A Path Untravelled: The Train To Romania

What could be better than being accepted to the ReShape program? ReShape is a cultural initiative working with some of the most exciting people in the arts to re-imagine the eco-system of culture. As part of ReShape, you travel to eight countries in two years. Incredible, right?

Except there is a catch. There is always a catch. And for once, the catch was not funding stipulations, budget restraints or partner requirements. This time, the catch was my own moral breakdown…

I got accepted to the program around the same time that I accepted we are driving this planet, and the people on it, to a terrifying future. It used to be called climate change. Today, it is an emergency… a crisis…

Suddenly, the excitement of jet setting across Europe seemed a little less joyful.

As soon as I accepted the reality of the climate crisis, I set about making dramatic life changes, as well as some questionable life choices, from being charged for protesting to running in the E.U. elections. But my work still proved a major issue. I was already touring theatre to multiple countries a year and now with ReShape, my carbon footprint was about to become a monstrosity.

Previously the biggest questions I asked when travelling was;

‘Hand language or check in?’ 

‘A bus to the airport or the train?’ 

‘Why do I suddenly believe in God when we hit turbulence?’

But now anxiety inducing thoughts plagued my mind:

‘Would my contribution be worth more than my carbon footprint?’

‘How can we reimagine a cultural eco-system in a world that is changing so dramatically?’ 

‘With social fabric, societies and communities already under so much pressure, wouldn’t a climate crisis be the final straw that ripped everything apart including the arts?’

And these were just the first few in a line of apocalyptic thoughts.

Overwhelmed, I decided to focus on the first one:

‘Would my contribution to ReShape be worth more than my carbon footprint?’

Presuming that I was not going to bring a level of genius to the discussion that would outweigh taking a flight, I set about researching trains and buses. Could I reach my destinations without flying?

The first two trips, I failed. Somewhere between excruciating prices and the multiple days it would take, it was impossible to avoid flying. And then came the Flanders Institute and with it a willingness to understand the bigger picture, as well as invest in the costs and help me to understand train timetables.

All of a sudden, I found myself on a train (or 7) from London to Cluj (Romania).

Third time lucky! That is, if you call 48 hours on 7 trains luck…

The journey was beautiful. Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and then Romania.

When you take a plane from one part of the world to another, you don’t get to see anything. You go up, and then down. Tarmac, then clouds and then tarmac again (unless you’re flying Ryanair, in which case you will likely also see multiple credit card machines). On a plane, you don’t get to see the sliding kaleidoscope of changes that creep up on you unexpectedly.

However, it was not the contrasts that surprised me most but the profound details in the similarities. Sitting on a train across Europe, I was able to see and understand what connects us all.

The trees and plants, the apartment blocks and  houses, the bridges and roads, the clouds and rain, fields and sky…Everything was similar. We have similar ATM’s and coffee shops, similar magazine stores and information desks, and almost identical train stations… Things are shaped a little differently (and of course the croissant in France is the best!), but most structures from the natural to the human-made somehow resemble each other.

Perhaps more importantly, we have similar problems. Problems of the rise of the far right, fear being stoked about refugees and immigrants, racism, patriarchy, brutal austerity policies, corruption, disparity of wealth, and homelessness. We have overwhelming power systems that break schools, politics, libraries, public spaces and housing, universities, institutes, civil departments, hospitals, societies and communities.

We have the similar issues within arts and culture.

And we have the same climate crisis. The same climate crisis that will magnify every other current crisis that people face.

Getting to Romania by train helped me to find an answer to my first big question ‘Would my contribution be worth more than my carbon footprint?’.

Now it’s time to find answers to the rest.

Zoe Lafferty is a Theatre Director. Her production ‘I Don’t Know What To Do’ is opening at Vaults Festival in January:  https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/i-dont-know-what-to-do/

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