Pull from a pile of paper this September evening, a long-ago July memory:
July 24, 1966, Sunday
I leave for Lucerne in the morning. I don’t suppose that anything you sent me there if you spelled the city’s name as I did — without its final “e” — will be delayed (mea culpa.)
After Lucerne and possibly a brief stay in Zurich, I will head for Munich, Germany — again only for a brief stay. I have heard so much in my travels about Munich’s joyous and boisterous beer halls that I simply must have a look for myself.
I should leave Munich on about the 28th. I will then attempt to make a brief stay in Amsterdam. — another place highly recommended by fellow travelers.
At any rate, I must be in Rotterdam by August 1, if I am to get my bearings in time to catch the boat on August 2nd.
At present, my plans for the return are simply this: I will sail from Rotterdam on or about August 2nd ( I expect there will be no delay this time — the Groote Beer is a passenger ship committed to a schedule. The voyage should last about nine days; I should arrive in New York about August 11. Upon arriving, I will call home and advise you of my plan for reaching Boston. If my funds seem dangerously low at the time of my Rotterdam debarkation, I will have you wire me enough money to pay a U.S. plane or train fare. My funds at present, however, are quite well.
I left Vienna late last night for Innsbruck. This morning, I awoke in a first class compartment and found the window of the train beaded with cold rain (there has been much rain in Europe over the past week). I knelt up and slid down the window of the train. There before me in the driven rain was a massive mountain peak — my first view of the Alps. The top of it was cloaked in clouds, the bottom was thick with pines and the furrows of ski trails.
You who love the Austrian landscape depicted in The Sound of Music would have loved as well the view I had of it this morning — despite the rain. So high were we that clouds drifted like smoke over the rich green fields. The field were filled with clover and small shacks housing thick billows of hay. It was a wonderful sight. I must admit that I have had momentary compunctions over one point of this journey. I had not planned to buy gift for anyone on this trip, and so I have not. But in Florence, a city where anyone may bargain on the straw market for cameos, leather goods and whatnot — as most tourists do — I felt I should not pass up the opportunity to bring home authentic souvenirs for one and all. But I bought nothing — how could I store them? What and for whom should I buy? So be it.
SEND NEXT LETTER TO ROTTERDAM AMERICAN EXPRESS
I will receive any and all Lucerne mail tomorrow JULY 25, 1966.
SO LONG FOR NOW.
I actually did buy my brothers some good Dutch cigars and bought Delft salt and pepper shakers (if memory serves me) for my mother. I had bought a very nice leather billfold in Florence — for myself. It was a beauty. I wonder what ever happened to it. I hope I gave it to one of my brothers.
I had only $500 for the whole trip.
I have many European memories such as this, preserved in letters. Only when a news station sent me to Rome to cover the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II in April, 2005 did I ever return. There’s always the future. But the Europe of 1966, only twenty-one years after the war, still recovering from that cataclysm but still at peace, still relatively cheap to travel and still four decades from the coming terror, viruses and dubious waves of immigration — that Europe is gone.
I’ll keep my memories.