It was Thursday November 29 1973 and I woke up to a softer more diffuse light coming through the small hostel bunk room windows, high up on the walls so you really could not see in or out very well. The energy of the outside felt very different, subdued and very quiet. A couple guys were still sleeping but most were up and out. I generally slept in a t-shirt and underwear, my long underwear here in wintry Grindelwald, so I pulled on my jeans, grabbed my towel and washcloth hung on my pack frame overnight to dry, dug my toiletries and my flannel shirt out of my pack. I sniffed the shirt to make sure it did not stink too much from past days’ sweat… so so. I headed to the bathroom and tried the shower to make sure it would actually get warm this morning before committing to taking my clothes off and entering the stall. This place had been the exception to the general rule that hostels did not have hot water in their showers, but after two morning’s of glorious hot showers I still did not trust it. But the water was hot, so for the third straight day, after a deliciously long hot shower, my body started the day completely squeaky clean.
It was Wednesday November 28, 1973 and I awoke that morning from a memorable yesterday, my first full day in Grindelwald, a day full of camaraderie and special moments. When I emerged from the bunk room after a long hot shower and getting dressed, I could see out the big picture window that the sun was shining, and so presumably the clouds had finally lifted and the featured mountains would reveal themselves. I went immediately out on the balcony and the view was stunning beyond anything I had anticipated.
The hostel sat on the north slope of the little valley, looking south with the village below at its base. Rising out of the other side of the valley were three magnificent mountains that seemed impossibly high and gave me vertigo just to look at them. The winter morning sun was behind them, and though their northern faces were shaded there was enough diffused sunlight to see that all three of them were sheer rock and ice, literally rising from the valley floor almost three kilometers (a mile and a half) nearly straight up like giant teeth. Their jagged snow crusted tops caught bits of the sunlight behind them and glittered silvery, making their shaded faces that much more foreboding, like one was viewing those teeth from inside a humongously large gaping maw. Then to the right of these three, two other peaks loomed just a bit farther off, more conical in shape, the last completely white, more apparition than corporeal mountain.
It was still Tuesday November 27, 1973 in the Grindelwald youth hostel, and as most of us were finishing our yummy hostel supplied dinner, somebody in the group shouted out, “See you at the pub!”, and most everyone else laughed. I noticed that some people were hanging on to their plastic trays after bussing all their dishes and silverware, including the Cleveland gang. I looked at Derrick and pointed at the tray in his hands.
“Transportation” he said with a grin, “At least getting there!”
It was Tuesday morning November 27, 1973, and given little good sleep on the long overnight train ride from Venice the previous night, I ended up sleeping in and missed the breakfast I had paid for. It was 9:05 when I got down to the little dining room and breakfast was served just until 9:00, and things ran on schedule in Switzerland. They were lowkey about stuff but they stuck to their schedules. My first reaction was frustration, not so much because I was hungry and there was nothing to eat but more because I had missed a meal I had paid for with my precious remaining funds. I had figured with a big breakfast I would even skip lunch and save that money. But after contemplating my initial reaction for a moment I realized that the good long sleep probably had been more than worth it.
It was Sunday November 25, 1973 as I perched on a bench on the platform at the Venice train station waiting for this dormant steel beast in front of me to come alive. It was the train that would take me to Switzerland, and my anticipated Alpine paradise, soon to open its doors and let us board. As it got close to its departure time, I saw a group of four other what looked like Americans roughly my age with their long hair and backpacks. I kind of recognized them from the hostel. They all looked a few years older than me with their stubbly unshaven faces. (At eighteen, I still wasn’t growing facial hair yet, but gratefully at least pubic hair!) I could hear them joking with each other but in a sharp edged jocular sort of way, like Derrick, but even more so.
It was still Friday November 23 1973, and I was still processing my encounter on the train with Sophia, as I proceeded from the Venice station to find my way to the local hostel. It was by far the most sexually charged encounter I’d ever had with another human being, her pressing me about details of the women I was attracted to, sharing details of losing her virginity in the backseat of a car, and her not discouraging me from ogling her very oglable boobs. Yet she was probably more than twice my age, the age of some of my mom’s younger peers.
