A discussion on life, based (very loosely) on some experiances I had while travling years go.
By Alex Schumann
I was doing the tour Europe thing with a friend from back home. We knew each other only casually before, friend of a friend sort of thing. Both happened to be planning a trip and needing a travel companion. I had gotten to know her pretty well on our trip, and her me. Closer now then a lot of friends back home I suppose. 21 days traveling with someone will do that.
We got off the train late in the day, like four oclock. The sun was on its way down. Our ride, Prague to Versailles, was eight hours. We spent most of that time reading the little translation book, trying to remember enough to get around when we got here. When that got boring, and when we had read everything the guidebook had to say about Versailles, we started back up our discussion of philosophy, which we had been carrying for days now.
I cant remember how it started but the gist of it is that Im a computer nerd, I believe in science and technology. Im not religious at all. I believe there is a real Truth. She on the other hand does not like computers. She believes in souls and ghosts and reincarnation. We both believe in karma, but for different reasons. We spent this particular ride on the topic of perception.
If you show the same scene to ten people, she said, each of them will walk away and remember different details.
Yeah, I said, but just because they each remember it differently, doesnt mean there isnt a true set of details that really happened.
But how can you say which persons memories are true?
Probably none of them are. Each will have different inaccuracies.
There was more, but you get the idea.
Versailles is a smallish town, same size as home really, thats why we chose it. When we got here, the train station was completely deserted. We are on foot, now, with our packs.
Our guidebook recommends this hostel in the center of town called El Depot. Its supposed to have a pool and some privacy for the bunks. Also, since its right in town, we wont have to walk much tomorrow thank god. Hopefully we can stash the bags there too while we go out sightseeing.
We start walking to it after taking some francs from an ATM just outside the station. We are hungry, but nothing in the area looks appetizing and open at the same time. The walk isnt too bad, but when we get to the street we cant find the hostel. There is a Levis outlet store taking up the whole block it is supposed to be on. We each check the address and the guidebook map three times, then she goes into the store to see if anyone knows where it is. Neither of us speaks French at all, but she manages to get the point across to a sales person. They are new and the hostel is gone now she tells us, or something to that effect using French and exaggerated hand gestures.
We set our bags down outside and go through the book again. We decide to try and call around because we are both tired of walking and we do learn from our mistakes.
We lug the bags around the corner to a phone. It only takes French phone cards so my companion runs off to a mart across the street to buy one while I watch the bags.
Mines an overfilled black duffle with shoulder straps added on as an afterthought. Its big but not very comfortable to wear. I carry a smaller bag also, for souvenirs. She has a more typical green pack just a bit smaller than mine. Everything we own here we carry. A couple changes of clothes, enough underwear for about a week, a fold up sheet for the hostel beds. Ive got a little digital short-wave receiver I picked up in Switzerland a week prior. Its nice because I can pull in English news no mater where we are.
She comes back from the mart with a phone card and we call a couple of places. Its sort of late in the tourist season and all the nearby places are closed for the year. Its good we called first. We finally find one open. The book says its an old dormitory for some school thats been closed. The woman on the phone speaks good English and we get directions. Cant find anything to write with though, so were remembering them in our heads. Our map doesnt go far enough south to show the place.
I help her put her pack on and then she mine. It strikes me as funny that you can carry everything you need to survive on your back. At the same time though, my pack weighs a lot so its not so funny. We start walking to the dorm. Its late now, after six.
We try to enjoy the scenery so the long walk isnt wasted, but the road were on isnt very scenic. Some of the streetlights have come on, glowing a sort of green hue onto the road. There are no more storefronts this way, just the road and houses. We continue our conversation from the train to distract us from the weight of walking.
Its because of working so much with computers that you think the world is so logical. she says, Computers are based on logic. People arent logical though. The soul does not behave according to logic.
Perhaps that is why we think differently. I dont believe in the idea of soul.
So you think that what people do is just a response to the electronic impulses in their brains and nothing more?
Yeah. Why cant it be?
It is a typical conversation for us lately.
