The regional trains to Sighișoara are older models; wear on each surface fighting hard to preempt undoing by any future restoration efforts. Entire families fill each cabin, making the journey north from Brașov to the villages dotted along the train’s route. The cabins occupy most of the carriage’s already-narrow width, with only a single corridor along one side, barely wide enough to walk along without coming into contact with windows, doors, walls, or other passengers. My ticket had no seat marked on it, so I wandered down to one of the few openable windows and prepared myself for a few hours of standing.
Shortly after leaving the station a conductor began his rounds, with a uniformed police officer alongside him. I watched them checking tickets along the row of cabins, gradually making their way towards me, and occasionally stopping for the police officer to converse quietly with any younger passengers he encountered. Irina had mentioned to me that Romanian minors are disallowed from leaving the country under most circumstances, and the train’s route eventually led out of the country, so perhaps the officer was ensuring that the children were disembarking before the border. As I listened to their conversations, it occurred to me that I don’t know any Romanian.
As the duo arrived by my window, I offered my ticket to the conductor and gave a polite smile to the officer, hoping that the proactivity of my gestures would wordlessly suggest “This is a completely ordinary situation, nothing to see here, no need to ask any questions”. After all, chances were slim that we spoke any of the same languages — Japanese and Chinese are far from popular in Romania, and while written Romanian isn’t impossible to guess at (thanks to my excellent middle-school Latin teacher), I certainly can’t fake my way through actual discourse in the Romance languages anymore.
Luckily, a little social tact seems to go a long way in unfamiliar places. Hopefully some apparent familiarity with the interaction (feigned or not), coupled with not looking too obviously like a foreigner, seemed to convince the conductor and officer that everything was in order. Handing my ticket back, the conductor said something that I assume was along the lines of “Have a nice day”, and I issued a mulțumesc in return. He and the officer continued down the cabin, stopping for quite a while to talk with a pair of excitable young boys in soccer jerseys.
Trains seem to be one of those kinds of places where even the unexpected is totally ordinary. Ordinary people — even the apparent outliers, who are ordinary fixtures of their own communities. Ordinary places — places for the ordinary people to go and carry on with their ordinary lives. The journey naturally brought to mind some famous train-oriented photographic works such as those of Paul Fusco (shooting ordinary Americans along the tracks of the RFK funeral train) and Steve McCurry (photographing the day-to-day activities of Indian train passengers), and I readily imagined returning to Romania to spend weeks on its trains, seeing every detail of everyone’s totally normal, yet completely fascinating, rural Romanian life playing out by the tracks and in the cabins.
The train rattled onwards as the countryside barely noticed the brief interruption in the clear and quiet air. I did not tire for a moment of the endless green hills sloping gradually up in every direction over the horizon.
Every stop was a met with a small white plaster building, each nearly identical, save for the sign with the village’s name, and the short streak of asphalt which served as its platform. Disembarking passengers readily strolled across the other tracks on their way out, knowing that nothing would even be approaching for another several hours.
Time hardly seemed pass on the train. Hour to hour, the daylight barely changed. The green of the grass remained constant, as did the sky’s eastern blue and western hazy white. Every kilometer seemed to contain a different diorama, the arrangement of hills and trees distinctly different than those before, yet never anything but perfectly ordinary.
More images from Romania can be viewed here.