Damn you, January.
According to the ancient Mayan calendar, January 21st, 2019, is the day that a reasonably young man in Bergen, Norway, were to goof around in his garden with a cup of coffee, a really long lens and a thermal skirt borrowed from his girlfriend. The Mayans sure hit pretty close with that prophecy!
(Photo from my backyard, 6:40 this morning. I had this sneaking feeling that I hadn’t posted anything to this blog for a few months, and just realized «a few months» actually meant 16 months…)
A month of looking out windows, seeing Eastern Europe pass by, scene by scene.
I spent a month looking out the windows of trains and buses, passing great murders of crows, power plants and haystacks, empty billboards, roadside crosses and teenagers bored at weddings.
Some views repeated themselves: endless fields of sunflowers; railway workers not working.
On a late Saturday evening this July, I boarded the sleeper train from Istanbul to Sophia. From there on, I travelled through Bulgaria and Romania, to Hungary, Ukraine and Poland.
Through thousands of kilometres on rail and road I followed the passing landscapes of Eastern Europe and recorded some moments, some views: Each a glimpse and gone forever, to quote the closing line in Robert Louis Stevenson’s railway poem.
“That’s a pike. I don’t like pikes. They’re bitey but not tasty.” (American tourist couple overheard at the local public aquarium.)
Giddy tourists petting stone genitalia. Families collecting pokemonkeys. Terrified small children whose fathers, inspired by the sculptures, try to juggle them. Yup. It’s the Vigeland sculpture park.
My girlfriend and I rented a lighthouse on an uninhabited islet.
At a kid’s grave you leave toys and teddys. What do you leave at your dog’s final resting place? Tennis balls of course!
Trench dogs. Proper canine war heroes dead of exhaustion after pulling 40 wounded men off of a battlefield. Pups having been too brave in the Paris traffic. Also some cats. And a horse. A chicken even. Yes. And a monkey.
These are dead animals interred at Paris’ Le Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. Or – as my girlfriend told the Über driver – le cimetière des wouf-wouf.*
I try to visit at least one graveyard on each trip when travelling. Usually I end up on war cemeteries, like Arlington or Douaumont, but sometimes something special shows up, like Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery. Or this.
This. This is peculiar. The place is silly and sombre at the same time. A completely over-the-top thunder storm set the mood when we visited (at what was probably much the same time as I was admiring the tomb of Bibi the Bichon Frise, a lighting strike at another Paris park electrocuted eleven children at a birthday party. Jeesh).
An old, deaf cat lady at the cemetery who obviously couldn’t hear the thunder still felt something thunder-y in the generel atmosphere and tried seeking my advice on whether to take shelter. My French being limited to mispronounced high school-Victor Hugo-highlights, I tried hand-signalling, failed miserably and took a taxi to the Deyrolle taxidermy showroom where I fell in love with a stuffed platypus valued at €22.500.
Backstory: My girlfriend tried ordering an Über for us, but the driver who obviously hadn’t heard of this place before refused to believe there was such a thing as a dog cemetery in Paris. So when my girlfriend was tired of repeating “Cimetière des Chiens” to a man who seemingly thought she was trying to say something else, she decided to drive the point home by barking at him.
The Japanese tradition of hanami – the celebration of the transient beauty of flowers, observed through enjoying a nice picnic in the shade of a cherry tree – is a brilliant concept that lends itself very poorly to Norwegian weather.
Today was the Norwegian constitution day. There were casualties.