Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Leaving on the midnight train to Sighisoara October 5, 2008

Well, the 23:25 train, but same difference. I’ve checked around, and the route has a bad reputation in general. Now by ‘bad reputation’, I don’t mean to say I’ll be abducted and sold into white slavery, just an above-average chance of petty theft, day or night.

On the other hand, the advice I keep getting is to never take my eyes off my bag. Thus, in a strange way, I may be better off on a night train in that I can sleep with my bag (the hostel owner pantomimed what I would call spooning my bag through the night). I’m not thrilled about this, but I figure I’ll do what I can do to minimize the risk, and not worry about it further.

Actually, I would say that philosophy encapsulates a small epiphany I had recently: So much time is spent worrying about and fretting over and developing complex strategies to control things that never come to pass or cannot be controlled. Yesterday, after spending so much time “planning my actions” (a.k.a. worrying) about this night train, I decided to throw in the towel. I’ll still hide ‘the good stuff’ in the bottom of my day pack and lock it and – depending upon the vibe I get – bike lock it to me, and I’ll still planning to try to befriend the train conductor (by telling him/her straight up that I’ve heard bad things and am concerned and can they help me), and that’s all I can do. Onward and upward.

In other news, I had my first true bought of homesickness today. I had some moments early in the trip that I thought were homesickness, but I now realize were just garden variety fear. However, today I saw the first Malamute of the trip in a park in Budapest. From a 100 yards away, I could see it peeing on everything in its path and taking five minutes to sniff every three feet. A Mal if ever there were. But at that pace, I was able to catch up to the owner. I asked if he spoke English, and he said no. So I persisted. I identified the dog as a Malamute, and he agreed, and I tried to explain that I had one too. He scowled at me. I tried charades. He looked away.

I walked ahead of them and sat on a bench, considering turning on my computer to pull up a picture of my dog so that he would understand what I was trying to say, and maybe let me pet his Mal. At that moment, they started to approach, and the dog stopped to sniff a tree three feet to my left and a bush one foot from my knee, and never acknowledged me in the slightest. And in a stupid way, the realization that the dog WASN’T my dog – or anything like him (If Dozer loves anything, it’s a human being he’s never met before), was quite sad.

It was the sense that something that looked so incredibly familiar could be so foreign. Like seeing the mirror image of a loved one, and having them walk right by like you don’t exist.

So to stave off some ‘lost at sea’ feelings and kill some time before the late train, I decided to go to the movies. I’ve been wanting to go to the movies for weeks now, and having done everything I set out to do in Budapest, the time was right. Hungary just got the ‘new release’ of the Dark Knight (Batman) movie, and it was still in the original English (with subtitles). I got my ticket, but the concessions looked off, so I didn’t indulge in one of my passions – movie theater popcorn. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that a country that only sells Cheetos in ‘hotdog’ and ‘ketchup’ flavors is going to find a creative way to screw up popcorn. Like maybe covering it in prune juice or something.

Anyway, it was a good movie, and good escapism, and it was almost laughable how the sight and sound of Morgan Freeman could feel so comforting. And I guess that’s why, walking out in the Budapest night, I suddenly felt crushingly sad and lonely and…homesick.

But it was a pretty long walk back to the hostel in Pest, and on the way I had a chance to work through my feelings. And what I realized is that in its own way, homesicknesses is a blessing. It’s the other side of the coin of adventure and independence and solitude. And it’s a reminder that you belong somewhere and have a place to go back to…and that you want to go back to.

So the key really, in those ‘weak’ moments is to draw from them, and realize what’s good about feeling bad. Because feeling like a stranger in a strange land means you’ve undertaken a big adventure and pushed yourself far beyond what you thought you were capable of. And longing for your home? That means you’re fortunate enough to have a home and people that love you and a whole country where people talk and you can understand what they’re saying without getting a headache. And feeling sad, well, that just means your heart still works.

So here’s to the fear and the sadness and loneliness. Without it, it’s much harder to define who we are, and who aren’t, and who’s important, and what really matters. And with that information as a compass, we’re able to get on a night train to Romania feeling calm and knowing it will all work out in its own strange way.

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