I was just 18, always the “shy alpha”, inspired by the Rock music that was the “Greek Chorus” of my life growing up in the 1960’s in a progressive college town to be part of a new generation transforming the world. I stumbled into an odyssey, not intending to do it on my own, thousands of miles from home.
Two Inch Heels is a memoir/autobiographical novel of my 11 weeks backpacking thru Europe in the fall of 1973 at age 18. The trip was originally the brainchild of my two best female friends, who agreed to let me tag along, but due to circumstances, one could not go and the other dropped out after our first week in England. Feeling my tenuous self-esteem could not handle bailing on the remainder of the journey myself, it became at times a lonely ordeal, and finally a singular odyssey, that to a large degree transformed me from an older youth into a young adult.
The story is told in 51 chapters that encompass the key moments in my travels through England, southern Germany, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. I was throughout a lonely homesick traveler, often on the edge of bailing and returning to the States, but pushed on by fear of once again, like so many times before in my life, not living up to my own expectations.
Looking for any and every inspiration to keep going until I can return home the storied traveler, I was buoyed by the rock and folk music I grew up with, mostly playing from memory in my mind’s “jukebox”, including bits of powerful and poetic lyrics. I was also inspired by fellow travelers I meet along the way, that shared an agency I did not fully appreciate that I had. Through their eyes I saw a new adult persona emerging for myself, that included the tall strut in my walk when I wore my two-inch heels, dressier shoes that I just happened to bring, along with my newly purchased hiking boots that never got properly broken in and continued to hurt my feet throughout my odyssey.
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PART 0: THE ENDEAVOR – The events leading to my good friend Angie and I flying off to England for an ambitious extended journey through Western Europe. It’s the summer of 1973 and best friends Lane and Angie hatch a plan to backpack through Europe together for several months. I’m so taken with the idea that I manage to get myself invited to join. Lane then drops out and Angie and I plan our trip to Western Europe, living out of backpacks and trying to spend $6 a day. She and I are just friends and not any sort of a romantic couple, though at some deep level I fantasize that this trip might make us more. We follow through with our preparations and set out on our planned several month journey.
PART 1: ANGIE – Angie and I fly from Detroit to London England to begin our journey through Western Europe. After our first few days in England Angie tells me that it is all too much for her and she decides to stay in London and not continue on to the Continent. I had never intended to take this trip alone and wrestle with whether to continue, now no longer so much excited about an adventure, but more afraid of the loss of pride and self respect if I bail on the trip after putting so much money and self esteem into getting there!
PART 2: SOLO – After parting company with Angie in London, who I expected to share the entire backpacking thru Europe journey with, I set off on my own to the continent to Munich where my friends are not in town, it’s the yearly Oktoberfest with all the hostels and hotels full, and I learn to improvise in the moment.
PART 3: CHUR – Hitchhiking with my new travel partner Jack, we head south from Munich to Switzerland to the small town of Chur and a youth hostel where I meet and become friends with several fellow travelers including a young woman I make quite a connection with, and we all share an encounter with the local police.
PART 4: RAIL PASS – Leaving my comrades behind in Chur, I set out on my own hitchhiking across the Alps. I experience the kindness of strangers, and make it to the tiny resort town of Andermatt, when and where I can now use my student rail pass to ride the rail network of Western Europe, which is a skill I learn by trial and error. At my overnight stopover at the Bern train station, I encounter more fellow backpackers and an old homeless man who surprises all of us.
PART 5: ANGELICA & HELMUT – Back in Munich, finally hooking up with my mom’s friends Angelica and Helmet, I go to a birthday party of one of their friends, eat weird food and drink too much wine, and watch on TV in German news coverage of the start of the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war. It is all too much for my fragile soul and soured stomach.
PART 6: RIVERS – Leaving Munich, now four weeks into my European odyssey, I ride the tour boats along the Rhine & Mosel rivers, interact with my fellow young adult backpacker subculture, and wrestle with loneliness, longing for home, and a discomforting proposition from a particularly challenging female fellow backpacker.
