I met Marty on 4 October at the
Frankfurt Airport and this was an upturn in my fortunes. To meet him
there I took a day train to Milan ("Milano") after which I took a night
train to Frankfurt which is a lot of miles in one day! I took the train
into Milan and had a whole day to walk around until my next train to
Milan is a banking center and the fashion
capitol of the world. This sets the tone for this expensive and designer
city. The city center is built around the Gothic Duomo (church, one
of the most beautiful I have yet seen) and is surrounded by concentric "Ring" streets
filled with expensive stores. The difference between Milan and Naples
can hardly be overestimated. A bit bored and the with time to kill,
I wandered for hours through the up-scale streets. It was my second
couchette ride and this mode of train travel is definitely time effective.
But with six people to a cabin, one is definitely tightly packed
and one is definitely smelling one's fellow man! With some of hy
fellow travelers, I have found, this is no good thing.
Anyway, after a good deal of wading through
U.S. military personnel, I met up with Marty in the Frankfurt Airport
and we promptly departed on one of the magnificent German InterCity
Express trains for Munich and Oktoberfest. It is a great relief to
be traveling with a good friend and it is amusing to witness Marty's
virgin excitement at being in Europe. It was remarkable how much
colder the climate is in Frankfurt compared to Rome, or even to Milan.
I also got my flight back to the States switched to two weeks earlier
which further improved my mood. I now fly out from Frankfurt with
Marty instead of departing out of London and so do not have to cross
the English Channel again which greatly simplifies things and saves
money. This plus the early departure should ease the money crunch
and all this has greatly improved my feeling about the rest of the
trip. Travel weary and bad smelling, I am somewhat rejuvenated although
Marty is quick to notice that I do not fully share his gung-ho elan.
This is a true vacation for Marty and he has three weeks off before
he must be back at work. Consequently, he is so full of energy and
enthusiasm that the jet lag hardly effects him.
Munich was packed and so we were forced
to stay at an expensive and commodious hotel. Completely by accident,
I was present for the two days of Oktoberfest and now with Marty
I will be a participant in the last two days of the festivities.
One thing is clear to me now: the last two days are much more wild.
Marty and I started the beer drinking process but after five "masses" of
beer I got that "go home now" feeling and ditched Marty who was trying
to pick up on some rather homely American students. I woke up the
next morning and there is Marty and some girl in the bed next to
me and another on the floor. Also present is John Francis, a friend
of Marty's from UCLA who works in Lugano, Switzerland and who drove
to Munich to meet us. It turns out these two Scottish girls are afficiados
of the Afro-American urban scene and are decked out accordingly.
This also explains their attraction to Marty, whose black skin marks
him as unique here in Europe (Marty quote: "Where are all the sisters
at?"). Yes, things are going to change with Marty's influence.
At any rate, I have rarely felt so hung
over and I lost the key to our room. The manager flipped out and
wanted DM 150 for a replacement (U.S. $110), because he claimed that
now he had to replace all the locks in the building! I tried to reason
with him and felt badly about losing the key but he got rude. Francis,
a businessman with a thick skin for this thing insulted the manager
back and complained of thievery and the whole scene was generally
unpleasant. John suggested we just leave and the manager threatened
to call the police (I'm not sure why). Anyway, I laid DM50 on the
desk and we simply left.
We toured Munich some and promptly returned
to Oktoberfest and I was initially scared to be in the Haufbrauhaus
Tent because it was so crazy. I am not exactly new to wild parties
but this was extreme: the large and very drunk crowd was on the verge
of turning ugly with people throwing their huge mugs on the ground,
having beer fights, etc. There were people passed out on the ground
in the tent and one had to be at least a little drunk to be there
comfortably. The Italian men were unbelievable! They would trap a
girl, asking her for a kiss, or pinching her waist or breasts at
extremely close quarters. Sometimes they would even physically lift
pull her into their group on top of some table.
Upon arriving and starting my first beer,
I witnessed one particularly rude incident right in front of me where
this American girl was cornered by a group of Italians, one of which
was trying to kiss her. The girl had a frightened look and was beginning
to look desperate after this continued for some time and she was
prevented from escaping. I gave my beer to Marty and was ready to
slug one of them on the chin, and this is strange because it is rare
that I get mad enough to fight. And fights in beer drinking settings
is something I studiously try to avoid. But at this instance I was
so mad that I was not thinking at all. I was not overly concerned
though, these Italians being generally both much smaller and much
drunker than myself. Fortunately, the fight did not materialize and
I am not sure why. They sort of smiled at me like, "What is wrong?" It
would not surprise me if they were oblivious to the fact that this
girl was scared.
