So the next morning, Thursday November 15, I set out on my own into the streets of Rome with the task of making my now much anticipated flight home a reality. I was headed to the BOAC office to book my already paid for return flight from London to Detroit, and then to the post office to mail postcards. Eyeballing my Rome city map, and folding it in such a way that just the route from the hostel to the airline office was displayed, I calculated it to be about a five kilometer walk, maybe forty minutes, and with as much walking as I was now used to doing, what I now considered an easy hike, even shouldering my fifty pound pack. I was carrying it because I would try again to call Marcello, and hopefully hook up with him and head directly to his mom’s house and enjoy the hospitality of him and his mom.
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 remembered the station from my first day on the Continent six weeks ago, on my own for the first time after I’d just left Angie behind in London that morning. I remembered how intimidating it had been to step off the train at three in the morning in this big place and see all the signs and schedule boards in languages I did not understand, having the challenge of figuring out how to purchase a ticket and board the train to Munich. That had been the beginning of “Phase One” of my odyssey on my own. Now having just concluded “Phase Two” with Steve, I was starting my presumably final “Phase Three” on my own again, feeling now, finally, that the entirety of the odyssey was really doable.
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 the station master had found my documents after they had fallen 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. But instead I was headed to Italy, as originally intended, with a new lease on life and fate. The whole loss of my documents experience had chastened me, and made all my continuing issues with homesickness seem not so big a deal.
I broached the topic with Steve as soon as we exited the hotel.
Our train left the Madrid central train station a little after 10:30pm on Wednesday November 7 1973, headed north to the French border. From there my travel partner Steve and I planned to hitchhike back to Paris, where we had met each other three weeks ago. After spending a couple more days in the French capital together, we would finally go our separate ways having traveled together through Spain for the past three weeks. He to Switzerland to look for work to extend his stay before returning to the States. Me on to Italy to continue seeing the sites.
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 a lot 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 Wednesday October 31 when we left behind our hotel in Granada and Steve’s sexual proposition to me, to hopefully move on. I was still of course pondering it in my thoughts, how I had perhaps come close to actually agreeing, and if I had done so, how different the world would be today and going forward.
Too different! Would I return to the States the triumphant traveler who was now no longer a virgin because, of all people, I had had sex with another guy. I don’t think I could tell anybody. Certainly not my family or even my closest friends. Of course there was no danger they would ever find out. It would just be something I had tried, experimented with, outside of everyone’s view, my little secret. But would it be a secret, like Joey’s betrayal and Mrs Rood’s scolding of my sexual feelings for my classmate Mary, that I would have to bottle up inside and stew about and perhaps further hinder my development in that area. Would I be again concerned that I was some sort of sexual deviant. With every passing day I was more happy I had said no, if nothing else, my life was much less complicated.
Monday October 29, some 20 hours after we boarded the overcrowded train in Benicarlo it finally arrived in Granada. We had spent the last couple hours sharing a compartment with two of our backpacker cohort, American guys like us headed for this beautiful old city nestled in the hills of the south of the country. When we got to our destination they headed off in their own direction, it was just Steve and I.
Spain continued to be true to its billing as heaven for thrifty travellers. We bought delicious freshly baked pastries at a storefront bakery for just five pesetas each, which was just ten cents U.S. Dinner with Paella, real steak, and wine for just 110 pesetas ($2 U.S.) And finally the hotel room, with two beds, tile floor and a small balcony with a stone railing and a great view of the Alhambra on the hill across town, just 160 pesetas ($3 U.S.) Real easy to eat well and sleep in nice lodgings and still stay close to that six dollars a day budget! So we were living relatively high on the hog for a while, including a bottle of wine with most non-breakfast meals. We spent the rest of the day doing nuts and bolts things like buying groceries, cashing traveler’s checks, washing some clothes (we actually found a laundromat this time), and writing and mailing postcards. These things, in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language, often turned into a logistical challenge that took all day.
It was mid afternoon on Monday October 22 when Zo and Randall’s beat up old VW van, having survived the thorough going over by Spanish customs, finally entered the eastern port city of Barcelona, my travel partner Steve’s and my destination. Our hosts for the journey had picked us up about 100 kilometers south of Paris and given us the longest single ride I had had to date hitchhiking. With lots of hugs and emotion, our two fellow traveler hippieesque Canadians parted company with us there, with their plan to continue down the coast to the south of Spain for an intended crossing over to Morocco in North Africa.
Zo wrapped her arms around my waist and pressed her short stocky body against mine for a long hug, her wild explosion of red hair, somewhat constrained by her ever present red Canadian flag headband with the white maple leaf, again gently and now familiarly tickling my chin and cheek. She glanced up at me and ever so subtly shook her head and grinned, the reason for that minuscule head shake tantalizingly unknown, her eyes now not heavy with fatigue like they’d been last night when she suggested we sleep, not “together” in a sexual sense, but next to each other. As we momentarily held the embrace, it struck me how connected I felt to this person that I had only known since yesterday, and how much I was going to miss her company. 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, with our clothes on and sandwiched between our travel companions. I realized my trepidation really was in initiating the physical intimacy, but if circumstances led obviously in that direction, or my partner initiated it, I had no problem being intimate, and really enjoyed it. If only we were in a world that was not so male driven 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 to the main highway 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. He seemed a good companion, a bit more extroverted than me, smart, funny and even-keeled, and all with low ego. I hadn’t seen him have the bouts of moodiness and withdrawal that had overtaken 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 cohort with his own long hair and bell bottom pants, driving one of the funkiest beat up runty little cars 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 a lot worse for wear, which was closed on that crisp October day. Steve sat in the front passenger seat next to our host and driver while I sat in the semblance of a backseat squeezed next to our two backpacks taking up most of the space.
It was Friday October 18, a long month into my odyssey and finally a gorgeous fall day after too much cold and rain over the past couple weeks. It never ceased to amaze me how much Mother Nature and her climatic moods influenced, even controlled, my own. A sunny day could assuage a lot. From atop the cupola of Sacre Coeur, I looked down at central Paris, my loneliness also medicated somewhat by the previous evening spent with Giselle, Paul and the stunning Laurence. Just somewhat.
As I stood alone on the observation deck and my eyes looked off at the city in the distance, my mind looked off into my future in the distance as well. After I visited Angelica in Tubingen I figured I would have about five more weeks, to go to Spain and Italy and end up in maybe 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, maybe by way of Amsterdam, and then back home to the States. Of course, it felt a bit unnerving to be planning all this further travel when part of me just wanted to hop on a train and get my ass back to England and then fly back home as quickly as possible. I pondered whether to continue to consider that option of bailing, was undermining my coping with my situation, or perhaps instead providing a helpful escape valve.