It’s not like I wasn’t attracted to, and maybe even casually flirted with some of my mom’s female friends, who indulged in the same with me. They were strong, intelligent, activist women, which is why my mom befriended them and why they interested me as well. Struggling for equality as they were, if their male peers were going to flirt with much younger women, they would flirt with much younger men right back. Some of them were single, either never married or divorced like my mom. But even married ones would play the flirt game, just like the married men. It wasn’t the sexually repressed 1950s anymore. They were all going through the sexual revolution in a very liberal university town that prided itself on its openness to most everything. It was a very egalitarian time, and one where people no longer acknowledged or respected their elders, I certainly didn’t. So if I, still a teen, wanted to engage with the grown ups at my mom’s parties, I was fair game. Everybody was flirting with everybody, at least in the whole male-female dynamic, if not much much more. Several of my mom’s married male friends were allegedly having affairs, and some had even hit on her at one point or another, particularly when they’d had too much to drink and their wives were not around.
It was Friday November 23 1973, the day after Thanksgiving in the States. Despite all my fellow backpackers traveling the Rome-Florence-Venice circuit like I was, I somehow ended up on the after lunch train from Florence to Venice by myself. The guys from Cleveland had decided to skip Venice because they had heard it was dreary and depressing and there was not much to do. They had instead headed farther northeast to Vienna, where I had originally planned to go after Venice. Jen and Sarah had left Florence for Venice earlier that morning. Trix and Evelyn and their crew were probably already in Vienna. Moana I think was headed west to Paris, continuing the Western European leg of his world tour that would take him across the States, via a two-month Greyhound bus pass, in December and January.
I was on my own again, and as such subject to that creeping melancholy and homesickness that was always lurking inside me these days when nothing else was happening to engage and distract me. But actually it wasn’t so bad on this day because I was pretty confident I would see at least Jen and Sarah at the Venice youth hostel, and get a welcome “hey Coopster” out of them plus maybe more.
It was Thursday November 22 1973, and I purposely got up early and managed to head out from the hostel and avoided encountering Derrick, Matt and Michael. It was raining again. There had not been a single completely dry moment since I got here three days ago. I was happy to be on my own, or at least without ‘the boys’ for now, as I walked through the streets of the old city in the light rain.
Yesterday had been a different sort of day. I had slept in until nearly 11 o’clock when the hostel staff kicked me out of the bunkroom so they could clean it. Then ‘the boys’ had ambushed me in the common room. To try and fend them off without being rude, I told them that I had a day of ‘chores’ planned; buying groceries, going to the post office to mail postcards, and finding a place to wash my clothes, which hadn’t been washed since Spain a couple weeks ago, figuring that agenda would be boring for them and they’d leave me on my own for the day. But Matt and Michael said they needed to get all those things done too so they suggested accompanying me. Derrick grudgingly agreed. I didn’t have the heart or balls or whatever organ was in play there to say no.
It was Tuesday November 20 1973 when I awoke in the male bunk room of the youth hostel in Florence, or as I was referring to it now by it’s suaver sounding real Italian name, ‘Firenze’. I had arrived at the hostel the previous evening with a big throng of my cohort, all of us with wet ponchos from the rain, dripping everywhere in the main common room as we stood in line, boisterously chatting with each other about the shitty weather, anything to break the ice. Trix and the other five young women, who I had shared a crowded compartment with on the train from ‘Roma’, went off in their own directions for the evening, and Jen and Sarah, who had left Roma for Firenze a day before, were yet unsighted among the throng in the hostel that night, but hopefully I would encounter them again.
It was Monday November 19 1973, and I boarded the train headed from Rome up to Florence. I saw others of my ilk, easily spotted by their backpacks and ‘freak flag’ hair boarding as well amongst a crush of people at every coach door. Some of them I recognized, but I presumed most of them had been staying at our hostel, or perhaps another one across town, and were now headed for guess where, probably Florence.
The train did not originate here in Rome, so there were apparently plenty of people already on it as all of us boarded. I started to move up the corridor of the coach, looking for a compartment with a seat for me, finding each one chocked full of people, a big family perhaps or just six, or even seven individuals filling the seats and space. It was indeed a full train, and now I was encountering people going the other way down the narrow corridor, where we could barely squeeze around each other, me with my big pack on my back making it particularly hard, our bodies touching each other as they sidled past. It was interesting that the Italians among the train riders I encountered in those narrow hallways seemed much more comfortable putting a gentle hand on my shoulder to ease by than the WASPier Northern Europeans who tried their best not to touch me at all.