It was November 19 1973 and I boarded the train headed northeast from Rome to Florence. It was a Monday, not that I kept track of what day it was since the days of the week made no difference to me, except maybe for Sunday, where in some of the more traditional areas, some of the grocery stores or the museums might be closed for the Christian sabbath. The only reason I knew it was Monday was because I’d seen the Pope do his Sunday thing in St. Peter’s square the day before.
As I boarded the train I saw others of my ilk, easily spotted by their backpacks and “freak flag” hair boarding the train as well at different doors. Some of them I recognized but I presume most or all of them had been staying at our hostel, or perhaps another one across town, and were now headed for guess where… probably Florence. My cohort of fellow travellers stuck out because most of the Europeans milling around us had way less unkempt hair, instead styled if even simply so. Easy to maintain short hair seemed to be the “mode” of the day for men and women, functional and even elegant on someone like Giselle’s daughter Laurence, who I had met in Paris. It was all about style I thought… most Europeans had a real sense of simple practical style. Thus the wild often unkempt manes on all of us backpacker types stuck out, along of course with those big packs often to be seen on our backs.
It was Wednesday November 14 and the morning sun lit the interior of the Basel train station where I still sat waiting for the train to Rome. I had said goodbye to Steve yesterday evening in Mulhouse where I had to wait in the train station for the next train from Bar-sur-Aube to bring my passport and rail pass. It was a miracle that they had found my documents after falling out of my jacket pocket as I boarded the train. Without that miracle I would probably now be heading back to Paris, to the U.S. embassy to get a new passport and then quickly return to the States, ending my trip several weeks earlier than anticipated, and thus never getting to Italy, where I was now headed. The whole experience had chastened me, and made all my continuing issues with homesickness seem not so big a deal.
Dear friends and family… For the 8th year, I will be riding in the North Valley Caring Services bike-a-thon to raise money for this great community organization that supports the emergence of this poor mostly Hispanic community in Panorama City, just a couple miles east of where I live. This year’s event is on Saturday, April 16, just two weeks after my 61st birthday!
From its beginnings as a soup kitchen, NVCS has grown to offer an array of programs that help individuals and families, including Adult ESL Courses, Early Childhood Education, and Parenting Classes; a Youth Program and a Workforce Development program. They have additional services including a holiday toy give-away, free Thanksgiving meal, health screenings and referral services.
Please support my effort by making a donation of $25, $50, $100 or whatever amount you can give by clicking the “Donate” button below! This is the one time during the year I ask my network for money, and my goal this year is to raise $1000 for this critical organization!
To learn more about North Valley Caring Services and the great work they do, go to their website at www.nvcsinc.org.
Part 17 – Rue TitonOn Thursday November 8 1973 Steve and I left the hotel where Walter had put us up for the night after picking us up hitchhiking just outside Hendaye in southwestern France and driving us some 800 kilometers to Paris. Along the way he had treated us to the most extensive and expensive meal either of us had had since leaving the States. He had been such a gracious and giving host, but also had revealed to us in conversation, just this morning, his right-wing political orientation including sympathies for Adolf Hitler, whose army he had fought in as a young adult soldier during World War Two. I was still struggling to reconcile all of that, him taking us under his wing and into his confidence for the day. Did he think we would share his pro capitalism, pro Hitler, anti communism worldview? Did he think he could sway us to that worldview? Or was he just simply sharing honest feelings that we could take or leave?
It was a quick walk to the Gare du Nord train station where we phoned the hostel on Rue Titon, where we had stayed previously in Paris, and confirmed they had beds for us. So we took the metro there, checked in, dropped our packs off, and then headed to our backpacker oasis of sorts, the American Express office. I was delighted to get another stack of mail from my mom and dad and several of my friends back home. I read my letters as we walked from there to the German embassy off the Champs Elysee where Steve was going to check out about the possibilities of getting a job in Germany. Turned out the embassy was only open until Noon and it was already past one in the afternoon. I agreed with Steve that it was ridiculous that the embassy would have such short office hours. So we stopped at a bar for a beer and some pinball and returned to the hostel.
I was ready for us to part company. Back when we met I had been so lonely, homesick and with very low morale, and the two of us had quickly bonded, really enjoying each other’s company. Now, though we had been through alot together, there was more of a competitiveness to our relationship, and I felt like he was treating me more like a younger brother with whom a strong sibling rivalry prevailed. Of course when I said no to his request to have sex with me, that was certainly a big change point. At this moment, though still homesick, I was feeling much better about letting the last month of my travels play out, and traveling again on my own, before returning home to the States in mid December.
It was an overnight train to Madrid and we used it to save the cost of a night’s lodging. Having boarded at its starting point in Malaga Sunday night November 4, we had managed to score seats on one side of a compartment, with no one ending up sitting between us, giving us room to at least recline and try to get some sleep. The elderly couple sitting across from us were doing the same, and I thought it was cute how they cuddled with each other and smiled at Steve and I as we tried to find comfortable positions at opposite sides of our bench, not touching each other. In the early morning hours, when we came into Cordoba, the couple debarked and we got even luckier as no one else boarded and took their seats. So we each took a side, stretched out and I at least got a reasonably good rest of the night’s rest.
It was Wednesday October 31, Halloween back in the States, when we left behind our hotel in Granada and Steve’s sexual proposition to me, to hopefully move on. While we stuck out our thumbs to try and hitchhike, I wondered what my brother was doing for Halloween, and imagined that he would be at his best friend Greg’s house creating a spooky display to scare the kids that came trick or treating. I also wondered if Alice Cooper would be on TV in honor of the holiday tailor made for his onstage nightmarish persona and antics.
But the Spanish highway did not treat us to any success in that department. After three hours trying to satisfy my travel partner’s wish to at least try to avoid the added expense to him of the train, Steve relented and we headed to the station and boarded an early afternoon train to the southern Spanish city of Malaga. The city was on the Costa del Sol, the “coast of the sun” in English, and after six weeks traveling in mostly cold and wet weather, it sounded heavenly in both Spanish and English.