"Is that a Holiday Inn I see over there...?"
We ended up drinking a lot and feeling
much completely at ease in this crowd. However, the girl to guy ratio
was particularly bad yet Marty was true to form in aggressively searching
out female companionship. In the style of David Letterman, he was
the "horniest man in Europe!" We were drinking a lot and I ended
up hooking up with a girl from Minnesota who I slept with that evening
in a Holiday Inn we found in a fit of desperation at 2 A.M. I was
a bit disappointed, having decided to put an end to the hard drinking
nights and one night stands. But with some beers and a willing partner
all the old moves and moods came flying back to me. We had both complained
earlier about the grubbiness of backpacking and when we had this
room I simply took my clothes off and jumped in the shower. And after
a moments hesitation, so did she and after that it was all downhill.
When Marty and John returned from an extended trip to the hotel bar,
the shower was absolutely destroyed and Marty was looking back and
forth from the bathroom and me with a bemused grin on his face. The
next morning I was berating myself, "That was the last thing you
needed to go do, with all the messiness and risk!" Still, I cannot
truthfully say that I regret the encounter.
The next day we drove to Lugano, Switzerland.
This was a drive somewhat akin to driving from Los Angeles to San
Francisco. We made excellent time on the auotbahn which was very
interesting; we drove most of the way at about 100 miles per hour
and simply kept up with the flow of traffic! It did not even seem
like we were going that fast. Still, the occasional Porshe or Ferrari
did blow past us like we were not even moving and the Fiat that was
putting along at 50 miles per hour was a safety hazard. We stopped
in Innsbrucke and had a quaint and quiet dinner. Italian freeways
were much slower, because we (typically Italian) waited in heavy
traffic because there was some miscellaneous and neglected mess in
one of the lanes. I think it was some kind of construction because
there were some tools just lying around.
Lugano is a small town on the border
of Italy and Switzerland. It is right next to a beautiful lake and
is exactly the peaceful and scenic picture that the name Switzerland
evokes in my mind. The difference between run down Italy and pristine
Switzerland is as stark as night and day and clear to the eye when
crossing the border. There are always Italians crossing the border
into Switzerland for the sole reason of buying gasoline at a cheaper
price. John's commute is only about five minutes but he has to cross
the border every day since technically he works in Switzerland and
technically he lives in Italy. His beautiful one room apartment is
in a tiny village on a hill bordering a placid Alpine lake and it
reminds me for all the world of Uncle Phil's old house. The view
of the mist enshrouded lake is nothing short of majestic and it is
quiet, peaceful, and clean. John has been great to us. He is letting
us stay at his place and picked up the considerable tab at the Munich
Holiday Inn. I think that after all this time in Switzerland he was
glad to see UCLA buddies and to drink beer and chase skirts. Furthermore,
from personal experience he understands and is sympathetic to the
position of the budget traveler.
Marty and I spent a restful day in Lugano
and had dinner in the town with John and a couple of his co-workers.
The dinner was excellent and the highly multinational conversation
was especially enlightening. An Irish woman from Dublin told me that
I had the "quintessential American look." I am not sure if this was
meant as good or bad and I am still trying to figure it out. There
was also an English women who had lived in Paris most of her adult
life, an effete Frenchman, and a Hispanic American businesswomen
from Florida. I was told that while Italian men are more blatant
in their amorous overtures, the Frenchman is much more dangerous.
I also heard a funny quote from the Frenchman about Paris as "the
city of lust and social diseases."
The next morning we left for Florence
and arrived mid-afternoon. Florence was surprisingly crowded and
we had trouble finding a room in a backpackers' ghetto similar to
the one in Rome. Florence ("Firenza") is interesting to me from a
historical point of view as birthplace of the renaissance and home
to Dante and Machiavelli - two of my favorite authors. The Florence
of today is thronged with tourists and large numbers of American
students studying overseas. The place is unfortunately overrun with
I have not found Florence to be as absolutely
stunning or beautiful as it is supposed to be. With all the literary
romance set in Florence (ie. Forster's Room With a View) and the
supposed fact that Florence is second only to San Francisco in popularity
as a tourist spot worldwide, I am less than completely bowled over.
The red-tiled roofs and medieval buildings give it a 16th century
feel and the duomo, Michelangelo masterpieces, and other art is fascinating
- even to the layman. I especially liked Michelangelo's towering "David" and
the beautiful women of Botticelli.
