LAKE MACBRIDE— The U.S. Passport issued on April 26, 1973 is on my desk, waiting to be put away. During the 1972 to 1973 academic year at the University of Iowa, I lived with a friend in a mobile home his parents owned next to Interstate 80 in Iowa City.
We thought to travel to Europe together during the summer of 1973, to see the continent and visit his relatives in Bruges. I got my passport, and in the end, he went that summer and I didn’t, ending up playing in a band in Davenport until returning to finish my senior year in the fall. I traveled to Europe the following summer, after graduation, by myself.
It was what used to be described as “the Grand Tour.” Although my adventures were much less than grand, I did manage to visit Paris, Madrid, Venice, Rome, Vienna and other traditional destinations. Stamps in the passport provide five milestones for the trip. I arrived at London Heathrow on Aug. 15, 1974, departed England at Ramsgate on Sept. 2, left Madrid on Sept. 16, arrived in Arnhem, Holland on Oct. 25, and arrived back in Montreal on Oct. 31. There is more to the story than these stamps.
I kept a journal during my trip, although the first volume was stolen in Calais where someone pinched my backpack from the youth hostel my first night in France. I remember two women making café au lait in the kitchen the next morning and reporting the theft in my hopeless French at the nearby police station.
Last night I skimmed the remaining volume wondering what I was thinking when I kept track of the trip. Well, I know what it was— that the persistence of memory would be better than it is. My trip to Madrid explains the point.
Unlike today, I hardly kept track of day-to-day activities. For example, I wrote an entry on Sept. 10, 1974 at the Hotel Sabina in Madrid, with additional entries on Sept. 11, 13 and 15. In none of those entries was mention of the Sept. 13 Cafe Rolando bombing in Calle del Correo near the hotel. Conversations afterward at the hotel, and the bombing itself, were the reasons I left Spain when I did.
My passport was stamped by Spanish authorities on the train from Madrid to Irun as I left for France. Security had been tightened as I stopped in San Sebastián, in the Basque area that was home of the ETA, a separatist group said to be responsible for the bombing. There were military and police everywhere. When attempting to make it to the beach, an armed officer stopped me, waved his rifle at me and indicated the area was restricted. There is no mention of the police state Franco’s Spain seemed to be in my journal. However, I did write that the Prado seemed, “one of the richest museums of the ones I have seen.”
Memory does persist, although the story may have changed in the telling. It was a trip of language, art and experiences that moved me away from the intellectual world of art history classes, and study of the works of René Descartes and John Locke. What I found was a legion of people my age traveling the continent, and the experience changed me in ways that continue to seem astounding, although I hadn’t realized it at the time.
~ This is one of a series of posts based upon writing in my journal.