It was Monday December 1st and I awoke in Angelica and Helmut’s guest bedroom. A real bed with real bed linens, not the sleeping bag on the bunk mattress that had been my nightly resting place for much of my odyssey, including every night in the past three weeks since Steve and I slept in that bed together, platonically, in Walter’s hotel room in Paris. I had been so relieved last night when I called them from the Munich train station and Angelica answered the phone, said that of course I could stay with them, and offered at that late hour to come and pick me up. I felt so bad that I had boarded the train to Munich in Bern forgetting to call them from there to give them a heads up. After I hung up I had a moment of angst wondering if I had displayed too much entitlement in expecting them to retrieve me and put me up that late on a weekday evening, without any prior notice!
They had both seemed happy enough to see me at the train station, Angelica giving me a big hug and Helmut a hardy welcoming handshake. He drove their little sedan home through the brightly lit snow frosted streets of the city, while she grilled me from the front passenger seat on my adventures. I was sitting in that same back seat where I remember throwing up, that night back in early October when I consumed way too much sweet white wine and Leberkäse (liver cheese) at their friend’s thirtieth birthday party. That had certainly been the most embarrassing moment of my entire now ten week odyssey. And it was right up there with my other worst moments, including being pulled over by Swiss police and given a breathalyzer test in Chur, losing my passport and railpass boarding the train in Bar-sur-Aube, and being turned away from that youth hostel in Liege at five minutes past midnight and having to trudge the eight kilometers back to the train station with my fifty pound pack on my back, dead tired and sneezing from an oncoming cold.
I was just as attracted now to smart and perky Angelica as I had been before, and to her queries I was happy to respond with exuberance and detail, also singing for my supper as it were, or in my case for my late night rescue and bed for the night. My stories focused more on the things I had done and places I had been, than on the intriguing people, young women in particular, that I had met. Perhaps if Angelica and I hadn’t both been so shy, she might have asked me if I had met any interesting young women, or I might have volunteered some of those stories. Or maybe it was more that when I was being chatted up by a charming female type that I had my own private fantasies about, I didn’t want to break the spell by talking about my encounters with other attractive women. And then perhaps it was the dynamic of Helmut there and listening, restraining me from being so conversationally intimate with his partner. Angelica loved my moment alone in the Sistine chapel, but particularly resonated with my stories of Grindelwald, being such an outdoors person herself. Seeing the huge mountains across the valley from the hostel, trekking to the glacier, singing in the tavern, and then my second hand story of my fellow hostelers adventure up the cog railway to the Sphinx Observatory, something she said she and Helmut should do someday.
Those private fantasies regarding Angelica I had indulged last night once I had adjourned to my own bed in their guest room. Letting off that sexual steam generated by my libido, that would build up in my body each day and pester my mind, was a continuing issue for a young backpacker like me. I had never had sex with another person, and day to day on my journey though I was encountering a lot of women I was attracted to, had no focused intention in the real world to do so. Certainly among my backpacker cohort, there were opportunities to do so, and I imagine a number of my cohort had taken those opportunities, including Monika, Michael and Beth, and possibly Jen and Sarah as well. If nothing else, in a big city like Rome, one could even blow the frugal travel budget and pay a prostitute. As backpackers we lived mostly outside the strictures of society, other than what could be enforced by hostel staff within the walls of their establishments or when one drove up a one way street the wrong way within view of a police car.
Even though I did not have that focused intention each day of finding someone to have sex with, I thought about it constantly, which manifested by my fantasizing about having some form of sex with most every woman I encountered, whether my age or older. Mostly women in my case, though not necessarily exclusively so, given that I had come close to having my travel partner Steve talk me into some sort of sexual encounter and I had also had some feelings along that line for Michael in Grindelwald. In my own head I was a kid in a wonderful sexual candy store, and given that there was no reality to any of it, the sky was the limit in terms of sexual partners, encounters and practices. Vaginal sex in various positions, blow jobs, hand jobs, anal sex, threesomes – all the erotic or pornographic variations of sexual practice that I had heard people talk about or read about in the occasional Penthouse “Forum” or other skin magazine that I had had the opportunity to, if only briefly, rifle through and read the juiciest bits.
And given all those fantasies, inspired by my libido, but then firing up my sexual urge ever more in a feedback loop, the outlet for me was masturbation. It was a topic, given my shyness and the continuing societal prohibitions around it, I had never come close to talking about with another human being. But I did it, and so did I guess most everyone else, and when I was back in the States with the opportunity for alone time in my own room or bathroom, or in a shared say dorm room when I knew my roommate was in class, I could leisurely play with myself past the point of orgasm while playing out any of those sexual candy store fantasy narratives I had concocted. Fantasies with any number of partners I had encountered in the real world, seen pictures of or read about in Playboy or Penthouse, or just completely made up in my own “dirty”, that is to say fertile dirt soil, mind.
