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2010-01-28 - 12:36 p.m.

...memories from China - 1...

I was just flipping through some old files and found the journal entries that I made during my trip to China in 2000. I thought that I would share them here:

*****

15 November 2000 *** The Departure ***

My plane is now somewhere over the Baltic Sea, and thus far my trip has been pleasantly uneventful, apart from an extremely grumpy woman on the train. Grumpy all because I asked to sit next to her– I guess the Deutsche Bahn brings out the worst in all of us…

Interestingly, ever since the introduction of the fast ICE trains between Weimar and Frankfurt, my travel time has increased by approximately 30 minutes. This is because of two facts:
1.The ICE trains are always late.
2.Their introduction has resulted in an additional 20 minutes of connection time while I sit in Weimar between trains.

My response to this was to go into the Weimar train station and buy postcards for my friends in Jena:

“Dear ____. Having a lovely Deutsche Bahn-induced stay in Weimar. The weather is beautiful here, as is the train station. You really should visit some time. Wish you were here…”

Of course, it will take about two days for the postcard to travel the 20 km back to Jena, but it served the purpose of passing time, although I suspect the time would have passed anyway.

But at least the brilliant sunshine was so lovely – Once again the Thuringian weather was teasing me to remain in Germany.. It seems to do this on every trip. I have seen my most brilliant sunrises from the Weimar train station. This time I sat out on the platform without a coat and soaked it in. Last night when I came home from Gruenowski, I thought perhaps it was the multiple gin and tonics that made me feel all sentimental. Now I am most certainly sober, and I see that the feeling has not worn off. I am just happy.

Anyway, throughout most of the train journey I slept under my winter coat. I pulled out my winter coat especially for this journey as the area around Xi’an in China is supposed to be very cold. I realized somewhere around Eisenach that my winter coat is still full of the smells of Moscow. It was, at first, a bit strange to smell of coal smoke and dust – I thought there was actually a problem with the train. But slowly I realized that the smell was coming from the coat I pulled tightly around myself and snuggled into. Funny, it is not a very pleasant smell, and yet with it a flood of pictures filled my head. Memories of the dust-darkened snow of Moscow – of walking across the Neva River in ST. Petersburg, of the dark and smelly stairwell in Alosha’s apartment block. It is a smell that is difficult to describe except that it is unpleasant and very distinctive and, well, it made me smile.

And then as I sat there breathing in the scents of Moscow, I imagined sitting on the cold hard, wooden benches of the trains from Moscow out to Sergeyev Pasod. And specifically, I remembered all of the sales people – the constant flow of people bartering their wares, announcing their way through the train selling everything from pantyhose to garden seeds. It was interesting because I had forgotten this memory until I buried my nose in my coat, on my way to China, on a train 9 months later.

It was reminiscent to pulling an old suitcase out of the closet, deep in New York winter, six months after I had lived in Barbados, and finding a layer of white sand on the bottom. And then remembering my trips to Harbor Lights, my walks along the west coast, snorkeling for the first time with Mike, and watching the beach barters hawking jewelry, straw hats, and themselves.. A small token, a gift of smell or sand, that brings back pleasant pictures from long before. And then I began to wonder what smells will my coat bring back from China? A year from now, what will it cause me to remember?

All of a sudden I am reminded of one of the most moving scenes from La Boheme when one of the young Bohemian artists sells his old coat in order to buy a doctor for Mimi. He sings a touching farewell to his coat and thanks it for their shared warmth, years, and experiences…the smell of my coat holds the same.

Anyway, as I finish these thoughts, I am now flying somewhere over St. Petersburg – and of course thinking more about my most wonderful trip to Russia. Yes, of course, there is no way that this trip could be similar to that incredible, momentous experience. But perhaps I can open my eyes and nose and ears and mind – to recognize what amazing experiences – totally different ones, that await me in China.

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