Despite the snow, we were able to catch our train to Boston the next day. On the train, we met a wonderful Serbian fellow, whom I bombarded with questions about his country. (There is only one region I am currently as obsessed with as I am with Russia, and that is the former Yugoslav countries. Oh, and a side note: I'm pretty sure I have alienated that Serbian guy for all eternity with the creepy Sandman Moon email I sent him upon returning to Seattle. But he SAID I could email him with any questions I wanted!!! People just don't know what they're getting into when they give me free rein like that...) In Boston, my husband and I learned the true meaning of "high-speed wind". My husband was carrying a gigantic chessboard he bought at a specialty shop in New York, and as soon as we walked out of the train station, the wind caught it and almost tossed him Mary Poppins style into the sky. We trudged through the slush and ice crystal wind to our hostel, which was so warm and cozy that it was most certainly the best place on earth. That night we had wonderful Boston pizza, and we spent the next two days taking Brett Doll to Harvard, M.I.T., and Dunkin' Donuts. On my own, I walked a bazillion miles through shin-deep slush to what is probably Boston's only Russian grocery store. (Once again, my husband had no interest in going with me on my nerdling adventures. He went and visited "cooler" places.) I bought pickled green tomatoes and fell in love with an old Russian man in a fisherman's cap who was standing in front of me in line.
On the way back to the hostel, I was damp and shivering, and the slush was freezing into ice under the setting sun, but I couldn't help stopping at an intriguing used bookstore. Behind the counter sat the most disgruntled man in Boston. He was middle-aged, sexy in a bespectacled, dandruffy kind of way, and apparently too well educated for this world. Like Seattle's Twice Sold Tales, this store had cats!!!!!!!!! One of the cats was sleek and happy looking, but the other looked awful. It had Samuel Beckett boils on its black and white face, and its fur was falling out in chunks. "Is that fella okay?" I asked the man, who had pulled the plague-ridden creature onto his lap. "He's sick," the man said icily while petting Mangy Cat possessively, looking at me suspiciously, as if I might try to steal the wretched creature if he let it out of his sight. Right about this time, I realized the pickled tomatoes were leaking brine onto the carpet. I also felt a strong suspicion that whatever the cat had was contagious to humans. So I quickly paid for “Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture” and a chess puzzle book and then fled.
By the next morning I had a cold and a fever. I sucked pickled green tomatoes, hoping the brine would have the same effect as gargling with saltwater. After breakfast, my husband and I headed to the airport, where we waited eight hours before Jet Blue decided to tell us our flight was cancelled. (The airlines were still in chaos from the big snowstorm. Pilot shortages, etc.) Jet Blue gave the option of a ticket refund or rebooking on the next available flight, which was not for another ten days. We took the refund, and tried to rebook with another airline, but by then, tickets were almost $1000. Trains were all booked up. So we rented a car and drove from Boston to Seattle, across Minnesota snow, South Dakota desolation, and Montana mountain passes in exactly three days. I still had a cold. (Whine.) It was awful at the time, but now it seems romantic. On the first night, we stayed at a hostel in Buffalo. In the hostel kitchen we met a man with a graying beard who claimed to be a “priest” of Judaism. He wore a black robe over black jogging pants. He was poring over Hebrew texts, talking loudly to himself, saying things like, “Ah, now I see! It was not Zion! It was Mount Tabor! Now I have to go back!” He then decided to corner my husband and give him a lengthy account of the evolution of Semitic languages. “And you see, had those ignorant hikers in Iran known the difference, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves into trouble,” he yelled down the hall after us as I dragged my husband away from the kitchen.