As Zo wrapped her arms around my waist and pressed her short but stocky body against mine for a long hug, her wild explosion of red hair, somewhat contained by her ever present red Canadian flag headband with the white maple leaf, gently tickling my chin and cheek. As we momentarily held the embrace, it struck me how connected I felt with this woman that I had only known since yesterday. Though I had always been shy about any physical intimacy with women, Zo had made me almost instantly comfortable with her and I had had no discomfort sleeping very close to her last night, albeit not sleeping together in any sexual sense and with our clothes on sandwiched between our travel companions. My trepidation really was in initiating the physical intimacy, but if circumstances led obviously in that direction, I had no problem being intimate, and really enjoyed it. If only we were in a world that was not so patriarchal and women were more comfortable initiating more intimacy, it would be a boon to a shy male type like me.
So Sunday morning October 21 Steve and I hoisted our packs and walked from the Rue Titon hostel we had been staying at to the main drag that headed out of Paris south towards Lyon, and stuck out our thumbs. I was a bit wistful to leave Giselle and her striking daughter Laurence behind, but was happy to have my new travel partner at my side, even though he was also male and not the subject of my romantic fantasies. Given that biological shortcoming, he seemed a good companion, a bit more gregarious than me, smart, funny and even-keeled, and all with a low ego. He did not seem to have the bouts of moodiness and withdrawal that had plagued my last travel partner Jack.
Standing on the side of a big Paris thoroughfare packed with cars zipping past and lots of pedestrians as well briskly walking by us on the wide sidewalk, I wasn’t sure anyone would pull over and give us a ride. But someone finally did. A young guy, one of our own cohort with his own long hair and bellbottom pants, driving one of the funkiest beat up little runty car I had had the occasion to see in either Europe or the States. Later when I asked him, he told me with a dose of hippie pride that it was a Citroen “Deux Chevaux”. I knew enough French to figure out that that meant “two horses”, and I was ready to believe that the little engine, sounding more like a lawnmower under the front hood, might only be two horsepower (it was actually just nine). It was the cutest little ugly duckling of a car, his with a canvass rollback sunroof, which was closed on that crisp October day. Steve sat in the front passenger seat next to our host while I sat in the semblance of a backseat squeezed next to our two backpacks taking up most of the space along with our driver’s duffle bag and cardboard boxes of random stuff.
It was a Wednesday, October 16, finally a gorgeous fall day after too much cold and rain over the past two weeks of my European travels. From atop the cupola of Sacre Coeur, I looked down at central Paris. My loneliness was medicated somewhat by the dazzling fall weather and a previous evening spent with Giselle, Paul and Laurence, in a big European capital where I was all but anonymous.
As I stood alone on the observation deck and looked off at the city in the distance my mind looked off into the future as well. After I saw Christiane in Tubingen I figured I would have about four more weeks to go to Spain and Italy and end up in Vienna. Once I got there I would have it licked and could arguably say that I had seen Western Europe, and make my way back to England and then back home to the States. It felt a bit unnerving to be planning all this further travel when another part of me just wanted to hop on a train and get my ass back to the States as quickly as possible. I pondered whether that option was undermining my coping with my situation or was instead a helpful crutch.
Given the Noon checkout, I got myself up, stumbled down the hall of the little hotel to the bathroom, hoping it would be unoccupied and have a shower with warm water, which it was and it did. It was the first shower I had had since I left Christiane and Volker’s place in Munich four days ago. The hostels I had stayed at since had all had showers, but none with hot water, and I hated taking cold showers, and preferred to go without, with just a quick bird bath with a moist washcloth instead.
I left Christiane and Volcker at the Munich train station on Wednesday October 10 1973 and headed out by train using my rail pass, on my own again, this time headed to Mainz to take a boat up the Rhine river. I was due to meet my mom’s friend Giselle in Paris in six days and I decided in the interest of time that I would pass on exploring the Black Forest for now. My new plan was to spend a few days touring the great historic river, which separated France from Germany, that Patton’s army breached in World War II with my dad as an artillery platoon leader, and that I had done a report on in sixth grade with ample assistance from my dad. A couple of my fellow young backpackers that I had spent the night with in the Bern train station had suggested that the sightseeing boat ride up the Rhine and then down the Mosel were spectacular.
In the narrow hallway of the train I passed a young adult guy, maybe a few years older than me, wearing an American army uniform, shiny black boots and a beret, which I figured meant he was in some sort of elite unit, maybe airborne. He seemed distracted and distant and did not look me in the eye, even though we had to do an awkward little dance to get around each other in the narrow aisle, me with my big backpack on my back, him moving into a sitting compartment momentarily to let me clomp by in my own not so shiny black hiking boots. I suddenly remembered that the war must still be going on in the Middle East, and though I didn’t think the U.S. was involved directly, since Israel, Syria and Egypt were, then the U.S. and the Soviet Union were probably already active behind the scenes and mustering various forces just in case the other side made some big military move.
It was Thursday October 4th 1973 when I debarked the train from Bern Switzerland in Munich Germany, fifty pound (or should I say 22 kilo) pack on my back, bleary from lack of sleep, but happy to recognize Christiane and Volcker on the train platform smiling and scanning the numerous people exiting the train. I on the other hand looked much different than the five foot six inch short haired fifteen-year-old kid they had met three years ago. Now I had a long curly mop of hair, was six feet and even taller wearing my two-inch-heeled shoes (which I typically wore instead of my big clunky hiking boots which still hurt my feet and hung from my pack). When Christiane figured out by process of elimination who I was she started waving vigorously and her face lit up. Volcker followed her lead and waved as well, though more sedately, and put on his best charming smile.
We did not make it into Switzerland that day due to an unexpected detour by our last ride, a forty-something guy hauling a big sailboat behind his VW bus who seemed somewhat crazy or at least very very scatterbrained. With darkness approaching he took us into the town of Friedrichshafen in the very southernmost part of Bavaria, where he said he was going to participate the next morning in a big boat race. The town was on the north shore of a forty mile long lake called the Bodensee, which made up part of the border between West Germany and Switzerland. It was a beautiful town with great views of the lake. The blue-gray water blended into the blue-gray somewhat hazy sky at dusk to make the interface between the two indistinguishable, and with the far shore hidden in the haze, it felt like the town was on the edge of an endless abyss.
With all the bravado I could muster I left the hotel and my travel companion Angie, the two of us having decided to part company, I to continue some version of our original planned trip to the continent, and her to stay in London and hook up with her parents who had planned a trip to England. Though I was not excited about continuing, and part of me wanted to bail on the whole odyssey and return home, I could not bear the sense of defeat I knew I would feel if I gave up the adventure, even now alone and on my own. Like it or not, for my own still tenuous self respect, I had to continue. I knew at some level I was throwing myself into a hugely developmental “deep end” that I was in no way looking forward to but determined to traverse somehow and return home a triumphant European traveler.