Breaking in a new Moleskine Diary, smacks of the Sacred. If there was ever a time to inaugurate one, this was it, west bound from Istanbul on the famed rails of the Orient Express toward exotic destinations. For some distance we would share these historic rails with the likes of Inspector Poirot and Agatha Christie, before skewing south towards Thessaloniki. I cracked open the smooth black cover of my pocket size journal and put pen to paper.
This particular journey was not on “The” Orient Express itself, but rather the Dostluk Filia, an overnighter run to Greece. We had booked two sleeping compartments and we’re looking forward to being caressed to somnolence as we journeyed across western Turkey and into Greece. We were comfortably settled in as we made our way out of Istanbul and into the setting sun.
West of Bakirkoy
This night would prove to be one of the most wretchedly enchanted evenings of my life. A journey through the midnight hours racked by jerks, stops, sways, mosquitoes, and the repeated rapping at our door for passports and inspections. Making our way across borders that are less than “Filial” (as our tickets proclaimed) was an unexpected ordeal.
The ancestral tension between these neighbor countries was the
cause of our involuntary insomnia. No sooner than starting off from a Custom’s checkpoint, turning out the lights and snuggling down, we would feel the deceleration of the train and…soon…the porter’s rap at the door with the monotone proclamation of “Passaporta Control”. He would be followed by the respective border officials who would politely enter our small compartment, inspect our baggage or collect our passports, and return an hour later to send us off on another cruel hoax that sleep was before us. Over a 3 hour period we had stopped no less than four times for baggage inspections, security checks, and passport control.
Our last checkpoint had been two hours ago and we were sleeping soundly when the sun began to rise bringing unwanted temptation to look out the window. I had resisted the impulse to peek, when a loud voiced woman of unmentioned Mediterranean extraction began to look for her (no doubt fearful) husband. I don’t know if she ever found “George” but everyone on our car knew he had gone missing…or into hiding. By the time she had flushed him out, stopped screaming his name, and rattling doors (ours included), we were fully awake, if not quite coherent.
Nescafe was the best we could procure, but with the views out the window, the rattle of the tracks and the romance of the journey, Starbucks could not have improved on the moment. In fact if I had been able to conjure up one of Sb’s concoctions I don’t know if I could have handled the nostalgic sentiment with masculine dignity
Sitting there as fields, villages and churches swept past our window in the early morning sun fueled my passion for wandering. During one brief stop we watched as an elderly woman swept off the walkway to her villa with a short handled broom, bent over at the waist, left hand pressed against the small of her back, hiding her feet in small clouds of dust. To have had the chance to sit in her kitchen, (while something with garlic simmered away on an old stove), and listen to her talk of life, love and hope is the stuff that makes me wander. I wanted to ask her about those she had loved, the children she had raised and whether there were things at her old age, for which she still hoped and prayed. Our budding friendship evaporated in a cloud of dust from her walkway as our train pulled out of the station and out of her life.
I love the pursuit of investing in people’s lives: Their past, triumphs, failures, and purpose, are things that capture my attention and passion. I guess I am addicted to the “Gist of Lives”, how we live and what we do with our limited time on earth compels me to ask those who have lived longer than me…to tell their secrets. We have been the beneficiary of many of these exchanges…it has given us an affluence of soul to invest again and again.
We pulled into Thessaloniki over two hours late. A quick trip to our hotel by cab, the fortune of an early check in, hot showers, and a tooth brush set us up for a long nap in the cool of a dark, air conditioned room.
When we finally stumbled to the window in mid afternoon, opened the door, and stepped out onto our veranda, we were greeted by the Gulf of Thermaikos just yards from our room. A blast of Macedonian heat hit us and we reveled in its intensity. It seemed a perfect ending to the first entry in my new Moleskine Diary.
Waiting for the Train in Greece
A journey that started in Asia aboard a rail line soaked in mystery, intrigue and murder, a sleeping compartment that allowed no slumber, and now the heat soaked climate of our Aegean destination with its Macedonian past and Euro-Med present, seduced this family of four. We realized once again that we were made to do this thing that we are doing…Living, Traveling and Wandering on the Far Side of the World.