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I Drove A Train Across The Arctic Circle

I had not won a prize

Photo by Josh Nezon on Unsplash

Some years ago, some friends and I decided to travel around Sweden by train. We slept in youth hostels or church social rooms (they often have sauna rooms, and several rooms for Sunday School, youth activities, etc).

The trains in Sweden are very punctual. You can literally set your watch by them. And they are clean and frequent.

We started in the south after getting the ferry in Germany, and we finished in the south, returning on the same ferry.

In between, we ventured through cities and villages, and saw wilderness and lots of wild animals. Reindeer are common but I saw a real Elk. Sweden has a fairly low population considering its huge size. There are vast areas of forest and lakes. It is a very beautiful country.

The trains are well used as the government has the sense to keep ticket prices low. Yet despite the high use they get, the trains are in good shape, with no signs of vandalism or graffiti.

It is hard to say “I drove a train over the arctic circle”. Not that I say it often. The last time I said aloud, while watching a documentary about acrtic animals, my friend said somewhat scoffingly, “Oh they came and invited you in person!”. The truth is not so different from that, but that it was me who crossed the circle is pure accident.

So, our group had travelled quite a way north after about twenty days. We had decided to visit the friend of a friend in Kiruna. As we went farther north, the less people there were on the trains. The day we headed for Kiruna, the were maybe fifteen people on the train as far as we could tell. Gradually, people got off and our train proceeded north. At a stop, the driver (if that is what he is called) came to our little group and asked if we would like to see the cabin at the front. We were unanimous in our “yes”.

Off we went, following the man. We arrived in a very simple cabin. It had one seat and a large windscreen. I’m sure there were other things too, but I don’t recall them. I was just overwhelmed by being invited to be there.

The man invited the first of us to “drive” the train. I couldn’t quite see what was involved. But then it was my turn, and I discovered that all it took was putting one’s foot on a bar above the floor. It was a dead man’s brake — the train would stop if a foot fell off the bar, whether through death, sleep, or any other reason. I found this to be rather dull and wondered how one qualified to drive trains in Sweden.

Then, the man called out for us to look at a sign. It said “Arctic Circle” in several languages. I felt much more excited then. I had known we would cross at some point.

So, this is how I drove a train across the arctic circle. It sounds so much grander than it actually is.

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LIFE/MEMOIR

Being A Cook In Barcelona

Innocence abroad

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

When I was young and stupid, I decided I would take a job in a soup kitchen in Barcelona. I had some Spanish, and speak French, so why not? It would make good stories. (I say this about anything. The good and the bad. Even the appalling.)

The accommodation was basic, to say the least. But my time off was my own to explore the city.

I had to go to the market to buy fresh vegetablesIn Spain, there is no queue or line for anything. It is the survival of the fittest. Huge women huddled in front of me. I was overwhelmed.

A young woman at the stall saw tiny me and beckoned me over. She asked what I wanted. Full of gratitude, I told her. She said to come to her every time I needed to buy vegetables.

I had friends from around the world. I spoke to locals in French and tried to improve my Spanish. One friend started having stomach pain, and it turned out to be constipation.

A group of us set out to get him a remedy. We went to a pharmacy, and used a Spanish word book and gestures. The Spanish love gestures, they use them all the time.

The pharmacist listened and watched carefully. Then his eyes lit up. Ah, we thought collectively, he is getting what is needed. However, he reappeared with Vicks, a rubbing on vapor for colds and coughs.

So, once more into the breach. We used more Spanish words from the book and started pointing at my friend’s anatomy. The pointing seemed to work well. The pharmacist produced some tablets with a flourish. We were relieved.

Twenty-four hours later, I heard my friend describe the enormous result. I wish I could unhear it. I am still in touch with that friend, and he will never forget Barcelona.

Photo by Biel Morro on Unsplash

We visited the cathedral, which was unfinished. It might be now, I lose track.

Toward the end of my stint as a cook, I was asked to cook for twenty-two people. I went to a supermarket to buy meat. Big mistake. Stick with what you know. The labels were unrecognizable.

I could not eat that meal. I think I bought horse. I am a horsewoman. I cannot eat horse. Ever.

I loved Las Ramblas. A pedestrian road full of mime artists, artisans, and pickpockets. So colorful. And Plaza Catalunia. A lovely space to sit in the sunshine.

It was bocadillas that gave my friend constipation. They are long, white rolls. Even filling them with tomato, peppers, and other salad items did not prevent his predicament. But he got a bad stomach in El Salvador, so I stopped feeling bad. At a friend’s wedding, all he could eat was plain boiled potatoes.

I’ve forgotten most of the vegetable names I used. I still have some Spanish. It all makes good stories.

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Departures

Dusk at another airport
one can see the heat hanging
a yellow orb is low in the sky
slowly turning to egg yolk|
and then mango

Sinking slowly as a goodbye
turning the color of oranges
finally some red markings
as that sun drops away

Published in The Lark

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Lands and Countries

In three countries before I was born
and then we moved to one of them
where Oma and Opa raised me
their house truly was my home

Age five we changed countries and language
no more Oma and Opa except twice a year
pined myself sick for my true home
no one understood that was clear

Then we moved to another town
home to me with dens and trees in the garden

the boy next door was sweet on me
he took my side always and secretly kissed me

And then all hell broke loose on me
ensuring I would never be the same
that took me to the strangest land
that has followed me all around the globe

Collecting countries is what I’ve done
and absorbed their cultures too
but the one I want so much to leave
is the land that follows me everywhere

Published in The Lark

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I Have Wandered

Many countries are in my passport
many cultures,
 cuisines, cities, mountains
people are in my memories, that I prize

I still wander where the green light allows
refining me, learning, to be better person
this journey is never complete, more

is always welcomed, so that I am full,
wiser, better friend, better teacher
There is no stop sign in my way