[NetBehaviour] Overland: Necessary improvisation-> brilliantinterlude

manik manik at sbb.rs
Mon Sep 14 00:57:57 CEST 2009

" I can't interpret the tone of their laughing and joking."


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Ruth Catlow 
  To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity 
  Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 9:17 PM
  Subject: [NetBehaviour] Overland: Necessary improvisation-> brilliantinterlude

  Back-blogging Friday 11th September
  (or read with links here http://blog.furtherfield.org/?q=node/307 )

  On Thursday morning I'm gutted that (due to the extra time taken by my overland travel plans) that I can't stay for the whole of /ETC which ends on Sunday. I'm also nervous about making the solo trip home. When I arrive at Haymatlos I am told that last night's storms have damaged the international rail lines out of Turkey so badly that trains are not expected to run for at least the next 15 days. So I am super grateful when Begum quickly finds and books me a cheap, alternative route to Sophia by bus that will allow me to catch my reserved train connection in Bucharest. I am still unnerved though. I was starting to get the hang of the trains and it's the endless unfamiliarity that is especially taxing.

  I (rather naughtily) leave Aileen to run the Drupal workshop in the morning, in order to brunch with Rob. His good gossip and a plate of excellent food cheers me up no end. When he hears that I now have a 4 hour gap in Sophia between my bus arriving and my train leaving he also puts me in touch with a Bulgarian artist Petko Dourmana at a media arts agency there called Inter-space.

  The day is over in a flash. The feedback I receive for my presentation on Zero Dollar Laptop (a project that we have been developing in partnership with Access Space) was serious, tough and very helpful. I give my presentation, have a great discussion and then it's time for me to go. I hug Aileen (who I will miss like mad) and others good bye and they all go off to a nearby private view as part of the Biennial. I am left feeling momentarily abandoned, abject and mad with anxiety as I gather my effects.

  I trail to the local bus station but it turns out that the service bus to the main coach station won't leave for another hour so I attempt to ease my nerves with banana and chocolate pancakes. It works!...temporarily. When we reach the main station I feel very self-conspicuous. Most passengers seem like locals and I cannot spot either any women traveling on their own or any tourists. I'm not sure I would have chosen tea drinking as my technique for remaining inconspicuous if I had known that there would not be a toilet on the coach. Agonising about what I would do when my bladder reached bursting point when thankfully we stopped at services. This ride across the country to the Bulgarian border appears to cross miles of almost-wilderness. I see very view lights or electricity pylons but humanity is evident every ten seconds in the billboards for 'Merilyn' cigarettes (with a picture of Marilyn Munroe) or vodka endorsed by Bruce Willis or some such.

  Apparently coaches present the least environmentally harmful mode of long distance public transport. However from this passenger's perspective this ride was only tolerable because I was one of the very lucky few to have two seats to myself and so could lie down (in a twisty kind of way) and get some kip.

  We arrive in Sophia at about 8am and I get a bit of a fright. It appears that I have missed the only train to Bucharest which left at 7.45. I try a different tack with the (English speaking) woman at the information desk. Looking at the map I notice that the Bucharest route is rather a long way round and ask if I can go direct to Budapest and pick up my next train connection from there instead. She shakes her head sympathetically but I persist and ask if there is no way for me to go through Belgrade instead. Bingo! She has assumed for some reason that I would not want to cross the Serbian border. I don't know why, but it is intriguing- something to find out about. Anyway it is all sorted and she seems amused by my delight at not having to stay a night in Sophia. But my train is at 11.55 and the reservation costs about €11.

  With Petko I enjoy a brilliant interlude and am rescued from more undisciplined eating and introspection. He takes me on a tour of scenic Sophia, buys me an espresso coffee and purveys more local and National Bulgarian history than I can absorb. He tells me that the remarkable thing about Bulgaria today is that it "has no enemies". Petko has also returned recently from a 3 day each-way, overland trek to Dublin for ISEA. He travelled with family in a car that he has reconditioned to be fueled by recycled vegetable oil. This lowers its carbon emissions and reduces to zero other harmful exhaust fumes. He says the traveling was 'awful'. We share a common fascination with post-apocalypse fiction: McCarthy's The Road, Wyndam's Day of the Triffids etc. At ISEA he was showing an installation called Post Global Warming Survival Kit which drew on post apocalyptic scenarios of human survival after a nuclear winter. It takes a dark (but to my mind plausible) view of contemporary politics of the state and the corporation. The audience experience the film landscapes that surround them in the installation through night vision glasses.
  I have to rush to catch my train but am left with a very pleasant impression of Sophia and its people.

  During the train ride back through Bulgaria, from Turkey to Serbia, we travel through wide valleys ranged by distant hills and I am reminded by Rob's anecdote about the artist Christo, to think about why, from the perspective of a rail traveler, there may appear to be no wilderness in Western Europe and very little in Eastern Europe. Apparently Christo's large scale land works were inspired by the summers he spent in his youth, arranging bails of hay on either side of the railway track to create an impression of productivity and abundance in Communist Bulgaria. Of course; people and the landscape will be changed in all manner of ways in response to the presence of the railway line.

  Boarding the train a young woman is so disturbed by the prospect of sharing a carriage with me to Belgrade that she pays the conductor the equivalent of £25. All she says to me is "its so stressful", and looks really stressed, so I say I understand, try not to take it personally and build myself a nest on the lower bunk with blankets and pillows.

  Can Autumn have really arrived in the 5 days since I was last traveling this way? Occasional brown-leaf trees that I didn't notice before. I want to soak up the surroundings as we travel through Serbia but I'm tired and a bit lonesome and so instead I stretch out on my bed, finish my novel, Alan Garner's Thursbitch and dream of a sentient landscape in which the leaves of trees are reaching down like hands. While I sleep we travel through Belgrade, where the carriages and engine are reconfigured with mechanical crunches and violent jolts. I am unsettled by Serbian soldiers hanging out and inadvertently bumping and kicking the door of my sleeper- I can't interpret the tone of their laughing and joking.

  We Won't Fly For Art!

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