PART 7: LOW – I leave Germany for Luxembourg and the low countries to try to see some of the towns and other geography that was represented on the game boards of the military simulation games I had played as a youth. In the process and due to a string of issues trying to find a bed at a youth hostel, I end up having a very long and soul searching day.
PART 8: PARIS – Still feeling the loneliness of traveling by myself, and the resulting urge to cut short my trip and head back home, I finally get to Paris to visit my mom’s friend Giselle and her family. But after an initial tour of the city from my host, again on my own, I feel even more alone and anonymous in the big city and where the youth hostel I’m staying at feels more like a homeless shelter.
PART 9: STEVE – Staying at that a youth hostel more like a homeless shelter, I tour the Louvre and explore the art and architecture of this historic city. I finally find a reprieve for the lonely traveler, a companion to continue my adventures with, at least for the next couple weeks, and we agree to head south from Paris to Spain.
PART 10: MAGIC BUS – With my new travel partner Steve, I leave Paris, Giselle and family and we hitchhike to Spain including an overnight ride on an iconic hippie chariot, the VW microbus, with a pair of Canadians who are our fellow travelers, literally and metaphorically. I sleep next to and am eventually smitten by one of them.
PART 11: BARCELONA – Steve and I spend our first 3 days in semi-fascist Spain enjoying the significantly lower prices on food and lodging, and have encounters with new food, wild sea creatures in the fish market, and one of the 20th century’s most provocative and transformational artists Pablo Picasso. We enjoy their inexpensive signature dish of Paella. We even spend a morning in our hotel room together in our underwear, waiting for the entrepreneurial older woman who rented us our room to meticulously wash all our clothes, for a fee of course.
PART 12: ALDEA – Steve and I leave Barcelona and try to hitchhike south to Granada with little success, spending a night sleeping under the stars outside a little Spanish town. But we do get another ride from our Canadian hippie travelers. But we finally giving up the hitching and just manage to board a overcrowded train and a 20 hour ride further south.
PART 13: GRANADA – After a delicious dinner of Paella with Calamari on top and lots of cheap wine, Steve presents me with a sexual proposition that I have to wrestle with but ultimately refuse. The next morning, undaunted, we continue on with our joint exploration of the city.
PART 14: TORREMOLINOS – After Steve’s rebuffed sexual proposition in Granada, we continue our travels together to this ticky tack resort town and enjoy the sun and sea. I actually swim in the Mediterranean in November, just to say I did it. We also take in the uniquely Spanish sport and spectacle of bullfighting, which I find to be pretty disturbing.
PART 15: MADRID – We spend a couple days in Spain’s capital and visit to the Prado museum, enthralled by the stunningly bizarre sexuality of “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch and a more realistic but explicit nudity in Goya’s “La Maja Desnuda”. I am also gripped by Goya’s paintings depicting the Spanish people’s struggles against Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th century.
PART 16: WALTER – Steve and I get a ride from an older German businessman who ends up buying us dinner, driving us all the way to Paris, and putting us up for the night. The next morning we learn disturbing things about his past, and his dark take on the world.
PART 17: RUE TITON -Returning to Paris, Steve and I leave Walter behind after his morning Hitler supporting rant, and luckily find room at the quite nice Rue Titon hostel we had stayed at before in Paris. We are checked in by a gorgeous but thoroughly fascist young woman named Jeanette. Steve and I go to an Algerian restaurant for dinner but I’m too shy to invite some other of my interesting female backpackers to come with. He and I confirm that our paths forward are in different directions, but decide to at least hitchhike towards Switzerland together.
PART 18: BAR-SUR-AUBE-In the swan song of my travels with Steve, we get stuck sleeping outdoors in the rain, and when I head off now on my own the results are nearly disastrous, as I lose my passport and rail pass boarding the train to Switzerland, and am on the verge of cutting short my whole endeavor due to that loss.
PART 19A: COMRADE JEN – I come into Italy’s capitol traveling on my own for the first time since partnering with Steve several weeks back. I experience the uneven but at times rewarding feelings of being on my own, like meeting new people, including two charismatic Aussie women who I am quite taken with that give me the nickname, the “Coopster”.
