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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Of the kindness of strangers

In Karlsruhe, we rushed to catch my afternoon train. We'd had a pleasant, leisurely wonderful breakfast, Mari, Falk, his mother, who was visiting, and me. Then Mari and I went to a museum, a story in itself, which we both really enjoyed. We all met up again, did a bit of shopping in an Asian grocery store, and then, somehow, lost track of the time. We ran into the station with literally minutes to catch the train, and I was out of breath with only a minute to go when I got onboard. I needed to, but hadn't had time to, pay the 5 Euro reservation fee. On the train, while I was still recovering from the rush through the station, the conductor came by. I explained that I hadn't had time, and tried to play the dumb foreigner. Nothing doing; the conductor informed me that there would be an additional 10 euro charge for paying onboard, so, 15 euros rather than the 5. Ten euros is about 14 dollars. I was frustrated, and asked if she couldn't give me a break. She was nice enough, said she would if she could, but it wasn't a possibility. And I am sure she was right.

I paid the money, then asked her if there would be another extra fee on the next train. I said I hoped I had enough to pay for a taxi when I got to Colmar, back in France. She assured me there was no additional fee. And I, of course, had my credit card and could easily get more cash, although I didnt know if there would be a machine at the station.

As soon as the conductor moved on, the woman across the aisle from me waved a ten euro bill in front of my face, and said, in typical German style, "take it." I of course refused. She insisted, and I kept insisting that I could't, realizing that around us, people were observing, and probably had observed the entire interraction with the conductor. I started to sniffle, and then tears began to roll down my face. I was both embarrassed and extrememely touched. I eventually realized that she would outlast me, and I told her I could only accept the money if she gave me her name and address so that I could send her something. With this, we seemed to have reached a truce. Her name was Sonja. She works with addicted women and their children. I told her I would write about her in my blog, and now I have. I told her that I would't forget her kindness, and I won't.

The trip to Strasburg from Karlsruhe wasn't very long. Sonja qlso got off there to change trains. She was going to Marseille on vacation. She helped me carry my bags off the train, and we went our separate ways.

The next train was ten minutes later, from Strasburg to Colmar. It also was a fairly short ride. I sat down next to a man perhaps a little older than me, opposite a woman who I thought to be his wife.But it turned out that they didn't know each other. The man immediately asked if I would like some grapes. I was indeed hungry, and eagerly accepted. I told him it was the second gift I had received in a short period of time, and I told him about the incident on the other train. I explained how I hadn't wanted to accept her gift, but that she was insistent. He said it was important to accept when a gift was offered. He was somewhat courtly in his manner, and very kind as well.He was from Bulgaria, originally, but lives in Switzerland and works for an organization that helps folks in prison. His name was Ivan. He gave me his card. And then it was time to disembark, in Colmar.

And I will stop here, but please check back.Who knows what I may encounter between here and Boston. And there are still quite a few incidents and encounters that I need to tell about.

Until then, take care.

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