Octoberfest (PARTY!), and Florence

Octoberfest: Party until your head caves in!

October 7, 1991

      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 Frankfurt.

      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 Americans.

      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 thoroughly enjoyable.

      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.

Swiss girls
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.