PART 19B: ROMA – My second day in Rome, which the Italians call the much suaver “Roma”, I take care of business, including booking my return flight, but also have an unexpected offer from Jen’s partner Sarah to be her escort to venture out together to sample gelato, Italy’s wonderful version of ice cream.
PART 20A: INNER SANCTUMS – Continuing my visit to Rome, I spend my first day touring the city with new friend and architecture nerd Morgan. The next day, now on my own, I act on good advice from one of my fellow backpackers and end up spending some 20 minutes nearly alone in the Sistine chapel pondering this sanctuary to a religion and a god I have chosen years previously to not believe in. Then from the dome of St. Peters I look out over the Eternal City and realize I am burnt out on seeing the sights of yet another big city and long instead for what I’ve been told about the wonder of the snowy mountains of Switzerland. But for now I can find some solace surrounding myself with my backpacking cohort.
PART 20B: MORGAN – My last couple days in Rome are spent mostly with a nerdy academic of a guy from Canada who I have a real thing for, more crush than bromance, and I ponder the nature of attractions. We check out some of the ancient places of the “eternal city”, some not so impressive in the midst of this big modern city but others still very much so.
PART 21: TRIX – On a crowded train from Rome to Florence Italy, I encounter a very diminutive, charismatic and exotic looking young woman and find sanctuary and comfort in a compartment with her and five other of my fellow backpackers, all young women, easily aligning myself with their otherwise all female space and sensibility. They humorously re-invoke my new “Coopster” nickname, that Jen dubbed me at the Rome youth hostel, as I blend myself into their world.
PART 22A: FIRENZE – I get to Florence, whose real name is the much more suave “Firenze”, to again find a compelling array of fellow backpackers to interact with. Trix and her crew who I rode with on the train from Rome. Jen and her partner Sarah, the former having dubbed me ‘the Coopster’ back at the Rome hostel. Finally three guys from Cleveland, who I dub ‘the boys’, and inspire me to think about the dynamics of patriarchy. It all culminates in a night of dining, discussion and introductions at our favorite Trattoria.
PART 22B: CORRIDORS – My final full day in Florence, I escape the company of the ‘boys’ to walk the Vasari Corridor, a Florentine must see that had been recommended to me by my comrade Morgan back in Rome. On my return to the hotel I reencounter the Clevelanders who remind me it is Thanksgiving in the States, and we return once again to that wonderful Trattoria to try to celebrate appropriately. In the midst of our feast we encounter a true world traveler who challenges my assumptions.
PART 23: SOPHIA – I encounter a sexy forty-something businesswoman on the train from Florence to Venice interested in hearing the stories of my travels to pass the time of the journey and ends up sharing a very intimate story of her own. She buys me dinner in the dining car and I ponder the nature of a fair exchange.
PART 24: VENICE – I spend a couple foggy days in this uniquely sensuous and atmospheric lagoon city, and am befriended by a character of a Frenchman name Jules and have a revelation about Jen and Sarah’s relationship.
PART 25: UNDER THE ALPS – Frayed and homesick after eight weeks of travel, mostly on my own, I take a long train ride from Venice thru a tunnel under the southern Alps headed to the anticipated winter wonderland of Grindelwald, and I ponder who I am and where, if anywhere, I am going with my life.
PART 26: GRINDELWALD – I awaken in the youth hostel in this snowy little paradise in the Alps and come out of my shell some to interact with a crew of interesting fellow backpackers including three guys from Cleveland and two women from Sweden, the stunning Monika and her semi-sister Ragna, and an afternoon of playing cards, the game of Hearts, and the connections that it built between us, followed by an epiphany at dinner.
PART 27: DOWN THE HILL – A trip down the mountainside from the hostel into the village below with some romantic flirtations, subtle and not, and a memorable evening in the pub with lots of beer and shared with fellow travelers on life’s adventures, including me stepping forward to lead at an important juncture.
