I didn’t see the infamous smoking information booth at the station the next day, so I couldn’t confirm her existence in my rush to make my train to Suceava (in Moldavia, a region in the north).
Immediately upon entering my car and noticing that the seat numbers went in absolutely no discernible order, a young guy with a man-purse came up to me and authoritatively took my ticket and my small backpack and told me to follow him.
It took me a split second to realize that this was one of those don’t-let-them-do-that situations, so I chased after him, saying “nu, nu, nu.” He stopped at a seat and began putting my backpack in the overhead compartment, but I yanked it from him and gave an annoyed “What do you want me to do?” shrug when he held out his hand for a tip. (And don’t feel bad for him — he actually showed me to the wrong seat.)
I was lucky to not be on one of the older, slow trains, but the car was still a bit stuffy, and the sun shining through the closed windows made the orange-red interior bake.
[Trains require klezmer…] Metropolitan Klezmer – Ken O’Hara Freylekh
But while the heat made me lethargic, the train still bustled with occasional activity. Men and women walked back and forth selling chips and cookies they had obviously bought in the station, sometimes even a Blackberry phone. Some dropped a pile of trinkets on your lap — pens, lighters, puzzles, keychains — then came back two minutes later after you demonstrated your disinterest to wordlessly pick them up and take them to another passenger. A tiny Roma women with a high, plaintive voice and apparently without the use of her legs slid down the aisle asking for money, pulling herself forward, with her legs outstretched in front of her. The conductor came forward and yelled at her to leave the aisle and kicked her backward; she complied and retreated. At one stop a few hours into the trip, a raucous group of Roma boys thundered through the train, jumping on the seats, until they, too, were yelled at and kicked out of the car.
While waiting at the Suceava station for my ride to the farm I’d be volunteering at, I saw multiple families go in and out of the station with bags full of snacks and toys, perhaps feeding this underground market economy of the Romanian train system. During the three hours I was waiting (my “global” phone still ceases to function, and there was a mix-up with the station), I saw the same families pull up multiple times with new goods.
When I was finally in the car, I commented to my host about how beautiful the countryside was. He said, “Yes, and wait until you see the monastery.” And that was how I learned I’d be living and working at a monastery for the next week.