We met a solitary young woman from Los
Angeles while climbing to the cupola of the duomo. She was traveling
by herself and I could sense the looking for the similar and the
relief she expressed at finding fellow Americans was obvious. After
all, I had been in her situation often enough. She is a flight stewardess
and one of those down-to-earth women who are low maintenance and
secure in their identity. Marty, myself, and she enjoyed an excellent
and cheap Italian dinner at a "trattoria." There was no formal bill;
one simply walked up to the cash register when done and communicated
what was ordered and the bill was tallied on the spot!
This is Italy at its best: a convivial
and busy restaurant, great food, and gregarious light-heartedness.
Our flight stewardess acquaintance had fully caught my attention
and respect by the end of the evening. She was both intelligently
independent and rough and ready attractive. There was a practical
and sexy earthiness to this woman; there was none of the "princess-like" attitude
which is often seen at the university. I would have liked to have
spent more time with her that evening but, alas, she was staying
in a convent (of all places!) and had an early curfew.
We visited all the all the major attractions
of Florence: the duomo, Academie, Uffizi. Perhaps the most interesting
place in Florence was the Ponte Vecchio. This is an old bridge with
numerous jewelry shops on it. It is so beautiful that the German
commander in WWII could not bring himself to blow it up as ordered
while retreating northward. Instead, he blew up the houses near the
ends of the bridge.
Florence is in Tuscany which is halfway
between the north and south of Italy and is known mostly for the
wine. I am glad to have visited it so that I will have a picture
in my mind when I think of the Renaissance, the Medici rulers, Machiavelli,
Dante - clear, intelligent, independently profound thought. Man thinking
for himself and not simply surrendering like sheep to the unhealthy
and unnatural medieval Christianity of St. Augustine.
I hardly intended to spend this much
time in Italy! The high prices, crazy drivers, long, long lunches
and relaxed spirit of laziness and lethargy drive me crazy whenever
I have to get something done or need to go someplace. Typical are
many of the slower trains: it stops at every donkey crossing and
deserted outpost while the conductor gets out and has a cappuchino
with his old buddy while everyone patiently waits. Of course, no
one is in a hurry. My pre-conceived notions of Italy as a country
with national traits conducive towards losing wars has been more
or less confirmed. One has trouble looking at anything in Italy as
world renown, apart from the art, clothes, and fashion. Italy does
not make great cars, jets, law, computers, science, a cohesive political
scene, etc. Yet I am incredibly taken in by the romance and charm
of Rome. It is strange how the region can be so beautiful with all
this laundry hanging everywhere. I especially like the Latin custom
of kissing friends briefly on both cheeks upon arrival and departure.
It is still casual but more intimate than the formal handshake. Italy
is surprising me in a way in which the other countries did not.
It is indeed difficult to believe that
the Italians were once Romans. Mussolini is more indicative of the
strengths and weaknesses of the modern Italy: style and histrionic
bombast and little follow-through. Still, despite all the anarchy
and lethargy there is a warmth and familial passion which is endearing
and I am not at all leaving with a bad taste in my mouth - despite
the fact that, if given the chance, the Italians will simply steal
all your stuff that is not bolted down. I have met a number of unfortunate
and embittered tourists who have had everything stolen. But there
is a refreshing lack of pretentiousness here.
Traveling with Marty is simply great.
There is something about Marty that just constantly keeps me laughing.
His dynamic fake epilepsy attacks in front of famous monuments keeps
scaring the locals and cracking my shit up. The difference between
traveling by myself and traveling with Marty is 180 degrees. Tomorrow
we go to Rimini and it's renown topless beaches.
October 11, 1992
After three days, we are saying goodbye
to Florence. Our last night was interesting and more than a little
bizarre. Marty started flirting with some girls in a building across
the way from us and the next thing I know we are downstairs meeting
them for drinks. When they walked up I was shocked. Although they
were both attractive, they looked like they were still in high school!
One was Swiss/Egyptian and the other was Swiss/American and were
18 and 19 years old respectively and from the city of Basil in Switzerland.
We went to an Irish pub which was absolutely packed with Americans,
Irish, and other expatriates. I talked with the Irish owner for awhile
who thought that watching the Italians try to seriously drink alcohol
was as comic as it was pathetic. I was introduced to a young woman
(an attractive young woman) who turned out not only to be from UCLA
studying abroad but knew many people that I knew - including my old
roommate Corey Menotti! We talked intensely, or at least she did,
and she seemed of the Bay Area grounded and down to earth type and
yet at the same time strangely manic. Having just met me, she embarked
upon a ten minute vituperation about how she just hates little sorority
girls who put make up on and primp before going running, etc., etc.
