Sunday, November 27, 2011

Night Train.


Because I am a bit of a last-minute-lucy when it comes to catching trains, I had to eat my dinner in the dining car as we chugged along from Pamplona to Paris. My toasted sandwich of Camembert and Jamón Serrano was the perfect end to a perfect stay in Spain. 

The dining car attracted other hungry, road-weary travelers; but once fed, easy laughter filled the room. A retired couple from Ireland regaled us with happy tales of their traveling woes. A young environmentalist with a lip ring joined in; her slight Spanish lisp was the only hint of her origin as we discussed the intricacies of her doctorate studies. Further down the bar, a long-haired Londoner and a timid Dutchman added their voices to the cacophony of laughter until I almost forgot to sleep.

When I returned to the cabin hours later the other ladies were already tucked in.

Before boarding the train, I had decided to indulge in a couchette (or bed) for the 13 hour trek. My previous night train experience in a reclining seat had left me exhausted.

Would a couchette provide the elusive sleep, I wondered. Well, it couldn’t hurt it.

When I first boarded the train, I met the three other ladies in my cabin --two doe-eyed American girls fresh out of University on a summer trip around Europe and a small entrepreneurial African woman from the Ivory Coast with more suitcases than space to put them.

The Americans were curiously timid; but the African was anything but! She oozed the familiar African warmth to the room, filling it to overflowing with laughter and noise. The Americans looked on her steady stream of accented French in amused confusion. They knew they were suppose to laugh but they couldn’t figure out why. What was the punch line?

I had to translate.

She repeated over and over again the outrageous misadventures of other night trains she’d endured. To her it was scandalous that the Italians allowed men and women to share cabins. It wasn’t so much the fact they were men... but when they took off their shoes you had to evacuate the room!

She attacked all topics with similar zest and humor making the small cabin large as a Broadway stage. Mixing blood-curdling tails of civic unrest in her beloved land with an uproarious re-enactment of a sleepless night due to a corpulent snorer she didn’t have the guts to kill in her sleep... although the thought crossed her mind after 8 hours of pitiless suffering.

Did any of us snore she asked?

We laughed politely and exchanged glances. Unsure if she was capable of killing us in our sleep if we dared to admit to such a crime, we quickly assured her that we were in a no-snore-zone. 

She wasn’t the only one to sigh of relief at the happy news.

So later that night when I climbed into bed, I was rocked to sleep with only the sound of wheels grinding steel rails.

Admittedly, I did not find the sleep I hoped for... but at least it wasn’t due to any snorers.