Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the land train.

We're taking the land train from the border town to Shithaus (dark grey government town of Svaltwoond). There's no trains or motorways: the spring thaws and unstable geometry of the glaciers don't allow the luxury of rail or road; so instead we're travelling in an articulated convoy of wide cabins on wheels, pulled by a converted tank. I say converted, but what I mean is that the main gun has been plugged with lead. Bêbe tells us that the tanks pulling the land trains didn't used to be disarmed this way, only since the abortive counter-revolution in the late sixties, when one went straight up the main drag in Shithaus and blew the head off the Slotpin memorial.

A little history

Slotpin was this hunch-backed yak herder from the plains of Leng who led the resistance against the Nazi occupation. Post war, he went on to become Secretary of the party (mainly by killing everybody else in the central committee). The party you're not invited to, and the one that ruled Svaltwoond with an iron elbow (that's the closest translation from the local dialect) for 60 years until the Year of Free Opinion.

That's when Clospin (who was secretary after Slotpin finally died, choking on a chicken bone, with his aides too frightened to help or heimlich), gave a speech where he said, "You know, respect to our departed and glorious leader, hero who led us out from under the Nazi ankle, but, well, he was a bit of shit you know." (I'm paraphrasing)

Of course, once that was out the inevitable decadence of gangster capitalism was not far behind, that and Macdonalds.

Still don't have free speech, mind. Like I can't say "Fuck Slotpin and all his works to behold," mainly because I can't speak the language, but also because Fusel tells me I probably don't want to spend the next several weekends tied to a bed-frame connected to a car battery, and weekdays in a windowless cell with my own shit for company. Think he may have a point.

Back to the land train

The cabin we're in is surprisingly comfortable - it's dark out, yak-wool covered shutters are bolted across the windows, and there's candles in glass jars epoxied to the walls. The high-backed seats are ranked across the wide cabin, facing each other in slightly inward curves, so you get a sense of intimacy in the swaying shadows. Because we're on fat rubber tyres and hydraulic suspension the ride is smooth, if a little undulating. There's soft music on the tannoy which is sometimes interpersed with bursts of static status reports from the tank captain up front. Other than that there's the rumble of the engine, the wind complaining outside, and the murmur of conversation. There's a pot-bellied burner at one end, tended by a stooped old lady, who also serves vodka from a big black bottle or spiced tea from a big black kettle.

We're going to be on this train for about 9 hours Bêbe tells me, so we may as well get some sleep. Good night.

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