I am not sure why I think this but I bet she would be absolutely
hell on speed or coke. She was definitely a spit-fire and would be
in your face at the drop of the dime. To me, the conversation was
The Swiss girls were a little standoffish
at first (re.: world-weary Princess, French style) but loosened up
later as Marty began to apply his considerable schmooze in lavish
doses. Before I knew it we are talking about how old we were when
we lost our virginity and doing all this verbal foreplay. Marty,
being his typical horny self, was pulling all sorts of cheese out
of nowhere and I have never seen him so intense and focused on the
scam. The old Italian who was the concierge flipped out when he saw
all this late night romance, Italy being (at face value, at least)
a conservative and traditional country sexually. Anyway, when I went
upstairs with the American/Swiss and he flipped out! He rambled at
me, enraged, in Italian and I cursed him equally as loud in English
and tried to assert my economic rights in having paid money for the
room "with cold hard cash!" The American/Swiss girl, who spoke Italian,
later told me that he was saying that he had never seen anything
so immoral, etc., etc, ad nauseam. I really was not up for getting
into it with this crusty old unshaven guy and was on the verge of
laughing the whole time anyway. So we beat a hasty tactical retreat
out into the foyer.
Myself, the Egyptian/Swiss, and Marty get comfortable!
It is difficult to describe how surreal the whole scene was. Marty
is making out furiously with the Egyptian/Swiss a few feet from the
American/Swiss and myself. The American is making puppy dog eyes
at me and telling me how some medical student back in Switzerland
wants her to marry him and how she just cannot have simply physical
relationships because "they hurt too much." She says this as she
is contemplating one with me! She even tells me point blank about
how she was raped by a stranger in Paris and I thought she was going
to cry. I was flabbergasted and flattered that she would take me
so into her confidence. I felt that I was being almost callous or
insensitive in not kissing her at this point (this is what should
have happened) but I really do not want to do this in some dark Italian
back alley and I am incredibly frustrated, thinking how this is like
high school again or something and that I am way too old for this
shit! Still, I am scheming at high speed about how maybe we can climb
through that window or maybe this or maybe that. But alas, nothing
is practical even though by this time Marty is ready to throw down
a credit card for some nice hotel. But we have no idea where one
is and it is three in the morning. So after I manage to pry Marty
and the Egyptian away from each other, we decide that we better call
it a night if we want to be let back into our hostels. Next, when
someone throws up off some balcony and hits the Egyptian in the hair
and myself on the back! This scene was way weird.
Making friends with the natives.
These girls were enjoyable company but
they were trying very hard to act glamorous and older than their
years. They both had that affected way of smoking like a silver screen
movie femme fatale and could throw major attitude when making a point
(the Egyptian was going to be a model or something). They did not
drink alcohol and claimed to have completely outgrown that wild and
bacchalorean time of their lives. I half expected Marty to pop off, "That's
OK! We haven't!" I would not have been in the least surprised if
the one had slept with Marty just to show how mature she was.
Today we leave Italy and head for France
and I feel as if I am heading back into friendly territory where
at least I can understand what is being said around me. Although
I have mostly good memories of Italy, I am glad to be leaving it
and I am back here mostly on Marty's insistence. I am glad to be
saying goodbye to the land of the olive groves and three hour lunches.
Yet, so far, Italy has been the biggest pleasant surprise for me
on this trip. At least that was the plan. Instead, Marty and I got
on the wrong train and ended up in Rome instead of Bologna. But,
as we have learned, there is no need to panic because "everything
always works out somehow." Almost starving by the time we arrived
in Rome, we had a delightful and large lunch of spaghetti, chicken
with peppers, bread and a whole liter of Coca-Cola. It was one of
the better meals I've ever had and Marty and I devoured our meals
like wolves. We have a two hour layover here in Rome but I am such
a Rome local by now that it is no problem and we ate our lunch, saw
the Spanish Steps, and called the States with time to spare. We have
to meet John Francis, who will be with us again for the weekend in
the south of France, at the Milan train station for the overnight
train to Nice.
Breakfast in Florence, lunch in Rome,
dinner in Milan, and then a-wake-up in Nice. Yes, it is another American
seeing all of Europe in a month Blitzkrieg tour. Only in compact
Europe can you take the wrong train for half a day and still not
be all that far away from where you need to be. The distances are
just not that far. At first, I was a little embarrassed about having
taken the wrong train but it quickly became exciting. We were supposed
to be in Bologna and then Rimini but we're in Rome for all of two
hours?, well... - let's check it out!
