last rays of the sun are barely visible over the old Balkan. The clouds are darkening, but they remain in the distance, too afraid to turn back towards the desolated road. We enter the car. The click of the locks is a deafening sound after the deathly silence of the fields. We start the engine, which is surprisingly quiet. We go. Along the road, the dog I saw earlier is happily munching on a pigeon’s corpse. The horse is nowhere to be seen. We reach the main road again and continue our way home. In the skirts of the mountains is the small village of Lyuti Dol. On the one and only road of the village, a few people are walking, huddled together. Their chatter is barely audible through the glass of the windows. We exit the village and speed up again.

The sky is still darkening. My eyes adapt quickly to the low-light environment. On a small hill by the road, I see a pile of white dots. Slowly focusing onto them, I make out the clear image of a graveyard. It is silent, barely visible, illuminated by the light of the road down below. A dog is barking somewhere.

Drop.

A fox runs across the road. We are getting nearer and nearer to the highway, from where it’s a fast trip home. We have finally caught up to the clouds, which are blocking out the stars. The sky is dark. I lean against the window and start to think. I always think while traveling, it relaxes me. Staring into the sky, I see the light of a single star that managed to pierce the rainclouds. I point it out to my sister. Opening the sunroof, I show it to her.

Drop, drop.

The rain is getting stronger, so I close the roof of the car. We have almost reached the city of Botevgrad, from where not much of our journey will be left. I see the city in the distance, illuminating the dark clouds above. I sink into thought again. I think of times to come, of exams, of school and friends and theater. I think, I think, I think… The Gypsy Kings’ greatest hits are running on the CD player. I am swallowed by thought. We have finally reached the highway. The car speeds up. I think… I wonder. I hesitate. My eyes slowly close. The only thing I can hear is the rain getting stronger. Hitting the windshield of the car, it starts a melody. The journey continues. I am asleep.

Drop. Drop. Drop.

PS: Happy Easter to all my Orthodox comrades!

PPS: Valar morghulis.