Food for Thought-The Shaman on the Bratislava Train (The Sixteenth Letter)


25 May 1957
Between Bratislava and Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
After the third tunnel, over the fourth hill, near the curve where dinner is served

Dear Friend, Colleague, and Seeker of Rare Birds,

The letters on my desk grew weary of being unread. Each passing day carried two new realities, the wind was blowing, flowers were blooming, and birds were singing. I lost count of the letters on my desk and the realities beyond my door.

With no other choice than to follow the enigmatic clues left by the People’s Office of Indemnification and Life Guaranty* concierge, we are now bound for Bratislava*. Since we last spoke, over breakfast in Zagreb*, the cumulative uncertainty stalking our journey grows by the minute. How is your cabin? I find mine to be well apportioned with all of the amenities one might expect from first and half class travel in socialist Europe. There is a small table which divides the compartment in half. It is only large enough to hold my typewriter. If I am not writing to you, I remove the typewriter in order accommodate my meals, hands, or guidebooks. My seat, (do you have a seat?) will also fold out into a bed. This is where I intend to sleep once darkness falls. I hope your bed promises a degree of support for your back.

My travelling companion is an Uzbek born falconer, raised in Georgia, now residing in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. After Comrade Khrushchev’s speech* condemning the Georgian bandit* he was in a camp* for bird trainers. Now, he is a socialist shaman in Almaty*. Called by the people of the Soviet Union to share his wisdom, he and Qush* are teaching socialist shamanism to Russia’s friends and allies.

How fortuitous to be riding with a grand shaman of the tribe of Genghis Khan*. I told him of our quest for the Picus Viridus*. He believes the bird to be hiding somewhere we have yet to search. We have simply not looked in the place where it exists. While I do welcome his presence and company, Qush defecates often and near my pillow.

I hear the conductor approaching. I must finish this letter so he may deliver these words to you.

Your friend,


*Bratislava the capital of Slovakia, then the second city of Czechoslovakia
*People’s Office of Indemnification and Life Guaranty an insurance company in late 1950’s Belgrade
*Zagreb the capital of Croatia
*Georgian bandit Joseph Stalin
*Comrade Khrushchev’s speech Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech to the 20th Party Conference of the Communist Party Soviet Union where he condemned the atrocities and abuses of power by Joseph Stalin
*Almaty capital of Kazakhstan
*Qush the Uzbek work for bird
*Genghis Khan as Khans go, the most important Khan of all time
*Picus Viridius the Common European Woodpecker