But here on the road as a backpacker, on a very tight budget, bedrooms or bathrooms to oneself for a fair amount of time were often not possible. One could still jerk off in a shower or toilet stall, if the bathroom featured even that level of privacy, but that was a dicier endeavor, with less assured privacy, and getting caught was the worst of all nightmares. So each day on the road, beyond the effort I put into finding a place to stay, purchasing food at the lowest possible price, of deciding what to see or do, effort was put into seeing if I could create a safe space to give myself a delightful, much anticipated, and much needed orgasm. And unlike those other endeavors, where I could consult with visitor information booths, hostel staff or my fellow travelers, I had to figure out this important logistical aspect of my day to day life experience completely on my own. Maybe some other more self assured, obvious alpha type guy, could dare to bring up the subject and entertain advice from his peers, but certainly not shy me.
So given the stars aligning last night providing me with a room of my own to sleep and do other things in, those other things had included a long intense sexual fantasy involving Angelica that had been the inspiration for several orgasms, a couple before going to sleep and one just then after waking up. When I finally got up, dressed, and emerged into the kitchen, it was a bit disconcerting to see the woman for real that I had just made wild animal love to all night long in my fantasies. And given what I readily acknowledged and admired her great partnership with her husband Helmut, that hadn’t stopped me, and that felt doubly weird.
Angelica was drinking coffee and reading the newspaper with bright hazel eyes through wire-rimmed glasses. She was probably about 25, and beyond the glasses, everything about her was wiry. Short thick curly brown hair that looked unbrushable. Thin sinuous arms hanging from what were broad shoulders for the short person that she was. The muscular thighs of a person who climbed mountains every weekend. Even her breasts were small and wiry and seemed to cling tightly to her chest, and at least had done so on her so naked body in my fantasy. She flashed me a big friendly smile when she saw me, though not the lustful knowing one she would have given me after our night of passion. She offered to make me breakfast and asked me if I wanted to use their washer and dryer to wash my clothes.
I realized that I probably had only washed or had my clothes washed just four times since I had used their washer and drier eight weeks ago. And then it occurred to me that I might have been pretty rank to hug last night in the train station, or sitting with them in the confined space of the backseat of their little car with the windows rolled up on a cold wintery night. I told her with all sincerity that that would be wonderful at this point, maybe my last real chance before I flew home to the States. Understanding the minimal changes of clothes that one could have living out of a backpack, she offered me Helmut’s bathrobe to change into so I could wash everything, including the clothes I was currently wearing.
Despite all that I’d released, my libido was ready to percolate once more, and I gratefully and a bit excitedly accepted her offer, adjourning briefly to the guest room to strip off what I was wearing, don Helmut’s bathrobe, and pull the rest of my much in need of washing clothes out of my pack. In their small but very efficiently designed kitchen, the washer and dryer were stacked on the wall next to the stove above the dishwasher. As I returned to the kitchen with my armsful of dirty clothes, my body deliciously naked under Helmut’s terrycloth robe, her eyes twinkled and she observed me with a satisfied smile, noting that I was a bit taller than him. We had a quick, to me somewhat titillating, conversation about whether I wanted to wash my whites separately from my colored clothes, but realizing that my whites were only my three pairs of dirty underwear and one t-shirt, we decided I might as well just throw everything in together. She then suggested that if I wanted to take a shower she’d make me a hot breakfast of sausage, eggs and oatmeal, that I could eat when I was done.
So when I accepted Angelica’s offer and took a fairly long hot shower, I of course imagined her naked in the shower with me, me soaping up all those deliciously sexual and wiry parts of her body, as best as I could imagine them, while her soapy hands explored mine. Doing that soapy exploration myself, I got one more nice orgasm out of that scenario. Again it felt a bit awkward to emerge from that intense personal fantasy to the real Angelica sizing me up through her glasses from her perch in the kitchen, with a look this time not unlike, strangely I thought, if she had really been in that shower with me and facilitated that orgasm with her wiry fingers, or was at least maybe undressing me, or in this case disrobing me, with her eyes. Maybe just chalk that up to my overactive imagination doing its thing for my libido’s continuing pleasure. I certainly was jealous of Helmut and this tightly wound woman he got to sleep with and make love to every night, and I apologized to him in my mind for taking such fantastical liberties with her to try to quench my own needs as best I could.