PART 28: VIRGIN – A climax of sorts to my whole eight weeks so far of my European odyssey, in the beautiful little mountain resort of Grindelwald with intimate albeit nonsexual encounters with the goddess Monika but also her ever more intriguing semi-sister Ragna. Along the way I teach Ragna to play ‘Russian Bank’ and a whole group of us go on a trek to see the blue glacier, with Monika actually taking me by the arm to tell me how much she admires me. Then we all end up at the village pub again for more beer drinking, socializing, and singing, including my second close encounter of the day with Ragna, her translating German for my unfortunately clueless edification.
PART 29A: SNOW DAY – The young women in our informal group decide to spend the money that I unfortunately am not willing to part with to ride the unique Cog Railway tunneling up through the mountains to the weather station at the “top of Europe”. While they are on their adventure, the guys I’ve befriended and I have fun in the snow with some local boys and I have an almost erotic encounter with one of my fellow male backpackers.
Part 29B: TRIUMVIRATE – Monika, Ragna and Beth return from their journey via the cog railway thru the Eiger up to the Sphinx Observatory with tales of their journey, and with an apparent new connection between Monika and Beth, and I have regrets for not going along, and the possible encounter I could have had, not so much with Monika, but with Ragna. Monika and Ragna finally bid us good bye, and the guys walk them down to the train station, with hugs all round, including my own final embrace with the two Swedes before they take the train down the mountain on their way to Venice.
PART 30: BETH – I sadly part most of my backpacker comrades in wonderful little Grindelwald and take the train down to Interlaken to begin my journey back to London and then back to the States. But lucky for me, I am joined by one of those comrades and we share some secrets and have a quiet moment of intimacy together before going our separate ways, she chasing love and me beginning my road home.
PART 31: DIRECTION HOME – I part company with Beth, the last of my Grindelwald backpacker cohort, and finally face the realization that I am heading home, with all the positive and negative feelings that engenders, including seeing how far I have come in my own development since the early stages of my odyssey.
PART 32: ANGELICA – I return to Munich after inadvertently crisscrossing Switzerland by train and am grateful to get a warm welcome and a place to stay at the last minute with my young adult family friends Angelica & Helmut. I wrestle with my attraction to Angelica and the boundaries between friends and lovers. She takes me to the snowy English Garden, a large famous formal garden in the middle of the city that was not too far a walk from their apartment. I fantasize what it would be like to have a romantic partner not unlike her. Finally I leave them after my brief respite to continue my journey on to Amsterdam and from there back to England and a short final week before boarding my plane back to the States.
PART 33: HUGO – Tired, sad and homesick, on an overnight train from Munich to Amsterdam on a frigid night, I encounter a man who looks into my soul, sees my loneliness and then reaches out to give me a little taste of home at his home with his girlfriend and her two kids in the little Dutch village of Best.
PART 34: AMSTERDAM – Latest rewritten chapter of my memoir of backpacking through Europe in 1973 at age 18. I arrive in this cold, rainy, but beautiful and friendly city and find sanctuary at the Christian Youth Hostel, which is a haven for hashish and hippies and gives me some needed solace from my loneliness. I meet three backpacker comrades who I plan to make my long anticipated first foray for free beer at the Heineken brewery with in the morning, but need a good night’s sleep first to recover my equilibrium, after a long and emotional day.
PART 35A: HEINEKEN BREWERY – On a cold and rainy morning in Amsterdam, I accompany three of my backpacker comrades to take the morning tour of the Heineken brewery, a must see for my ilk, if for no reason other than lots of free beer at the end of the tour. As the four of us sit together in the tasting room drinking our limit of the wonderful bitter ambrosia, we loosen up, share a bit of our stories, talk about the future, and begin to connect.
PART 35B: OTTO & ANNE – After my first trip to the Heineken brewery and all the wonderful free beer after the tour, now deliciously tipsy, I wander through the streets of Amsterdam and happen to encounter the Anne Frank house museum. I take the tour and am drawn into the life of Anne and her dad Otto, the character I played when my theater group did “The Diary of Anne Frank” the previous spring. In learning more about Anne’s and particularly Otto’s life, I ponder the gaps between the generations, as we all do our best to try and live our lives. I also ponder the horror of the holocaust, seeing it so much more personally through the eyes of a young woman and her dad.