The holidays approach and they making
me nervous, as they always do. The early sunsets, chill it the air,
and resumed seriousness of fall all remind me of stress, holiday
anxiety, and the falls of my childhood when leaves falling the trees
meant back to school. For some reason, it also reminds me of my awkward
adolescent puberty days (does not the word "puberty" itself sound
embarrassing?). It reminds me of the Roshans, biology study nights,
Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." What is it about time
that makes everything that happened to you more than five years ago
so nostalgic? I remember leaving UCI not respecting much what I did
with my time there but with time it has taken on a certain luster.
High school was definitely a confusing time but each time I drive
past my alma mater (this, admittedly, being a rare occurrence) a
flood of powerful memories comes rising up. It is true what they
say: you can't go home again. I reckon one sees what one wants to
see in the past.
I have met some very interesting people
while in Europe and, while only brief acquaintances, I want to get
the "local color" down on paper. There were the two women I have
previously discussed: the down-to-earth airline stewardess from Sherman
Oaks and Menotti's friend Mimi from UCLA. Kerren and I also had a
chance meeting on the street in Florence.
Especially in Germany and at Oktoberfest,
I also met many American servicemen. They were mostly minorities
and almost to a man were eating up the chance to travel which they
would not have had outside the military. I met this soldier who was
telling me all about how they worked and sweated all the time under
danger in the Saudi Arabian desert when all of a sudden his buddy
interrupts him and tells me, "To be completely honest, all we did
was spend six months out in the desert playing frisbee!" I also met
this Army officer who was a Middle Eastern languages specialist and
who studied Arabic in Cairo. He met his wife in there and, after
heavily bribing the guards, he proposed to his wife on the top of
a pyramid. He told me with a grin, "How many people can say they
got laid on the top of one of a pyramid?" Not too many, I would assume.
I met an American approximately my own
age in Florence who was living in Italy with no plans other than
to run a youth hostel in the small town of Lucca that some rich "friend
of the family" lets him use. He fairly wreaked of Bay Area money
(Marin County, to be more exact) and had an accomplished California
laid-back attitude utterly unconcerned with the future that I found
appealing. Also, he was born in Newport Beach and his father owns "The
Blue Beat," a popular bar in Newport. Obviously, a part of how he
live so directionlessly has to do with the familial coffers.
I met a 26 year old man from Kansas who
was a German language major in college and was bumming around Prague
not really working on his graduate degree. He was living well on
small amounts of western currency and teaching English. He was enjoying
the Prague youth scene and was futilely trying to court a beautiful
and intelligent (supposedly pentalingual: English, Russian, Czech,
Spanish, German) San Diego girl who lived nearby. He was very drunk
and bored to be talking to us Americans. There are literally thousands
of young Americans living in bohemian Prague while waiting out the
recession. Our last night in Prague we went to some popular nighclub
(popular because MTV was piped in) and drank originial Budweiser
("Budvar") beer for 75 cents a bottle. The live entertainment was
two male electric guitarists wearing women's ballet tights (one was
fake pregnant) and a chorus of chanting eight year old kids. And
you thought you had seen avante garde.
And then there are the Scottish girls
whom Marty brought home on the first night of Oktoberfest. They were
both wearing leather pendants in the shape of the African continent,
in the fashion popular to Afro-Americans. It turns out that they
are seriously into the American black culture. Scottish women, urban
Afro-American activism - seems like a strange mix to me. But perhaps
it explains how Marty and his half African background hooked up with
her. And then there was the Swiss girls in Florence who were in such
a hurry to become women.
There was the girl from Oktoberfest and
the Holiday Inn. She was a student from Minnesota and had a refreshing
naivete and open candor unspoilt by adult cynicism or male/female
wariness. Her approach to me was so forthright and blunt, it was
difficult to say anything but yes. She was traveling and camping
with some druggie guy that was interested in her but the sentiment
was not reciprocated. When she was with me at Oktoberfest, he came
up and bitterly told her, "Don't bring him back to the tent tonight!" I
remember her parents had her as a mistake and I think she wanted
to be a medical writer or something.
I am trying to record the essence of
these people so that many years from now I will remember not just
the places but the people and their stories to fill in the gaps and
give an essence of humanity to the story. My father kept a journal
when he was in Europe which his father kept and read with pleasure
and amusement in his dotage.