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Memories Of Youthful Travels Part 2

Updated on April 30, 2010

While the man fills my glass, a drunken compatriot examines me from head to toe and pronounces an evaluation to the bartender. Both laugh. I decide to go along and laugh too. Amusement in his eyes, the drunk addresses me in halting English: "You are from America or Canada?" Somehow, he manages to convey a certain smugness through his Klingon accent.

I give him a broad smile and say Canada. He asks me if I am alone or with friends. Alone, on the prowl for frauleins. I want to piss him off. If it does, he doesn't let on, but asks me what I've seen of his country, and so I tell him of Dusseldorf, of Darmstadt, of castles perched above the Rhine.

"And then you will go home and say that you have seen Germany," he mutters. I understand what he is getting at, and resent it just as much - he knows that I will summarize and encapsulate his entire culture, the entire landscape, during boozy lectures to friends during Happy Hour.

Now my attitude has shifted. I don't want to leave him like this, with a bad taste in his mouth. I want to make conversation, to prove that we are not different. I ask him what is the best city in Europe. Again I underestimate him, or at least his grasp of English - he tells me that this is a typical North American question. "There is no best, only different," he says, but he eases his assault and tells me of his favorites with some fondness. He is superior in attitude, but not unfriendly, and I try not to squeeze him into the mold of Sgt. Schultz, even if I am acting like Pvt. Gump. The sins of the fathers cannot be visited upon the sons.

"What do you think of us?" I blurt out. "What do you think of us coming here?" I abandon civility; I want information. Besides, he is drunk and it's hardly after lunch.

He says that it is good for all of us Australians and Americans and Canadians and New Zealanders to come to Europe, to learn, to study. "After all, that is where everyone comes from. We are all from Europe." He notices the Black gentleman at the next table who has taken a sudden interest at this last comment. Slowly, his glass at his lips, the German adds in a half - apologetic, half - confrontational tone, "And Africa."

When I think now of Germany, I think of the sad citizens on the Munich S - bahn, watching or ignoring the hordes of tourists getting off at the stop entitled "Dachau." What do they feel? Guilt? Numbness? Apathy? I so badly want to ask them.

Paris. We track down a tiny restaurant in a back alley, trying to satisfy Julie's craving for fondue. Seating is communal, and we are placed next to a young native couple. Their English is awful, but so is our French, so nothing but a friendship can develop. We take turns trading our fondue: they had ordered the beef, we the cheese. They recommend other good places to eat. Fondue is not Swiss, it's French!

Continued In Memories Of Youthful Travels Part 3

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