I was pretty hungry and the food was hot and delicious, and I tried not to devour it too greedily, though I felt somehow she was enjoying the fact that she was satisfying my hunger, at least the culinary part of it. Again, we were both pretty shy, so everything was by implication rather than overt. The way she smiled at me and watched me eat. The way I responded exuberantly to each question she asked me about my journey so far and where I was headed next, still naked under Helmut’s robe. She said that coincidentally she had the day free, and asked me if there was anything in the city I wanted to see, a museum perhaps. I guess I must have shrugged or responded somehow nonverbally in a way that she then suggested, being the trekker and outdoorsperson that she was, that instead we walk through the Englischer Garten (English Garden), a large famous formal garden in the middle of the city that was not too far a walk from their apartment. Consistent with the real or imagined implicit dynamic between us, I perked up and said that that sounded “wonderful”.
So we donned jackets, scarves, gloves and hats and headed out into a wintry crisp sunny day, the temperature just enough below freezing so it was cold enough to keep the fresh snow from melting but not so cold to be chilling, perfect outdoor winter weather. As we walked down the urban streets towards the Garden, the old buildings looked so pretty, like some sort of Santa’s village with their classic Tudor architecture accentuated by sun dazzled snowy roofs and eaves.
When we finally got to our destination, I realized that to call it large was an understatement, Angelica confirming that it was 3.7 square kilometers (about 1.4 square miles or 900 acres). It ran southwest to northeast along the Isar river, which ran through the center of Munich and connected to the Danube in Deggendorf, so unlike the Rhine to the west, it was on the east side of Europe’s continental divide, the Danube emptying its waters into the Black Sea. Throughout its extensive grounds were streams and ponds winding through small hills, woods and meadows, and a handful of architecturally interesting venues, including a Japanese teahouse on a small island in the pond, a hilltop “Apollo Temple”, the 25 meter tall Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), and a huge restaurant and beer garden. Without any leaves, the skeletal trees with snowy white highlights along their horizontal branches made the whole place a stunning vista. Despite the winter cold the place was full of hundreds of people – walking, sitting, playing in the snow. The pond was full of as many waterbirds – gulls, geese, ducks, swans – and there were plenty of pigeons on shore, all the birds seeming completely unfazed by all the people, crowding around those people feeding them.
As we walked side by side through the place in animated conversation, Angelica occasionally touching my arm or shoulder to gently interrupt what I was saying to point something out, I imagined that the people seeing us might mistake us for a couple. She asked me about the art I had seen at the many museums I’d been to, what pieces, what artists were the most striking. I told her I’d been moved by Michelangelo’s work, the three dimensional quality of his painted figures in the Sistine Chapel, and his actual sculptures of figures “trapped” in the rock he carved them out of in the Academia in Florence. Also Goya’s paintings in the Prado in Madrid of the Spanish people’s insurgency against Napoleon’s occupying army. And finally Picasso’s work, which my mom the artist had told me so much about.
Bringing up my mom, Angelica asked me how she was doing. When Angelica had first met her three year ago, when we spent the summer in England, my mom was recently divorced from my dad and still recovering from all the trauma of the break up. Despite that, Angelica had been so impressed with my mom and had considered her a friend and a mentor, and the kind of active, outspoken and activist woman she aspired to be herself. I filled her in on how my mom had continued to work against the war in Vietnam, and how she had gotten deeply involved in local Ann Arbor politics as a precinct chair for the Democratic Party and a campaign manager for two local politicians who successfully ran for city council and mayor. Angelica loved the stories of my mom sending me out on my bicycle to knock on people’s doors and remind them to vote.
After walking and talking for an hour or so, we stopped at the Japanese teahouse in the park. It was on a tiny island in the middle of the stream that ran through the park, surrounded by bare trees decorated with bits of snow. We sat across from each other at a tiny table in the teahouse, our faces no more than a foot or so apart, drinking hot jasmine tea from big heavy ceramic cups. I enjoyed the intimacy of our proximity, watching her glasses fog from the steam rising from the cup each time she brought it to her puckered lips and noisily sipped it. After much talking during our walk around the park, we were both happy to be silent and enjoy the other’s presence.
If she had been single, despite our age difference and my timidity, I might have gotten up the nerve to ask her if I could kiss her. I indulged the fantasy for a moment, wondering if it would be more appropriate to just kiss her or ask her first. I decided that I would have asked first, not wanting to actually make the move and be rebuffed, rather getting her consent first in a slightly more low stakes talk only moment, so I could just relax and go for it. Though all that was just idle thoughts in my mind, by her body language it seemed she was comfortable being so close to me (probably having had a shower that day helped!) and, if she had been single, might have accepted that request for a kiss if asked. I felt like it was some sort of “moment”, if telepathic only.
After finishing our pot full of Jasmine tea, our bellies warmed by the beverage, we continued our walking down along the river. I asked her about her life, as she had made the transition from being a newly age of majority person like me to a married adult now a quarter century old. She laughed and in her somewhat limited English said that no one had ever asked her a question quite like that before, but she thought it was a good one, and liked that I was really interested in getting to the “center of the issue”.
