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Early Journaling

Handwritten journal after a visit to the former Dachau concentration camp by the author. October 1974.

I’ve been reading journals written while I was traveling in Europe during the Fall of 1974. I wasn’t very good at journaling 50 years ago.

“An Italian whose uncle is a cardinal took me to the Vatican to get me a ticket to the papal audience tomorrow,” I wrote. Today, I would rewrite this sentence in different ways: reduce word count, clarify, simplify. I would add more detail and maybe another descriptive sentence.

I’d like to read about that general audience with Pope Paul VI today. I have to rely on my faulty, septuagenarian memory and a couple of photographs to get me through revisiting that time. My journal is lacking if my memory is not.

For some reason or in these events and environments I dream very much, dreams which I have never had so many of before ever. My archeologist friend from Australia says that they are the result of being in strange surroundings and my body trying to cope. If what he says be true then the distinction between my mind and body is even more subtle than I had imagined.

Personal Journal, Winston Churchill Gardens, Salisbury, England Aug. 27, 1974.

Good God! what awful writing! The punctuation! I hope I am better than that now.

I made a special trip to Ravenna to see the Byzantine mosaics I studied in art history class at university. I had been practicing my Italian for weeks to prepare for this less traveled destination. The mosaics did not disappoint. However, my journal did. The entries in Ravenna were mostly about the logistics of closing down my tour and heading back to Iowa. Feeling like Henry David Thoreau, I enumerated my expenses in the journal instead of observations about the ancient artwork. I bought a book, Ravenna: An Art City by Giuseppe Bovini, to aid memory in later years.

I began journaling after graduation from university. My first book of journals was stolen when I stayed at a youth hostel in Boulogne, France after crossing the English Channel. The thief swiped my whole backpack! All I had left was a small blue shoulder bag Grandmother made for me that contained my passport, American Express traveler’s checks, my camera, and a few other necessities. I had to spend part of the $2,000 I brought with me replacing the bag and buying clothing: an unwelcome expense.

I continue to journal. In 2007 I began using Moleskine plain notebooks, although I also use up whatever notebooks are on hand. Moleskine products are getting a bit expensive. While designed in Milan, Italy, they are manufactured in China. The margin on these popular notebooks must be substantial. Their future is uncertain when I have a dozen or so spiral notebooks, bought for a dime each, in inventory and a need to cut expenses.

The 1974 journal is useful in recalling things. In the first draft of this section of my autobiography, I completely forgot about the papal audience. In addition to the journal, I have enough artifacts collected on the trip to remember what happened.

I possess living memory of those places. If the poorly crafted journals do anything in 2023, they prompt those memories, however imperfectly. I was a different person in 1974. Alone in Europe, I did what I could to express what I was experiencing. Without a steady travel companion for conversation, I wrote in my journal. We do the best we can.

I am thankful to have made that trip. I am thankful to be living with the ability to remember it.

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