24 October 1992
Marty and I are presently well on our way back to the States via Geneva
and Frankfurt. We endured a grueling seven hour train ride to Madrid
and then an overnight train to Barcelona. We did not take the outrageously
overpriced couchettes and for the second time this trip I was so tired
that I stretched out on the floor compartment in the train. Now we are
on the train to Geneva and I am looking forward to a bed and a shower.
By this point in the trip, I am a total "budget hound." I am more or
less reconciled to smelling bad and wearing the same clothes for extended
periods of time. I am no longer even fazed at the prospect of only eating
bread and other tiny snacks out of grocery stores and nothing else, or
worse, train station food.
It is a unique thing, this budget traveler
with the backpack, hiking shoes, and slightly disheveled appearance
scrambling everywhere which I have become. I have had some very good
moments and some very bad. To be an accomplished budget traveler means
to take the eventual bad with aplomb and grace. At this point, I will
gladly say goodbye to my backpack and who knows if I will ever do it
This train ride from Barcelona to Geneva
turned out to be typically Kafkaesque. The French railway workers are
on a quasi-one day strike, which is more of a threateningly ominous
slow down in service designed to demonstrate how inconvenient a serious
strike would be and thus obtain concessions and preempt the need for
a real strike. And so our train is absolutely packed as it is one of
the only t rains operating. We traveled with a young man from North
Carolina who was looking for work in Spain so he could learn Spanish.
We were of the same opinion concerning the stunning beauty of the Spanish
women. He captured it well with the following statement: "I think somewhere
in Spain I will find my wife." Next, we met a couple of newly graduated
Harvard chicks with whom Marty made quick conversation. An elderly
French women sat down next to me and we pursued a conversation for
the next two hours, totally in French. She was a retired doctor who
had worked in Vietnam and was a woman of strong opinion. She talked
of the many hidden communists still in the world, hidden just beneath
the surface of legality like the mass of an iceberg sitting below the
water (the metaphor is her's). She was very much against the Arab immigrants
and claimed that they threatened French society. She had visited the
United States and did not like it: there were too many fat people and
all the restaurants were the same. It took a lot of mental concentration
to keep up the conversation in French but the insights were invaluable.
Still, she was so argumentative and her French was so unforgiving that
I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally de-boarded from the train.
25 October, 1991
We are now in Germany on our way to the
airport and home. Geneva is as monied and peaceful as I figured it
to be. It is a small city on a tranquil lake with much lush greenery,
parks and residences. Due to the United Nations and other conferences,
the city is amazingly international. The Youth Hostel, which we stayed
in, was of course both modern and beautiful.
The Swiss seem to have an aloof scorn for
poverty and ugliness. Switzerland is pristine and amazingly well organized.
The Swiss are so neutral that they will not even join the United Nations.
The Swiss like to look at their corner of the world as a land of prosperity
and a people of peace and order. There is some truth to this as is
obvious in a brief visit. But there also seems an element of convenience
in all this. The Swiss make millions from their confidential bank accounts,
laundering money from drugs and other shadowy and sleazy sources. They
also make money hosting the United Nations and other conferences on
crises. Switzerland is like a placid little country whose unique political
and economic circumstances make it a profitable place for the whole
world to do business. Sometimes Switzerland is just too conveniently
neutral for my taste, as sometimes one needs to take a moral stand.
It is best said by Martin Luther King, "A man who is not willing to
die for something is not fit to live." The most powerful example of
Swiss moral tunnel vision is, of course, Nazi Germany. At any rate,
Switzerland is ascetically peaceful and beautiful but a bit unexciting
and boring as well. It is like the flabby and unmotivated life of the
spoiled and shallow. It reminds me a little of what Johnson said about
the modern European Community of the integrated Common Market: "[Today's]
Europe is callous to culture, blind to beauty, without a whisper of
romance or a spark of spirituality. It is a Europe of bureaucratic
Brent, such a friend of cleanliness and
order, saw Switzerland as close to the ideal society. It seemed to
me a place of numbers and calculations, watches and banks. It reminded
me a little of Salzberg and with the icy and cool beautiful mountain
austerity of spirit. I remember reading somewhere about the strict
Calvinism of post-Renaissance Geneva. The people seem content and self-satisfied
although supposedly there is a serious drug problem among the young.
It seems to me there is a problem with simply having too much stability
and comfort and not enough passion. At any rate, Switzerland is an
entirely pleasant place to visit, both in terms of beauty and convenience.
And pleasantly for me, French is the language here.
Marty and I took a train that many Swiss
were also on and it was an interesting experience. The soldiers were
partying and were on their way home, as it is normal for Swiss soldiers
to be given the weekends off. They left their gear and assault rifles
unattended in the partition near the bathroom. I talked to a young
man and he asserted that this practice was common enough. Swiss soldiers
keep their weapons at home and routinely carry them around in public!
