13 March 1985
Dear Mom and Dad and Everyone,
For some reason it's getting harder and harder to sit and write a simple two page letter. Sorry. It's a combination of:
Alan wants to rent a car here and drive along the coast through Marseille to Avignon. Such luxury is
6 days later! What can I say?
was not really in my “budget”, yet Alan, who has more money than he knows what to do with, desired to drive. So, in order to be together he paid for the rental and I paid the cost of a “corresponding” train ride. I don't feel funny about that. If I weren't here, Alan wouldn't have come to Europe at all. That is my contribution - to help him “get away”.
A list of places and events since I last wrote in Brighton, England: Rented car in Brighton, drove (on the left hand side!) to Stonehenge (closed when we arrived but we saw it well anyway), Arundel (a picture perfect castle), to Dover to take ferry to Calais, France. Along the way to Dover stopped somewhere overnight. I had developed some kind of infection - cold and was pretty much “under the weather”. It was compounded by my inability to satisfy my need for quiet and independence. Alan and I had been constant companions for over a week and it was beginning to tell on me. Alan thrives on togetherness; I can only take so much. Perhaps this is one reason that I'm not married.
As I reread the above few sentences I'm reminded of how powerless that words can sometimes be. Those sentences are just a few scratches on paper, straight, linear, innocuous (see dictionary), silent. Yet they vainly try to represent a feeling that was very strong in me. Writers depend on readers to supply the “punch” that words cannot express.
In Dover Calais we began to practice our French. Alan studied French in high school a short 18 years ago. I lent him a book I had borrowed from Anne Olafsen. By the way, I sent that book home by surface mail. When it arrives will you please send it to Anne? It is named “Suivez La Piste”. Also there was another book I borrowed from Ernest - a book green of Icelandic-German sagas translated into English by William Morris. Please send it to him. His address: Ernest Dreyer, 11474 Orchard Lane, Reston, VA 22090. And while I'm on the subject of things sent home, the rubber scraper and dishes brush are for you - to use and remember the Paulsens each time you use them.
It's now 8:00 AM. I've been writing for about an hour. Soon Alan will get up and I may be diverted. It's hard to be single-pointed, it's hard to concentrate, to do one thing when others are around doing something else and “asking” for your attention. Maybe I'm hypersensitive to other people's presence. The existence of another conscious being seems so much larger than any little letter I'm trying to write. The fact that you look in your mailbox every day and find nothing from me is much more distant. Today I'll try to give it priority.
I was just diverted by myself. Playing with my pen I drew a little equilateral triangle around a white spot on my left first fingernail. It looked kinda nice. So I drew a little equilateral triangle on the tip of each of my fingernails. It wasn't easy. Try it.
So, where was I? That's right, Calais practicing our French. Letters are usually about past events. I hope you understand my attempt at bringing us together at this moment.
My French (I've got to get on with telling you about our trip!) is better than Alan's. I can speak better and listen better and read better and write better and pronounciation is much better, yet he is less fearful about asking questions and asking for directions. He is more ready to speak than I. And, when I haven't slept enough or eaten properly or there's lots of noise about or if, in general, my level of stress is too high then the fact that I am a stutterer begins to surface and I cannot speak much French or English. In one way it's frustrating. In another it's a good indicator, a barometer, a signal that I need to rest, to take care of myself, to recover, to get in touch again. Everyone has their unique signal. Mine is clear.
I guess the details of our trip aren't important to me. Anyway, here goes: In Calais (it that where I left us hanging?) we caught a train to Paris and found a nice little cheap hotel. We stayed there 4 or 5 days. I took a side trip to Chartes by myself to wash my socks, boil some potatoes, take out the garbage and clean the garbage can, meet an Australian couple at the youth hostel, and let's see, what else, - oh yah! - to see and experience the magnificent yet humble cathedral with wonderful stained glass. Alan visited the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, (I had seen them before). We went together to see a museum of holography. Alan had a
where was I? Oh yah. childhood neighbor friend who now lives in Paris with his French wife and two children. We sent out to dinner with them and 5 or 6 others to a Mexican restaurant. It was fun but expensive, noisy, smoky, and crowded. The following night we visited some friends of a friend of Alan's in Fresno. They lived in Paris not Fresno. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We practiced our French, they practiced their English. They served an excellent meal which confirmed for me the great energy and concentration that the French give to their food. An anise flavored drink before dinner with mixed nuts and little cubes of wrapped cheeses of various kinds. Salad of very fresh endive and walnuts. The ubiquitous (see dictionary) baguette, pain, bread - long crusty French bread cut in 6 or 7 cm pieces. Wine which Alan brought as a gift. Mineral water - they don't drink much tap water. Delicious potatoes - our name for them would be scalloped potatoes. Salad and potatoes were separate courses. A plate of different cheeses which we passed around and cut a piece of our choice. All the while conversation with Pascal and her husband, Eric, who spoke amost no English. They had two children - I forget their names - 1 and 4 years old. Another friend had come, too. Genevieve with her 4 year old. The kids played and made all kinds of delightful noise and we talked and talked and tried and tried to speak and understand English and French sometimes spoken too fast. Then came dessert. Tarte aux pommes - apple tart - with 4 birthday candles on it. We sang. And champagne. Opened carefully. Toasts. Café au lait - coffee. And chocolates. Alan took pictures. We enjoyed the drawings that Eric had done hung on the wall. And a book of Henri Cartier Bresson photographs. My favorite photographer - and French. We stayed until 1:30, were driven into town a ways to catch a taxi.
We left Paris for Lyon to get my money at American Express but it wasn't there but I met a nice young woman at the office from Oakland studying French there in Lyon and helping American Express for 3 weeks in promoting trips to the U.S. We split for the south of France - the famous French Riviera. To Nice where I began this letter. Topless beaches. Yes. Even in March. They were lovely. I include a postcard.
We drove to Toulon through Antibes (a fine Picasso museum), St. Tropez, and the French countryside - vineyards, sheep, farms. Oh - in Nice we took the train one evening to Monte Carlo in Monaco (~ 20 minutes away) had a meal in a fancy restaurant and gambled in the casino. I put 100 francs (~ $10) on red on roulette and won. Alan tried various things and lost about 60 francs. Back to Lyon (I'm getting more cryptic as I see the bottom of the page approach and I begin to run out of room - I don't want to begin another sheet of paper. I wouldn't have had to be quite so cryptic if I hadn't included this extended explanation) to get my money and see my friend and then on to Interlaken, Switzerland. Cold, time again for long underwear (Einar's!). Train to top of Jungfraujoch. WOW!
Stayed in Balmer's youth hostel in Interlaken. Crowded but fun. Were going to ski but it snowed. Now in Genève. Tomorrow catch an early train and travel all day to London where we get ready to fly to Fresno and Egypt. Will stay with some SERVAS hosts in Egypt and Israel. To Mexico on April 18. 2 months in Cuernavaca (see map). Yo quiero hablar español muy bien.
Hasta la vista,
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