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  • I got caught up in an old memory on my walk to work the other morning. It was one of those amazing DC spring mornings that keep those of us who are a little tired of the city here for "just another season." The weather reminded me of a trip I took to Sweden over Easter while I lived over in Germany. I was going to visit my friends Aasa (really spelled Asa, with a little ring-y thing over the A, so its like OH-saa) and her boyfriend, American Mike, in Malmoe and Lund, Southern Sweden. To get there from berlin, I had to take a train from one of the decrepit eastern train stations (this is pre- the investment that recently transformed the stations into glass-and-brushed-metal extravaganzas) to a port in northern germany called Stralsund; said train would then dock in a ferry, which would ship us all across the water to Skona. A long trip, to say the least, but overnight so it wasnt so bad.

    Anyway, right before this particular trip, I had had a really scary experience, visiting a totally unsympathetic, homophobic German physician who needlessly scared the crap out of this young American gay man. In short, I was a sweaty wreck, in a foreign country, and my friends were all away for the holiday (I was the last to leave). Parts of that day are still a blur, like I was moving through some kind of viscous air that made everything slow and garbled at the edges. Somehow I ended up in the Ostbahnhof at the right time, got on the train, found my couchette (traveling in style), and curled up, waiting on the departure.

    Somewhen before the train pulled out of the station, about 14 young blonde girls, all about 14 years old, made their way into my cabin and the ones next to mine, gossiping about something only 14 year-old girls on an overnight train to Sweden could find to gossip about. I spoke in German to the group of 4 in my cabin, asking where they were from, what they were doing here, and the like, and learned they were returning home from a class trip to Vienna, where they had just entered and nearly won a pan-Europe a capella singing contest. Cool. They were really friendly, all of them, shocked to see an American of all people, going to Lund of all places, who could speak German of all things, and who knew a little bit about music. After chatting some, the train started pulling slowly out; I told them goodnight, curled back up in fetal position on my couchette, still drained but feeling a little bit better having actually spoken to other human beings.

    The train was moving slowly; you know how trains are: big overgrown teenager-things, full of power and energy, but, until they get going, seem like theyre not sure they want to leave home. The girls were starting to talk more slowly, softer, moving in and out of the hallway, checking in with each other, until finally one said, "do you mind if we sing?" I looked up and saw only blonde hair and pairs of blue eyes and blushing, innocent cheeks standing outside my cabin. I shook my head, and they started. One girl would sing a phrase, and then another would join in, singing a slow, baby's coo of a folk song, first in unison and then in harmony. As they were singing, Id look out the window at the lights of the wrecked city moving imperceptibly (almost) past. There were several parts to several songs, but to me they were all the same song...the kind of song that old grannies would hum to themselves, rocking, by a fire, late at night, in a snowbound midwinter in the north, nothing joyous, but very practical, relieving, story-telling, end-of-day music. After each song, there was this the entire train, passengers, moldy carpet, rusty metal, all of it, was holding its breath; like you were totally alone but there and connected with everyone else, singers, everyone, all at the same time. They sung me to sleep that night...I like to think they sung me to Sweden, like I rode their ripply voices in my sleep.
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