PART 36: HIGH – I awake the next morning at the youth hostel to a brazen offer to smoke hash even before I’m out of bed, which accepted, sends me on a day’s adventure thru Amsterdam with three other backpacker stoner. The second tour of the Heineken brewery was a very different experience stoned on the hash, and then headed to the Van Gogh museum, something I mention brings Gwendolyn alive and she and I begin to connect.
PART 37: INTIMATE – The rest of that day in Amsterdam after smoking hash first thing in the morning and then drinking a lot of beer at the Heineken brewery. Together with three comrades exploring various venues of the cold rainy but friendly city, including close encounters with Van Gogh’s works, a female backpacking comrade, and a young woman working at the BOAC office.
PART 38: NORTH SEA – I finally part company my fellow stoner types and the “hive mind” we developed at the Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, but not before a wonderful goodbye hug from Gwendolyn. I finally leave the Continent of Europe after nine weeks, starting across the North Sea back to England.
PART 39: LANCE – I share a bottle of Graan Jenever (a kind of Dutch gin) with a hippie rock musician from Los Angeles named Lance and a seemingly more straightlaced young woman from Minnesota named Rhonda. Buzzed on the alcohol, we share our stories and our paths forward as we ride the ferry across the stormy North Sea to Harwich England. And then as we finally debark at our destination, there is a surprise and troubling twist that catches me off guard and makes me realize that I don’t really have everything in life figured out quite yet.
I ponder whether having a real girlfriend, that I acknowledged to the world as my romantic partner, would somehow expose me as a fraud. Force me to confront my own lack of self worth and resulting self absorption, thus making it difficult for me to give the appropriate focus to an intimate partner. I ponder if my timidity in this area was just a form of denial that I had too high standards. That lacking real self esteem, I was afraid that if I had a real girlfriend people would judge me based on her, so she had to be just so, to fit my needs, rather than who she really was, to fit her own.
PART 40: GREAT BENTLEY – I stay for a night with the couple my mom traded houses with three years back when we spent the summer in England in 1970, whom I had never before met. They had now moved the perhaps ostentatious little “village” of Great Bentley outside Colchester and were starting a young family, but I was troubled by the dynamics of that family and particularly the husband’s approach to marriage and parenthood. I continue to find my solidarity still mostly with the female type people that surround me, as they continue to show themselves as more mature and fighting the good fight to survive and thrive.
PART 41: LONDON – I stop at the American Express office in London to get mail from home. Then I take a bus to Oxford and encounter three young women returning from an office party who have had too much to drink and engage with and challenge me to make their trip home more interesting. But in the end their solidarity as comrades living their lives together is an inspiration.
PART 42: THE CLAYS – Back in the village of Horspath outside Oxford, I stay again with the family we lived next to three years back when we lived in England for the summer, and where Angie and I stayed at the beginning of our journey. I witness a family very active and in tune with each other, that makes me ponder my own little family.
PART 43: KATE & COMPANY – Still staying with the Clay’s, their daughter Kate invites me to join her and here two best friends seeing the new movie “Godspell”, and I get a glimpse of the world and worldview of three young women, though just two years my junior, with a very different view of the world!
PART 44: THE COOPSTER – I spend my final couple days in Europe in the friendly confines of the very functional family of the Clays in Oxford, in comparison and contrast to my own. When the day of my planned departure finally arrives, they put me on the bus to Heathrow airport and I board my plane back to the States. On the plane flight back to Detroit in the States, I have one last chance to overthink everything, and I ponder who I might be becoming. I have an epiphany on an old persona, “Clubius”, that I am now finally ready and able to give up and like the committed actor, don a new one, “The Coopster”, identified by big Aussie Jen in Rome several weeks back, that I will now try to inhabit as best I can for myself, my family and the rest of my community back home.
PART 45: HOME – My mom and brother bring me home from the airport to find some things changed and some things the same, both uncomfortable in their way, but happy to be home and reconnected with my family, and ready to reconnect with my larger circle.