Thanks For Nothing, Nick & Nora Charles!
He has a passport,” my classmates would whisper. “Quick, let’s run before he judges us! – David Sedaris
Picture it…it’s a sultry evening in Paris. The Gare de Lyon station teems with harried people, laughing people rushing off disembarking trains or rushing onto a Eurorail moments before departure. After an intense 6 weeks in France, I am one of those people. I’m heading to Italy. France had not been without its vagaries, but it had been a fascinating month and a half. So, naturally, scarred from having lost (or had stolen) my main itinerary, emergency credit card, and extra cash, shaky from arguing with train conductors over the accusation of insufficient fare, still tingling from the shock received in a horse pen in Avignon from an electrified fence, I boarded the night train for Rome with trepidation. I was not wrong. A trip that had come so far with more twists and turns than the Amalfi Coast, was not done with me.
Wading through throngs of boisterous—nay—obnoxious American college students on break from studying abroad, I approached my compartment with unease. I had spent an inordinate amount of time choosing my seat and having the teller reassure me that I was purchasing a sleeping chair not a berth but seemed to be heading in the wrong direction if my accommodations were correct. Back in 1996, full of images of Nick and Nora Charles riding in chic luxury from New York to California, my friend and I had made the mistake of booking a sleeper car. Apparently, there are sleeper cars and then there are sleeper cars. We got the former. It was a night of horror as I lay awake for hours with my face pressed to the ceiling trying to ward off the sensation of being buried alive, trying not to acknowledge that I needed to pee and would have to clambering down the ladder in order to do so, fearing I would snore the other 3 people out of the car on the long trip from Madrid to Paris.
I have yet to fully recover from the disappointment or the embarrassment, which is why I had demanded repeatedly that I be put in a car that had oversized club chairs that reclined and not a sleeper car. I don't care what cute names like Couchettes (coo-SHETTs, from the French, to lie down) the Europeans use to try and mitigate the horror there is nothing charming about an economy sleeper car. Reaching my compartment, my heart sank. Of course, Italy, not to be outdone by France for madcap hijinks, booked me into a sleeper car with 3 other people. This turn of events went hand-in-glove with the aforementioned wilding American college students, my period going full bore, and clogged toilets to make the perfect travel experience straight out of a Stephen King novel.
I could have cried and nearly did. A sweet, half-Italian-half French man helped me with my luggage, which after 6 weeks of travel, had begun to take on the shape and density of a chubby teenager. I sat fuming, attempting to distract myself with a book while putting off as long as I could the awful ascent up the narrow ladder and into my personal nightmare. Finally, the time came, my kindly bunkmate firmly signaling that he was ready for bed and I would need to get off of the bench that would convert into his sleeping berth. Surrendering, I gathered my toiletries and braved one of the grossest toilets I had ever encountered in my adult life and I am someone who could frequently be found hanging out at CBGB! Doing what I needed to do as quickly as I could while touching as little as I could, I dashed back to my coffin on wheels, slipping and ducking as I ran the gauntlet of drunk students. I scurried up my ladder and tried to stay awake long enough for the others to reach RIM sleep, giving them a fighting chance to get some rest before my nose and throat provided a nasal lullaby no one wanted or would enjoy.
I emerged the next morning in Rome. Vowing that as the Universe was my witness, I would never ride in another sleeper car. So far so good! I may have sworn off the thrill of being buried alive, but what I have not sworn off in the subsequent years, which have included getting hit in the forehead with a glass in a bar in Paris, getting stuck on the side of a mountain in South Korea and even a pandemic, is fully experiencing the world, pushing past my fears and discomforts to live fully in the present with grace and gratitude.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in July when we travel deeper into Italy.
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!