Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Last station

In the Astrakhan night

We arrive at this station’s platform and the day is getting dark. We head towards the exit when a half drunk police officer checks our tickets and tells us not to film in the station. We go into this cold place with raw lighting and we go to the ticket booth to buy two tickets for Baku. The woman at the booth has a look, gives us the schedules, and we choose a train. The work is 90 per cent done, but the woman comes back a few minutes later to tell us that foreigners can’t take this train because it passes through Chechnya. So we have to take a plane. I’m disappointed and happy at the same time. We take a taxi to the Lotus hotel for 200 rubles. We arrive in front of a very large and modern building with Wi-Fi and dad goes to see if there’s a room available. Meanwhile, mom calls and I tell her what’s happening. I finish my text and send it by Internet. I do a bit of research and go to sleep.

Dark images of Russia

Laughter and sadness

Like the day before, nothing extraordinary happens today. I’m still in this compartment doing the same things with dad. We go to the restaurant for lunch, but then something new happens. There’s a man from Dagestan completely drunk. When he learns that we’re French, he talks to us about d’Artagnan, Alexandre Dumas, Napoleon and Sarkozy. This man is in second class where men, women, and children are piled up in the carriages and where odors of fatigue, wait, desperation, and a certain poverty, mix with moments of joy and love. Going to the restaurant, we can smell the drinkers, smokers and dirty people. The face of the person preparing our food looks familiar to me. I observe him. That’s it, I know, he reminds me of my friend Pierre-René whom I haven’t seen in a long lime and would perhaps like to see again through Balthazar, my friend who lives in Spain and who sees Pierre-René often. We eat our Stroganov beef and go back to the compartment. The phone is ringing off the hook for work and I write. Dad imitates Harry in front of the camera and we have a good laugh. Harry was our translator in Inner Mongolia, and like every Chinese he chose an English name. But for a reason I don’t understand, he chose a name in which there’s an H and two Rs, letters that are unpronounceable for the Chinese. So, when he said his name it would sound like ALLI. I keep writing to keep up with my texts. Then, with dad, we stay in the compartment and wait to arrive to Astrakhan. To pass the time, we look out the window and see that we are passing from mountains to steppes and we’re getting closer to Europe. There is in this desert world a few human grains of sand that live in dented houses in a place that can barely be called a “village”. This place is filled with history. The indo-european civilization was born 15 000 years ago and eventually divided itself in two groups, the first went to actual India and the other towards actual Europe. That’s why we call it “indo-european.” These landscapes bring us closer to Astrakhan. A little later, going back to the carriage that was once full, I see that the second class is emptying as the stations go by. At each stop, old women come running with bags in their hands to sell small foods, to be able to bring something to eat to their families. We settle into the compartment and dad gets some rest while I listen to music. We call Webistan, the studio and I talk to my cousin Soheil who just got back from Italy. We stop at a station where the platform is cut in three rails and where the merchants shout. I observe and see a pregnant woman with a baby in her arms. Next to her is her daughter of about 13 who is also pregnant. I continue to walk to go buy ice cream like dad asked me to. On my way, I talk with two young Russians and I see that the also know Arshavin, the great Russian soccer player who is as well known as Cristiano Ronaldo. They pass me their Coca Cola, and then I go back to dad and I eat an ice cream, he eats two and also gives one to “mongolfiere” who is in actually Kazakh. When the train leaves, we go back to the compartment and I start to play chess and I lose. Then, after a few matches, I win. I talk to Mina, my grandmother, but I wasn’t able to speak to Titou and Djanan. It’s time to get ready for our arrival in Astrakhan and I finish my text and put everything away.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A day passes

Dreams and complicity

This day is like any other day on a train. I got up in this empty compartment. I began to reflect and talk with dad. We arrive in a station and dad gets off the train. I finish writing the text I started and then I follow him. I end up in front of a market on the platform that resembles the market of Saintes Maries de la Mer, a lovely little city in Camargue that I recommend you to go visit. Over there is my childhood, adolescence and a part of my life that took place there; there’s the soul of a small town that I love. So, from this train that crosses forests and Russian forests, I embrace all those I love who are over there now. Before our eyes, the market is filled with food, objects and things that are always useful. Dad returns with a headlamp, a Swiss knife and food. When the train leaves, I’m inside but dad isn’t, so he runs and jumps in the train. “Well, Marina, you were right. It’s indeed Indiana Jones, or rather Afghana Jones.” We both stay in the carriage and we write, read and laugh. I imagine other traveling I would like to do later and talk to dad about them. Then, we go see Putin and we meet two young men: one that looks strikingly Pakistani while the other is blonde. They are young and drunk. We learn later that these two men were workers on the train’s maintenance; that’s reassuring. We eat and go back to the compartment. I collapse from exhaustion and sleep.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Towards the city of Astrakhan

