A story of Travel and Love
On the railway platform is a young man with dark hair. I always try to avoid contact, but he suddenly speaks. Maybe I will remember one day: was it to me or to the English girl who stood there with her sister and parents? I enter the train and take a seat by the window. Unspoken tensions and beats. The lure. The one with the dark hair also climbs in. Did he ask again or just sit down? Across from me, I mean? Quiet magic. The girl and her sister come in. She says a familiar “hello” and asks if she can sit there- she asks him. Yes, that I remember clearly because I am not automatically, respectfully in a trance with the girls. They talk about a book.
Later I produce my Winds of War (Tolstoy) and nonchalantly, as I read, tear the pages out, but I listen with open ears and say something every now and then. He interests me.
He has a Swiss Army knife with him and since I am so proud of my newly bought one, I take it out. Attention seeker!
I peel an orange. He goes outside the compartment to smoke a cigarette, comes back to us and sees the knife and oranges; eats one too.
We travel to Lucerne. For both of us the Swiss landscape is more beautiful than we had imagined and he and I take photos like crazy. I “must not move from the window, because my reflection in the train window “suits the photo well ”, I hear when I say “sorry”.
At Lucerne station the girls say” goodbye” and “nice to have met you” to the man. I walk a little distance and then wave goodbye and I am kind of sorry to part. He was a pleasure to be with.
A few minutes later I see him at the information bureau (or he sees me?). Until now I expected nothing. I speed back to the train. He walks with me for a little bit. I am nearly late.
That evening I don’t make it in time to the Youth Hostel. The last cable car had already left. Later, when I had unpacked and was lying in my sleeping bag against the mountainside, I think of him. Not exceptionally or especially. I just miss him. In the night soft drizzle comes down and I tuck my head further into the sleeping bag. I hear animals and the wood to one side is quite dark. I hope the farmer doesn’t mind me being there. When I wake up a few little slugs had crawled in with me.
I was on Mount Pilatus. Did the mountain walk. Saw the goats through fog on treacherous slopes. Couldn’t see the deep valley below; only heard cowbells coming as if from another mystical world. Coming down in the cable car I noticed a swimming pool in the village of Kriens (or was it Trier).
And this is where I’ve just come from; the blue pool – here I stand at Lucerne station in the information bureau and I turn ice-cold when I see him and when I start to talk to him, blood red. I laugh and say that I got a fright when I saw him. Didn’t I think “What if I get to the information bureau tomorrow and he is there too”? This image was in my mind on the eve of 1 July. There under the pine trees, alone and cold. I am glad that I have my modern blue top and skirt denim on. It looks good on me and makes me look slimmer too.
Frank is his name – Frank without a surname. I feel as if I have known him for years – that night especially -. And feeling exceptionally at ease near him, I go over the very famous wooden bridge of Lucerne with him. With us is a young married couple from Washington. Frank wants to introduce me and realises that he doesn’t know my name yet. I explain. He invites me to drink beer with them next to the clear waters of the Vierwald-Stattersee – And we laugh, so carefree and happy. Even then I became unwittingly aware of a blissful feeling here inside. Over the wooden bridge again and we say goodbye to the Washingtonners. We wander to the station and – in front of the information bureau- I know what I had known all the time in the mist of my mind:
“You travel too fast. You really should stay another day. Lucerne is beautiful.”
18 July 1974
ON THE WAY TO TRONDHEIM
I am now on the Ostsee-Express through East Germany- on my way to Berlin – and from there to Copenhagen. This is the slowest train I have been on since I started my journey- it seems to go down to 10 km. per hour as soon as it approaches an East German town. It does not stop there though. Things look very poor here. Nature stays beautiful, but there are no colours in the towns. Only grey houses looking like shacks. Dirty, grimy buildings and rusting stations- sour-looking people.
I often think about you and imagine that you must be having a wonderful time in Italy. As I said, you do seem to make friends easily and everywhere and that makes living a lot easier indeed.
The further I travel north the more golden and intense the light of the sun becomes. It is bigger now. More a master and ruler of the earth. It must be beautiful in Norway. I will be there in a few days’ time.
The Germans of this part must be crazy in spite of the sun. Gloomy looks abound. I do not get smiles, even if I have a contented face, distressed but nevertheless contented.
It is about 4 o’clock in the morning. We are crossing over to Denmark by ferryboat now. It has been light since about 2 am. I’ve been alone in this coupe the whole journey through. Not many people seem to want to travel through East Germany. They woke me up too much anyway.
In Gedser, Denmark, the train glides onto new soil.
Frank, I really miss your company at this moment. At least I can be honest with you and tell you about the mess I am in.
It’s very simple- the mess I am in and just as simple to get out of, but I lack plain physical strength and I am feeling too much alone to face the rest of Scandinavia. I still have the cold that we both picked up in Munich and some throat trouble. My mind is the sickest of them all. I’ve kind of seen enough now and it is just one great pullback. I don’t enjoy one single moment anymore- everything is just plain miserable.
I’ve travelled through East Germany to Stockholm (a 25-hour journey), stayed two nights and travelled again this morning from 7.30 till 7.30 this evening and am now in Trondheim. I ate something nauseating in a cafeteria and then something called a hamburger, which it is not, and chips 5 minutes later, and now I am sitting in the station hall on my famous piece of grey plastic writing about my misery- because I intend to travel back to Oslo (bloody stupid) this night at half past ten. Sweden and Norway are incredibly beautiful- the few hundred kilometres that I have seen of it, but the beauty does get boring- it just got too much and I go to Oslo within an hour and straight to Copenhagen – and if possible, on to Hamburg and on to Amsterdam- but dammit, I’m going home. One cannot do without love and warmth and company for so many days.
One day I will come to see Scandinavia again- when I am calmer. And Switzerland and Austria, but now I’ve reached stop, no further.
God, I should stop complaining. I can walk, I have a healthy body, eyes to see, brains, people who will take care of me- but I still feel miserable- there is no direction in my life. I am feeling the Paris feeling all over again. I am very, very unsure of the future. My main interests are arts, music, painting, architecture…but I seem unable to make a career out of the things I love, the things that are the most important in my life. They give me life, a will to live. With languages, I can make a career, but it is not the love of my life- too much fear and recollections from school years involved.
“I don’t know” has become too much a part of my life and I am fighting desperately to get rid of it- but I never do.
I took that trip through Norway at night. At half past 12, I saw snow on the mountains and the sun shining on the lakes through sad clouds. Eating South African oranges in an Oslo train- the irony of it all.