The soldiers were an odd image: formidable looking rifles and knives
hanging from their belts coupled with long hair, slovenly general appearance
and even earrings! How funny that these soldiers are so public and
visible but will never see combat where U.S. soldiers are never seen
in public with weapons and are likely to see combat. The aforementioned
Swiss gentleman confided to me that the Swiss soldiers would most assuredly
drop their weapons at the outbreak of hostilities. He said they joined
the army for the target practice and camaraderie, not to kill or be
killed. I believe him.
I heard similar things about the West German
soldiers, although they are drafted and supposedly detest military
service. One sometimes sees groups of them recently demobilized, and
they indulge in a week-long drinking spree. The joy of being out of
the army is evident on their beaming faces.
We stopped for an hour to change trains
in Basel, Switzerland, and Marty telephoned his Swiss/Egyptian acquaintance.
I guess they connected well and she sounded very happy to hear from
him again. They are supposed to meet again sometime in the States.
It is typical of Marty to have established such an intimate confidence
in so little time. I wonder if it is a matter of them really liking
each other or if it has more to do with the romantic nature of a chance
encounter with an exotic foreigner in a strange land?
We spent our last night in the airport
at Frankfurt sleeping on couches. I am totally broke now and Marty
bought me dinner at the McDonald's. While we were there, a group of
skinheads entered the restaurant. They stand out with the baldness
and have the military style jackets and boots, etc. They mostly resemble
bored teenagers looking for the action in their cliques. However, their
notoriety for racial neo-Nazi mob violence against foreigners (ie.
dark colored persons, like Martin) is well established. They do not
mess with Marty or myself despite our obvious differentness but I almost
wish they would and my concentration narrows. I know Marty feels the
The last day on in the airport was so close
and yet so far. Time seemed to slow as our flights approached. I underwent
the most thorough security check of my trip not at some customs checkpoint
but at the United Airlines security center. I was closely questioned
about who I traveled with, any gifts I had been give, etc. They even
searched my backpack!
By now, I had pretty much grown a full
beard and I was eager to see Los Angeles. The plane flight was interminably
long and I spent a full two hours explaining to some German tourists
where to go in L.A. and in the West. I had experienced so much hospitality
in Europe that taking time to help confused tourists is important to
me. After all, I myself have been that confused tourist squinting at
the map many a time.
I passed though U.S. customs surprisingly
easily and met Brent who was my ride back to Newport Beach. The day
was an omen for the next six months as it was rainy and overcast and
Brent immediately warned me how bad the economy was and how happy he
was simply to have a job. The first thing that struck me on my return
was how out of the music/entertainment industry loop I was. "What?" they
have a new album out? "What is this movie?" I had come home earlier
than expected and I wanted to surprise my parents but unfortunately
they were away for the weekend. It was a quiet homecoming.
I spent the next five months looking unsuccessfully
for a job and trying in vain to get a career in law enforcement underway.
The problem was simple: in the middle of a bitter economic recession,
no one had any money to hire me. I found myself applying for jobs that
I was overqualified for but which I lacked direct experience. I was
back to that age old dilemma about how to get experience when no one
was willing to give me any. It was tough on the ego and involved many,
many job applications and much disappointment and frustration. I did
however have the many good workouts that I promised myself when I was
in Europe and I did enjoy greatly the camaraderie of my old friends.
My new friend from Barcelona, Ramiro, visited me for a week in California
and I am sure we will be friends for life.
The great enthusiasm I felt in Europe about
living and enjoying my life more fully improving my life back in the
States of course naturally wore off over time as I slogged through
the quotidian details of routine life. And true to life, as time passed
my trip became idealized; the bitter moments of hard travel lost their
bite and the educational and novelty aspects of the trip assumed greater
importance. I think back now, six full months later (it has taken me
this long to enter this journal into my computer), nostalgically about
the beauty of Prague and the history of Berlin and the craze of Spanish
nightlife. True to my parents prognostications, I am infinitely glad
that I took this trip and I often look back and feel awe about much
of what I saw. It is so easy now to talk or think back on Europe with
Upon reading the journal back in the States,
it is interesting to observe how laconic and strained my writing is
at the beginning of the trip (when I was nervous and uncomfortable)
in contrast to the lengthy and introspective entries later on during
the tedious train rides (when I was completely relaxed). The trip was
a seminal period for me and I am so glad that I took the time to write
down and preserve my thoughts and reactions. Not only now do I have
a chronicle of my day to day adventures, but I also have a record of
some of my beliefs, goals, and affections while in Europe as a young
recently graduated college student. And I am sure that all the work
and effort that this journal entailed will pay off in spades in the
future as it remains an indelible testament to what I felt and thought
as a young man.