In the warmth of an ageless train

So, we pack everything and dash towards the train. We have 53 hours of train ahead of us! When we arrive in our compartment, we come across leather beds that are a little hard but that also have mattresses. We are alone, which is cool. With dad, we joke around a lot. He has work to do, so he calls Aina in Paris to talk about Aina Photo Agency. Finally, we go eat and we end up in front of a very tall man that serves us with joy; it’s nice. Dad tells me he thinks our waiter looks like Putin and I laugh. We eat and dad imitates Harry when he says his name in English and I’ve never laughed so hard. Then we head back and I read while dad goes for a stroll. When he comes back, he tells me that in our carriage there’s a very round woman resembling a balloon that has been inflated too much, and since she looks Mongolian we call her “mongolfiere”. We stay in the compartment and when it gets late, we go to bed and sleep.

Stops on the road

Balzac under the cold neon glare

I wake up when dad asks me to get up because we have to change planes. We arrive in the departure lounge to wait but barely five minutes later, we have to go back into the same plane. I settle in and sleep peacefully, but a few hours later, dad wakes me up again to tell me that we have to change planes again. Waking up, I hear a little girl of about 6 crying and I’m sad for her. Her mother is a very young and pretty blonde woman and is as sad as I am for her daughter who can’t stand these interminable changes. We arrive again in a departure lounge where we wait longer than the previous time, but always boarding the same plane again; we’re in Omsk. We go back in and the plane doesn’t start once, then twice. Then, with dad, we think about our poor Kagoo in Paris which had the same difficulty staring as this plane, but the problem is that here I don’t have Djanan’s muscular arms to help me push the engine. Finally, after a third attempt without success, they tell us the plane will be delayed without knowing exactly for how long. We’re not very happy since we have a train to catch and we wouldn’t want to miss it. We wait in this airport that looks more like a hospital than anything else and we settle in, I have a small piece of pizza to eat and I read. My book is “La peau de chagrin” by Honoré de Balzac. He writes so well! He details things in a way I would never have thought possible. A Russian man tells us in half English and half sign that a plane should be here within three hours, so we wait. I keep on reading and dad edits his photos. Sacha, the Russian man, tells us the plane is landing and it shouldn’t be too long and it will be ok for our train. We are relieved. We put our things away and when they call us, we go board the plane. At first, the plane doesn’t start. But then a man dressed in orange manages to start the engine by the strength of his hands and the blowing of the wind. When the plane takes off, I fall asleep listening to my iPod. I wake up when our plane arrives in Tyumen, our final destination and I say to myself: “finally”.

The frozen wait

From the airport to the train station

I see the airport; I have the impression of being at the entrance of an abandoned cave. But once inside to pick up the luggage, I find myself in a very modern universe and I remember that many great things today began in a garage, like Google, Apple or the Rolling Stones. I wait for my bags but since they don’t arrive, I’m a little worried. Finally they come. Dad sees a taxi driver and asks him how much it would cost to go to the station. The driver writes him something on a piece of paper, but dad finds it too expensive so he asks Sacha how much it costs and he tells him to wait. A few minutes later, he comes back and tells us that he’ll accompany us with his wife. We talk and he tells us to be careful because there is a lot of criminality and theft in Russia, we thank him. We finally arrive at the train station and we thank Sacha and his wife. We go in the station and dad tells me to wait. He’s going to find a place for us to rest. In the meantime, I sit and observe this crowded station. It reminds me of Gare du Nord in Paris, filled with people of different colors. Here, in this station, people must come from all the small Republics or former Republics of the USSR, places they are returning to. Finally, dad returns and tells me that it’s on the 8th floor with no elevator. We have to bring up the entire luggage, or else there’s a sort of VIP room with seats, so I tell him I prefer the second solution. We settle in a place where the people are exhausted and the woman at the reception is mean and cold. Dad charges the electronics. I watch a Russian television series about war and dad calls Paris. I call a few people and I’m happy. We wait for hours in this cold place before hearing “Astrakhan” and tell ourselves: “that’s us”.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

From the other side of the world, I write to you

West-bound departure

I finish writing and with dad we decide to climb the hill to send by wind and web the texts to mom. When all is sent we buy ice cream to refresh our ideas. Valera, the head of the house, is waiting to accompany us to the airport. I go in his car and he puts on music. I find it funny since it’s French. Actually, his first wife works in Paris. Lulled by this music, spread out on the back seat, I fall asleep. I wake up in front of the airport and in the pouring rain, I take the luggage and we run. We are more than two hours early and we’re going to wait. Dad sees a place that wraps luggage in plastic, and since it’s raining he decides to have ours wrapped. When everything is done, we settle down and I write postcards. It’s time to board and we notice that there are only businessmen in the plane and it makes us laugh. We pass without problem and at the lasers I get controlled by a pretty Buryat woman. I board the plane; it’s so small that it looks like a giant’s toy. I settle in my seat and sleep.