She proceeded to tell me about her youth, growing up in Tubingen, a big progressive university town like my hometown of Ann Arbor. She got interested in politics in high school after reading Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope, and embracing his utopian vision of a better world. She studied political science at her hometown University of Tubingen, and got very involved in the German Student Movement in the late 1960s, challenging the government’s attempt to control what students studied and generally supporting the peace and antiwar movement in the U.S. and around the world. She had met Helmut at one of the rallies and in the heady milieu of activism and they had quickly fallen in love, and a year after that, upon receiving their degrees and getting jobs, decided to marry.
It was shortly after their marriage that the two of them had been vacationing in England and had met my mom, who they both connected with, particularly Angelica. My mom had argued with her about Angelica’s Marxist views and whether that ideology could truly embrace women as equal partners in the real world, beyond doing so theoretically. Based on my mom’s recommendation Angelica had read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and had embraced feminism, though still trying to square it with Marxist ideas.
We finally ended the afternoon at the Beer Garden, and given that we could walk or else take the light rail system homw, we both had a couple big glass mugs of the stuff, and both Angelica and I got a bit buzzed. As the alcohol loosened her up, she shared with me that my mom’s influence had been critical to her development, leading her to have intense discussions with Helmut about their relationship as husband and wife, and ensuring that it stayed as an equal partnership going forward, despite their transitioning to “bourgeois” corporate jobs. She said that keeping that partnership was difficult as Helmut in particular got sucked more and more into the expectations of corporate culture, and the social expectations in his business circles around her role as his wife. She grabbed my arm and looked fiercely into my eyes and said that though she had married her “sweetheart” she was not going to settle for anything less than her own life and would not be pressured by Helmut’s work colleagues to do so. She wanted me to share that with my mom and send her love and continuing admiration.
On the way back from the English Garden we picked up some takeout food for dinner, and Helmut had returned from work when we got home. He seemed tired and distracted as the three of us ate the sausage and noodles for dinner together. Eventually he confessed that he had had a difficult day at work, the big project he was collaborating on hitting a snag related to his piece of it, but he wanted to hear about our day instead. So I would understand what she was saying, Angelica tried her best to talk to him in English, though she would often have to resort to German and then stop and translate for me, which kind of interrupted the flow of the conversation. Helmut I realized actually was better with English than she was, so I tried to take over for Angelica expounding on the narrative of our day, still feeling that urge to sing for my supper and imposing on their hospitality at the last minute like I had.
I brought up that Angelica had shared with me more details of how they had met at a student movement rally and how I thought that was really cool. He sighed and chuckled and said that that seemed like a long time ago now, and their lives had been very different then. Angelica shook her head wistfully. He said it was one thing to question authority when you were a student, with all the independence and free thinking that was possible in that role, but yet another thing when you were part of a big company that told you what to do and controlled your paycheck. Angelica seemed agitated by that statement and said something to him in German with a noticeable edge in her voice, like she was gently lecturing him. He nodded and translated for me, saying that she was right that we still were responsible for behaving ethically, and fighting for what was right despite the pressures from others. Angelica softened, put her hand on his, and said it was more difficult for him than for her, his boss and colleagues were harder on him than hers were. And then looking at me and smiling, she noted that it was my mom who so sagely had said to them that you have to “pick your battles” and “fight them on ground where you have the best chance to win”.
Snow had started falling again and a deepening cold gripped the air as they drove me to the train station and put me on my long overnight train to Amsterdam. Helmut gave me another hardy handshake, wished me safe travels back to the States, and told me to send their love to my mom. Angelica pressed her body against mine, the side of her face against my chest, a smell in her wiry hair that was not shampoo but from her, and very pleasant. It was the intimate hug of a peer and a fellow traveler, but then like she was rethinking it mid stream, she stiffened a little and pulled back, her hands on my forearms. She looked at me with those hazel eyes through her wire-rimmed glasses, scanning my chest and shoulders as if she was looking for bits of lint or if my collar needed to be adjusted, like she was a parent, or better an older sister, doing one last check before sending her kid brother out into the world without her. Those eyes finally met mine and she gave me her biggest smile and kissed me on the cheek, and paralleling her partner, told me to make sure I gave my mom their “love and thoughts”, the “thoughts” I presumed referencing our earlier discussion in the Beer Garden.
I boarded the train, found a seat in a compartment, the window looking out onto the platform where the two of them still stood, holding hands. As the train pulled out of the station they each waved with their free hand, though I could see that they couldn’t tell what compartment I was in. I felt suddenly alone and sad again and missed them so much. Particularly Angelica, who in the course of the day had been my fantasy sex partner, more real world comrade, and finally my long lost big sister.
As the platform with the two of them disappeared from my view, my mind’s jukebox played a Beatles song, “In My Life”, to match my melancholy…
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all