Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 22. Legging it Across the Latvian Border

Memories of Things from Time

“Casting your gaze south from the colourful Latvian border pole on the Baltic Coast, a sprawled out beauty lies stretching for kilometres, petering out in the distant Lithuanian horizon. Spilling against the shoreline, the inky tides of the Baltic Sea harbour all the romanticism of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. They also, tragically, harbour thousands of tonnes of industrial chemicals from Russia and Sweden, making the sea one of the most polluted in the world.”

I cringed and tossed my pen aside.
What was this jabber?
I rose and slumped into my Nixon thinking position, fogging breath against the window pane, hands clasped behind my back.
Staring out between the pale curtains of my cinderblock commie outpost, sweating from the heat of mid-summer, I couldn’t see anything- stifled as I was by my own internal writhing.

Eastern block. Apartment block. Writer’s block.
I just wanted to block it all out.

I felt like a cigarette. I felt for a cigarette.
I pawed at my pants in presumption.
The smoke would dance and I would write again!
But my pockets were empty as a Lithuanian bank account.
Ah, forget it.
I don’t smoke anyhow.
To hide my article anxiety, I went to hide behind a mug of the Earl’s finest Grey.
I flicked the trigger, and the kettle blurted into function.
I tried staring out the window again, as the steam began to whinny from the kitchen. This time, instead of seeing blank, I peered out at a domino row of the commie cinderblocks, micro-districts, racked together in stack of grey, taking on the guise of gutted granite yards.
A crow clacked his warning from atop an opposing balcony.
A friendless scene.
It reminded me of the Karlgoorlie Superpit, a gigantic mineshaft in Western Australia, one I had never witnessed first hand, but whose monolithic moniker stirred some kind of synonymous leanings to the sight before me.
I sighed and tilted the kettle, tipping its warm innards into a cup.
What was this article about anyway?
It’s sounding like the sleazy start of a romantic novel. A romance novel, if it were chiselled by the knuckles of Nostrodamas.
“You’re a knockout hun, BUT FORSOOTH! THE WORLD WILL PERISH!” and so on into the night.
Yes, but it was about the Baltic Sea. But why, what?
I couldn’t even remember the angle I was arching for.
Pollution? Baltic? Bah…
All I remember was how it all began.

How I found myself standing at that lonely, sandy junction, on the crossing point from Latvia to Lithuania, wind stripping the trees to their sheaves by my sides. I did gaze south into the grimy distance, I did, and wondered why we can never retrace the steps we took when we were younger, never go back and rectify what went wrong.
Never backtrack to where our souls were once before.
Here I stood in the blustery Baltic breeze. So far away from everything I had ever known, wearing shoes ground into mulch, and carrying a backpack bloated by useless utilities.
Cyclones of time had captured me, thrown me here, as part of their whimsical will. Abstract forces beyond my knowing, they had conspired and pushed me onto these outskirts of oblivion.
But not alone!
Connected to company I was, with a troop of twelve, preparing to trek twenty kilometres across into the Lithuanian landscape.

And so it was: All spilling back into clarification now…I poured another Earl.

Like a lazy caterpillar, the clacking train delivering me to the country's far southern side had wound and whipped me there no faster than one could expect it to.
Half-sleeping and dreaming of people I no longer knew, I was jarred and jerked around as the rattly caterpillar kept me near to consciousness.
Memories were meshing with images of the outdoors, which was waking up with the dawn ongoing outside my window.
Soon it would be bright, and the day would spawn from beneath its sleek silkscreen. Soon Australia and the Pacific Ocean would be covered in the gloss of a thick black winter midnight.
Soon the train would be arriving at Kretinga, my station, and soon I would be meeting my ride.

It seemed for once the early bird was me, and I awaited the worm with vigour.
The worst coffee ever brewed found its way into my skinny palms, and I supped and gagged consecutively.
Without a need for dialling numbers and questioning whereabouts, the overpiled auto appeared, nearly toppling around a corner and into the carpark.
Greetings were exchanged, and codenames allocated; a thoughtful figuration so I wouldn’t have to remember twelve Lithuanian names.

My codename was Kebab. I thought the comparison of object to person was succinct: meat of questionable origin and taste, though always gets better after a few too many drinks.
From musical styles to degrading Russian pseudonyms, the rest of the nicknames served for a hearty vernacular gumbo.
Jazz, Elvis, Juggs and Kebab, among the others, were off on their way to the water, to taste the tingle of the Baltic tides.

Spurting along to the border, the back seat of the car was overflowing with oodles of cheeks, thighs, expectant eyes.
Squirming sods, we swivelled into pairs, pretending to be two sets of Siamese twins if the cops ever stopped us.
A bag of cucumbers was placed upon my lap.
Juggs quaffed:
“It’s the only food for the duration of the trek.”
I stunted. “Uhh, Trek? Weren’t we heading to the coast for a swim?”
“Didn’t we tell you, Kebab? We’re walking down the coast into Lithuania! It’ll take days! Jazz must have told you.”
“Jazz never mentioned anything about walking. I would distinctly recall the word ‘walking’. I have my damn computer in this bag! I don’t have a tent! And besides, we’re already in Lithuania!”
“Not for long…”
We sped passed an empty soviet border station. We had crossed the government’s invisible ink into Latvia.
I stooped in stupefaction.
“We’re walking Kebab. There’s nothing you can do. You’re here now.”

The tyres crunched against gravel, speeding up a dirt driveway.
Then, the implanted image struck upon me for the first time.
Over the treetops, under the silver sky: a vision of the coast.
My virgin sighting of any sea for the summer: the first in what felt like centuries of landlocked labour.
It slithered along for kilometres, out into the puzzling mist and down to Lithuania. We rumbled out of the car convoy, twelve bodies in mass unison, running toward the sea, our bags bouncing, thrust across our backs.
“Ready Kebab? It’ll be a long couple of days.” Juggs mocked gently.
I scooped my feet out from their cotton coffins, smiled half-heartedly, and sunk my pearly toes into the sand.
“Couldn’t be too long,” I spoke quietly, not really listening, gazing south, to where the seaside petered out into the mysterious Lithuanian horizon: missing now for so many months the one I loved, and sliding over the faces of all the folks with whom I had ever laughed. I wondered how and from what hand it all had come to pass…
“Can’t be too long at all…”
Juggs peered at me sideways, quizzical.

And I remarried the pen to my fingers, and frantically continued the article.

“If one manages to secure the time, trekking the Baltic coastline brings to the soul a sensation of wonderment: the wafts of salt air, the icy water against your soles and the occasional score of a piece of glinting amber underfoot. It paints a scene of idyllic, untouched splendour…”

I grumbled, snapped the pen in two, and shuffled out for the last of the Earl Grey teabags.

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