"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


Stuttgart, Part 4; or, The Bracelet

After we had had our fill of the Stuttgart Volksfest festivities and beer we headed for the train station. We bought our train tickets and proceeded to the Platform 3 to wait for the train. Penelope was tuckered out from trying to take in all of the sights and sounds of the festival that day. But despite our best efforts, she still would not give in to sleep--there were still people to look at and trains to examine.

Five minutes before our train was supposed to leave we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker (in German). The father knew just enough German to know that it had something to do with our train. But not enough German to understand the full message. (But who can understand announcements over a loudspeaker anyways, even when it's in your own language?)
We contemplated and observed for three minutes. Then we asked a young couple next to us for help. They replied that our train was now coming to Platform 1--in one minute. Then they said in English in a somewhat monotone voice, "You must run......fast.......you must....hurry." And hurry we did. Down a flight of stairs, down the hallway, up a flight of stairs and onto the crowded train.
So, there we were on the train, surrounded by fellow Volksfest participants, settled in for the train ride home, and hoping that Penelope would quickly be seduced to sleep by the whirr of the train. But windows that look like mirrors and new surroundings were much more appealing than sleep. Penelope decided it was a great time to put on a laughing and dancing show.

That was when the head appeared. A blond, 31 year old (this came up in the ensuing conversation) German woman in the seat in front of us turned around, peered over her seat, and oohed and awed at our darling Penelope. Being the proud parents that we are, we forgot about her need for sleep and happily showed off our little one.

Then the hand appeared. The woman cooed in German to Penelope and invited her to take her hand. Which Penelope did take--and promptly insert into her own mouth. (EW! Stranger germs!) Being the good mother that I am, I quickly pulled Penelope away and tried to divert her attention. Now I was done with the idea of showing Penelope off and just wanted her to go to sleep.

Then the bracelet appeared. A silver charm bracelet that the woman removed from her wrist and dangled in front of Penelope. Penelope lit up at the sight of it, grabbed it, and put it in her mouth. (EWW! More stranger germs!!!) I siezed the thing and tried to give it back to the woman. But the woman just put it back into Penelope's hands and said something in German. I protested politely and gave it back again. Once, again the woman said something and gave it back to Penelope. I wasn't quite sure what to do. Did she really think this bracelet was an appropriate toy for Penelope? And why wouldn't she get the message that I didn't want my baby to be playing with it, much less eating it?

Finally, the father stepped in and explained that the woman was telling me that the bracelet was a gift for Penelope. She was insisting that I keep it as a gift for Penelope. That weirded me out, but I saw no other option but to accept it. I faked a smile and handed it to the father, out of Penelope's reach.

A few minutes later Penelope took her cue and finally provided me an out with this overly-friendly woman. She started fussing and acting sleepy (FINALLY), so I placed my focus on getting Penelope to sleep and hoped the woman would turn around and leave us in peace. But the lady didn't take the cue and instead continued to watch Penelope, making comments here and there. That was when I decided to pretend to fall asleep with Penelope. Surely then the lady would give up and leave us alone. NOPE. She continued to watch Penelope while she slept.

The father, meanwhile, felt like he should make conversation with this woman peering over the seat in front of him. The conversation was a mixture of German and English, so I could follow some of it under the ruse of sleep. The woman explained how she lived in a town on the border of France with her boyfriend Toby. (It was then we realized that the man slumped over in a Volksfest beer stupor in the seat next to her was Toby.)

After discussing her job, her town and our experience in Germany she turned back to the subject of Penelope. "What you have is perfect...your family....It is so beautiful." Then she went on to say that all she has ever wanted is to have a child. At this point her voice started quivering and she began crying. She pointed to Toby (still a little out of it) and explained that he doesn't want children. She went on to say that she couldn't find a better man to be with, so she was stuck with Toby and without children.

At this point I was still weirded out by this woman and her emotions and frankness. But I began to understand her actions towards us and Penelope, and my heart went out to her. After she and the father ran out of conversation topics, she continued to watch Penelope sleep. When it was her stop, she yelled out excitedly to Toby to get up. Toby emerged and gave us a weak smile and a wave as we walked down the aisle of the train, trailing his girlfriend. Oh, Toby.

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