The most beautiful place on earth – conversations on the suburban bus

“No, I don’t have a ticket yet,”, no transport card, I already threw in my token (I had to ask a guard to understand that this was my ticket), no I’m not from here. Whatever “here” is, dear St.Petersburg. “I’m from Italy”, the standard answer that I don’t use anymore, but made things easier. The ticket officer doesn’t understand a thing, one-way tickets are not a frequent thing on this bus between St. Petersburg and Peterhof (Petrodvorets), in off-season and -18C frost. Someone sits down on my right.

A middle aged, little, slender or even skinny lively woman. She has a tight-sitting low bonnet, short hair and bright, profound eyes. She’s wearing a mask, the ticket officer has hers under her nose, many don’t at all, just as in the metro. With her I get my ticket, and here the story begins.

My neighbour, I’ll call her S., helps people. And I’m surprised by her candid openness. She’s a doctor going home after a 24-hour shift. After starting out as a nurse 40 years ago, she has been working in 5 hospitals, and she has good memories from all of them. Now a radiologist, she specialized in X-Rays and she loves her job, because she can provide crucial information to both patients and doctors. Her eyes light up and she wants to tell me more. We don’t stop talking till she gets out half an hour later. Among the many things, we talk about COVID. The high numbers of people dying in the hospitals, mostly unvaccinated. Children getting it for the second or third time. Needless to say, she’s pro-vaccines. Many people aren’t wearing masks, if they’re vaccinated then they feel invincible. Superhumans. She finds that dumb, the irresponsibility of the parents, the long-term COVID effects that she sees in her X-Rays (mostly lungs) and that people fail to take seriously enough. It’s magical to be moving through the landscape like this, weaving meaning into a landscape stretched by an exhausted mind, deeply in love. With the moment.

S. isn’t into politics or media, she might not have ideas about he wider world. But she tells me stories. The story of the – unvaccinated – woman with a child who got COVID twice, or three times?, but refuses to wear a mask at work. Some doctors in the hospitals themselves roam the corridors without a mask. She’s different. What do we regard to be natural? Through her profession, wearing a mask is the most natural, necessary thing in the world, and I think she wants others to understand how it’s key to reduce viral exposure and infection risk. The lack of consistent communication, the lack of any good explanation on the state-owned TV, made people weary of getting a vaccine. Covid here seems like a pathetic ghost that everyone is making fun of.

I learn something new, the new sounds familiar. Medicine in the media is focused on collecting donations for single cases, for expensive treatments. She thinks that people should at least be able to see the results of their donations. Not much science is happening, she cannot trust. We talk about my journey and hers. S. has been to Italy, she loves Teneriffa, where she goes with her husband. For her it’s the most beautiful place on earth. She says: when people get off the plane they gasp, the air is so special. She has a sensing power, conjures the image of that mountain meadow with its magnetic field making her forget all her problems. I just throw in a word of interest and let her talk. I just throw in a word of interest and let her talk, I wouldn’t know what to say. But I feel her.

And now, just one day and a half later, it seems impossible that this conversation between science, Russia and the extraordinary really happened. The vacation at the Black Sea was also not bad, and…and then I just look back at her till she’s gone.

I don’t even know her name. But I’ll remember her.