Letters from Venice – Part V

Sept. 18, 1982

“Dear Diary” if this isn’t a flight to freedom via occupation – i.e., writing, I don’t know what is. There are these people next to me who are trying to get their baby to coo while Daddy is poised overhead with a camera like a doctor with a microscope over a specimen jar. Mommy is cooing in…yes, baby talk in French – an international bad habit. I wonder, will I coo at my babies? – God, I hope not. Well, here I am in Como, Lake Como, and northern Italy. I was just out on this jetty in the middle of the lake, and burst out laughing at my educational process – this week of solo traveling between Bob and Florence and Dad and Joan in Amsterdam. It all began in Milano, when I waved goodbye to Bob and Lee. Crying (as always these days), I climbed into the train and miraculously, a space opened up in a compartment full of very friendly Italians – (Ed. Note: All this is hence colored by today’s incidents.) While en route to Milan, we spent two of the three hours in discorso, using the Italian dictionario, the map, and all sorts of handy visual aids. They were very nice, counseled me against “bad men,” and with the exception of one of them, kept their hands off me. The one was relatively harmless; he kept offering me a ride to Como on his “macchina” at the station. In spite of his assurances that his wife was coming along, I intuited that it was not terribly safe. One of the men, named Franco, was very polite and sensitive to my discomfort when it occurred. At Milan, he helped me to call Louisa in Venice, and took me to see Il Duomo in Milano Centrale. Beautiful, with 100 carved figures on the outside alone. And hundreds of spires, also. It was great. Afterwards, he put me on the train and I left for Como.

Which was, and is beautiful. Lake ComoI arrived at 6:35 or so and proceeded to the Hostel, which was, yes, chiuso, (closed) since June. There, I met a German fellow with a car, and we ate dinner, and then searched for a place to stay. Ma tutto era completo (All hotels were full). And even in the towns on the north side of the lake, there was nothing. So we parked the car, and with Walter’s blanket, I slept on a beautiful bluff over looking the lake, and Walter (God, that name cracks me up) slept in the car.

LakeComoatNightI was reminded of our alpine location, about 12:30 when it began to become very cold. But god, it was glorious when the sun started to come up, and the roosters at various points around the lake began to crow. I awoke at 6:30AM for the last time, to find three hawks circling over my head – I sat bolt upright and gave them the visual clue that I was alive, even if at that point I did smell like dead meat! Came down to Como proper, saw Walter off to Austria, and sought out a bagno publico (public bath), which I found and used in luxury. On my way out, past the market, a vender gave me two apples, not prime by any means, but surely edible, all was looking up when I went to the Grande Piazza and sat down to soak in the sun. Then comes this “nice little old man,” who sits down next to me and starts talking. So we had a nice conversation – the guy was old enough to be my grandfather. Then he asked me if I was hungry, after we’d discussed how “Couragio” (courageous) I was etc. for the night before. And so I go to lunch and he guy wants wine – first tip. “No, I don’t drink,” says Els, catching on quickly. Well, lunch was fine, though I lost my appetite sometime after he asked me to have dinner ad before he told me it was better if I stayed overnight in his house –It wasn’t safe “solo.” Well, granted, it apparently isn’t safe solo, nor did I want to go near this guy’s house, even for caffe, or cognac or cinema, or anything. I just felt stupid to be part of this aging man’s heart attacks or wet dream –god I sound hard. I really guess it boils down to the fact that I felt stupid and selfish and naïve and guilty and entirely justified in leaving him after lunch. Quite a tasty little psychological soup, that!

So, I’m passing the day solo and trying to remain as inconspicuously so as possible I pity the man who comes near. Old Iron Fists Collins here. Tonight at 11:30PM I’m taking the train to Thionville – will sleep on the train. “Sleep”, a euphemism for remaining on guard. I’m sitting on the edge of the lake, which is no punishment or exile – God, It’s glorious.

Sept. 22, 1982

The evening after my imbroglio, I spent with a beautiful young Italian boy- I say boy, because he was about 18-19, and was refreshing in his playfulness. He approached me by offering me a smoke – of hashish, no less, which I politely refused – images of imprisonment lingered in my brain the entire time we were together, even after he buried his “drogues” in a hole nearby. It was really a lovely evening, spent talking about inanities, really, listening to his ghetto blaster and watching the night settle in. There are certain safeties of being with someone and also a comfort of human companionship, of course.

ThionvilleAt Thionville, after a long night on the train with no sleep (I slept on the floor in the passageway, kicked every five minutes or so) I found L’Auberge, and the propriertaire let me sleep all day long in spite of the fact that the hostel was closed. It was great. There, that night, I met Mikie and Tom, a Finnish woman and Canadian man traveling together and we went out for a beer (coke). It was especially refreshing to speak English in more than the most crude way.

The next day, I spent reading, walking around Thionville, Thionville2 and buying books (when it rained). First French books, and a dictionaire. The next day, the 21st, on to Bruxelles, Bruxellesand finding the hostel gutted and ferme (yes, you guessed, closed), I proceeded to Chab, where I met Jessie James, an American vet who was stranded in Brussels, waiting for his veteran’s pension. Pretty interesting guy – “Jessie James” isn’t far off the mark – has quite a few tricks up his twenty-seven-year-old sleeve. Told me about “doing an American Express” to “double your money.” I had to like him, though he was incredibly smooth to the point of being “glissant.” My roommates at the hostel were fascinating –Oorna, a young Israeli woman – I would have liked to travel with her. She reminded me a little of Jessica, tough, but with a true mirth that comes of having seen some things. She had served in the army two years and was proud of her country, but had problems with the evacuation from Beirut of the Palestinians. It is getting very rough in Europe now, with assassinations of Jews occurring in Paris, Amsterdam. It is not a good time to be Jewish and traveling here.

On to Amsterdam today to get my mail!

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