We find the first two turns without any trouble, and the third we walk past but then figure out and go back. We disagree though, on which way we are supposed to turn. She is sure it was a left, which would now be a right since we backtracked, but when she repeated them to me from the phone earlier she said right, now our left. We are well off our map now. She cant remember for sure so we go my way. Our direction giver didnt really say how far the next turn was so were watching the cross streets as we pass them real careful. We get to a street that sounds sort of close but I dont think its right. She seems sure though, and we have been going a long way, so we take it. We walk for a while looking for the address. There is only a small park with a statue instead. I dont think we are on the right street. She is starting to agree. We figure we have come in a big arc so were trying to decide how best to get back without retracing. My feet are really hurting now. We agree on a direction and start going back. I concede that the third turn must have been a left.
When our path crosses back to the street we know we cant figure out if we are before or after where were supposed to turn. Its hard to tell if you recognize things in the dark when you saw them in daylight. I think I remember this part of the road from before we turned but she is sure we didnt pass the little garden fountain on the overgrown lawn here. Im not really sure so I follow her to the right. It doesnt seem right though, I think its the other way. My feet are screaming. We should come to something we recognize though if this is the wrong way. Im trying not to think about how much farther Im going to have to carry this load. The straps on my bag are making my shoulders hurt. I keep trying to readjust them but its futile. Her bag is designed better for wearing as a pack, but its still heavy and we both complain. She is teasing me because I carry the radio and I rebuke about her hair drier. Im looking, trying to find some familiar landmark.
We go past a little one story house on our right with a neatly trimmed hedge. Along the bottom is a tuft of dandelion growing out between the roots and Im sure I remember kicking at it before. She doesnt think so. Lots of dandelions she says. We have a long way to go back if Im right. I can feel a blister forming in my heel with every step. We are both so poor at directions. There is no phone around to call again. She thinks well hit the street in just a few more blocks so I go on reluctantly. I try to imagine the place in the daylight. After a few more blocks we dont find anything and Im sure we are going the wrong way. She still doesnt think so. We stop and try to explain to each other the path we think we took. She thinks we are way out because of the distance we walked in the other direction. Im thinking the streets on the map werent laid out parallel so we probably came farther than it seemed on the diagonal. The more I go over it the more I convince myself and I do not want to keep walking the wrong way. She has her own mind made up too and we are both getting cranky–Starting to loose our politeness with each other.
I turn and start walking back where we came from.
I know its this way. I tell her.
It isnt. she says.
Im too tired to argue anymore.
Tell you what, Ill meet you there. I say. I keep walking.
She stood for a while yelling at me and then started going her way again.
I feel kind of bad leaving her, but I mostly just want to put this bag down sleep. Anyway, the city is supposed to be safe according to our book, which she has now. The tension only adds to the weight of my pack as I walk back. After another thirty minutes, I do find the street though, and turn. Im wondering if she will figure it out. It doesnt take long to find the hostel after the turn. Its a big three story brick building, with rows of identical windows evenly spaced. There are a couple of lights on but most of it is dark.
The light at the door is flickering on every so often. I greet the keeper and stumble though the French words to ask for a bed. I dont think he understands what I am saying but it must be obvious what I want so he takes 23 francs from me and leads me down the hall to a room full of bunk-beds. One other guy is there, reading on his bed. The rest of the place is empty. I pick a low bunk and spread my sheet. The fellow who was reading speaks a little English, so I tell him how tired I am from wandering around. He is friendly.
I take my toothbrush back down the hall to the bathroom. She is there, just coming out of the womans side. Im shocked to see her so soon.
Im glad you found it, I was worried. I say. Im trying not to rub it in.
I ended up taking a cab just after you left. I didnt want to walk alone.
Ahh. How much was it?
thirty francs, but it was worth it.
We were both too happy to be here to be mad about it.
Later on we reclined for a while in front of a TV setup in a common area and continued our conversation.
Science will never be able to know and explain everything about the world. she said.
Sure, but that doesnt mean those explanations dont exist. Its a very narrow view of the world.
We watched a game of football end on the TV and went to bed.