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Memories Of Youthful Travels Part 3

Updated on April 30, 2010

Devout Catholics, they are curious about religion in North America: isn't it mostly made up of Protestants? Not in our hometowns of Toronto or Philadelphia. Both of the women share the profession of being students. College in France is paid for by the state. Arithmetic is scribbled on the white paper tablecloth, hasty conversion between francs and dollars, this times that, carry the one. The final figure of Julie's tuition in pre - Euro francs stuns them.

Together we suckle red wine from baby bottles and are burned by the popping grease of the fondue pots. And then we say our goodbyes at the door and each couple leaves hand - in - hand.

Twice in France - once in Bordeaux, another time in Paris - people stopped us unprovoked on the metro platforms and asked if we needed any help getting to our destination.

On a train in Bavaria. A frazzled native sits across from me, Julie to his left. He gestures to my giant bag taking up the whole of the seat on my right, and then to his own shopping sack. He shakes his cane at me in a friendly way and smiles at me. He is speaking German, but I know what he is saying: You have all that, but I need just this to survive! Soon, with just a smile and some affirmative grunts in the right places, I find myself enmeshed in a full - blown dialogue. He pats his knee, then rattles his cane. A painting takes shape, a canvas of a man in the hospital because of his leg but now he is out and happy to be free and happy to be going home. He doesn't realize that I do not speak a word.

A couple of teenagers across the aisle are giving me sly, sidelong glances. I wish I could tell them that I mean no disrespect to their elders. Julie is looking away and trying not to giggle.

Eventually I use up my allowance of nods and shrugs. He becomes suspicious and turns away to look out the window. When our stop comes, we get up and say good - bye. His farewell is warm, but not as warm as the greeting. I wish I could apologize.

Other events become snippets whirling through my mind, memory RNA and imagination performing a kaleidoscopic do - si - do: A grouchy German proprietress chasing a beleaguered Julie from sitting in front of her gift shop. Sitting with Amsterdam hipsters in a cafe on a Sunday morning as they bounce in their seats to techno, smelling the sweet stink of coffee, marijuana, and all - night raves. Spinning with muy borrachos Spaniards, white clothes stained purple with Dionysus's blood, in the streets of the Festival at Pamplona. Eating pizza with silverware with natives of Bordeaux dressed in skirts and suits; ordering crepes, served on paper plates from a hole - in - the - wall in Avignon. Listening to three Yanks at the next table scream "Damn!" throughout the course of our dinner in a Darmstadt biergarten. Being surprised to hear passers - by, for all appearances native, open their mouths and spout Californian or the Queen's Own.

Alternate histories, gravestones marking soldiers who fell not at Gettysburgh but in India, mean nothing: men still died. The languages are different, but speech is the same. Their books, like ours, are written on paper, bound in cloth, and speak of the only things worth talking about: Life, death, and love.

Continued In Memories Of Youthful Travels Part 4

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