16 Aug 1985 – we never needed to leave

8/16 Friday, Sidmouth

After breakfast and shower F and I sat in lounge and read (me till about 1:00)  Then at 2:00 I left to walk into town while F slept all day.  Bought the remaining presents I had to, did research in PO about phoning home, then sat or walked by the beach ’till 5:15, – made it home by 6:00.  Incredible dinner, I stuffed myself to an extreme.  Soup, bread, main course w/ potatos, green beans, ratatoue, then lemon meirange pie and cheese & crackers and then coffee in the lounge with other house guests (two older woman; the hard of hearing, laughing and good-natured one & the large talkative inquisitive one, and the man (all Irish and all good friends).  Watch TV and talked with them for a while.  Saw 50 minutes of a Blondie video which made both of us want to buy the album.  At 11:00 I tried to call home.  The lady was most helpful and she even dialed for me.  Found myself talking to Lori.  Then until 12:00 I had whiskey & cheese in the lounge with older folk.  They made me a drink to take up to Frank who didn’t want it – so I drank it!

And that’s all I wrote.  The next entry reads, “8/17 Sat. Sidmouth => London”.   Rereading this last entry, it’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect day.  Spend half the day reading, then walk around town, down to the beach, be served a fantastic meal, and hang out with “older folk” watching Blondie videos.  Why would we ever want to leave? 

I’m listening to Eat to the Beat while I write this; what a great album.  No excuse for not already owning it in 1985!   The “laughing and good natured” old woman was very funny.  Her friends were teasing her while we watched Blondie.   “Do you like that, Dottie?”, they’d ask.  She’d nod with great certainty, “oh yes, yes.”  I don’t know if she could hear the TV or what they were asking her.  But it was such a comfortable scene.    In my mind it was a pretty small sitting room, color TV in the corner, and the five us, all friends since childhood, enjoying a very simple evening.

In 1985 was it really necessary to “research” how to make an international phone call?  No doubt it was because I was afraid to ask “the lady” how to do it, but then she ended up dialing for me anyway.   Not sure what my cousin Lori was doing at our house.   I remember that one of the last presents I bought was a tiny Ebenezer Scrooge thimble for my father.

In the 25 years I’ve been romanticizing this trip, I’ve downplayed how Frank was either coming down with a bad cold or recovering from cold.  I hope the good parts of the trip — like this last evening in Strawbs country — are what he remembers the most, too.   We needed the rest, and in a way I’m glad we had an excuse to slow down.  On one of my trips into town I bought Frank a huge container of salt so he could gargle.  Because his sleep was so restless, I made up a song and sang myself to sleep.  Seriously.  The song I wrote went like this:

Mary was a lonesome child
As lonesome as can be
Mary was a lonesome child
She was all I ever needed

There were several verses.  They got married in a lonesome church, had a lonesome child, and finally, “then she died and I was alone.  She was all I ever needed”.   Very sad!  But I still remember the melody and think of this song when I have trouble sleeping.

The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Strawbs country.   Apparently I didn’t feel a need to write any more journal entries.  Maybe it was all I needed.

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Posted in Europe1985, Sidmouth

15 August 1985 – The hillside was a patchwork quilt

Images from Strawbs songs surround us while Jim stalks Dave Cousins…

8/15 Thursday, Sidmouth
Ate a better breakfast than that last place.  Waited around ’till 11 and walked down (partially – the last part – in the pouring rain).  Made it to the infor-beater and picked up map.  When we walked outside the sky was almost completely clear and the sun was shining.  We walked about 1-1/2 [miles?] West down the coast and back before tide came in.  The red cliffs were magnificent; red cliffs surfaced with green.  It’s a pebble beach which was hard to walk on.  Picked up 4 stones on way back.   We got back about 4:00.  At 6:00 I walked down to phone booth and called Dave’s house.  I talked to his wife, she said he was still at work and would be home at 7:30.  I went home and at 7:45 we left to eat.  Called again, talked to his daughter who said he’d be out until 10:00.  Well, we walked up to pub Red Lion Inn across from his house and had great supper (although the bar suddenly got extremely crowded just as we started eating)  After we got home I talked to the owners about staying another night, etc. and went for a walk to a clearing with no street lights — could see milkyway and jupiter so so clearly.

“The rustle of the pebbles on the shoreline, reminds me that my time is close at hand”.  The lines from the Strawbs song, “You Keep Going Your Way” suddenly made perfect sense while we were on that pebble beach.  It was such an unusual and intricate sound.  And we really did make it back just in time – if the tide had come all the way in we could have been in trouble.  And then “The hillside was a patchwork quilt. Neatly stitched with tidy hedge. And crumbling grey stone wall” from Glimpse of Heaven. You could see that patchwork everywhere.  We were in Strawbs country.  Can you blame a guy for trying to contact the writer of these songs, who lived right up the street?  The whole reason for trying was the last time the Strawbs played a few small clubs in Philly, Dave explicitly said that “if you are ever in Devonshire, stop by and we’ll grab a pint”.  He may have even mentioned the Red Lion pub were we ate dinner that night.  It was an open invitation I tell you!  But I was so freakin nervous calling his house — honestly I don’t know how I ever got the nerve at all.  I remember saying things like “Hello, is Mr. David Cousins at home?”.  I don’t think I even said who I was, why was I calling, that we were fans from the US, etc.  Oh, and the other backstory is that all over Europe I was carrying a cassette tape of the latest Joe songs — “Joe” being the band name that my songwriting partner, Jim Esch, and I gave ourselves.   I bet I was carrying that tape with me in my pocket everywhere we went.  It was all unnecessary angst.  But I still believe he would have happily met us for a pint if we had connected.  

We’ve seen Dave in concert many many times since then, in smaller and smaller venues, and Frank and I have both had the chance to say hello.  Here’ a picture my wife, Patti, took of Dave and I in 2003 at a school auditorium in Hightstown NJ.  

Anyway, the dinner at the Red Lion Inn was really incredible -Oxtail pie!  It was here I decided that English food is the best food in the world.  On our windy walk home, I’m pretty sure we saw, “the devil in the branches of a tree”.


Posted in Europe1985, Sidmouth

14 August 1985 – Stonehenge

From Salisbury to Sidmouth, stopping of at Stonehenge on the way…

 

Breakfast!  Ho mama cereal, eggs, etc.  Massive, delicious, incredible, beautiful.  Unfortunately we then had to check out by 10.  It started raining and we had to walk to the train station in the pouring, blustering rain.  we checked our luggage and got on a bus tour to Stonehenge.  Our guide was a very typical middle aged British woman who told awful jokes (to which everyone laughed).  The windows were foggy and the weather was awful so we couldn’t see very well what she was describing, but over all it was very beneficial.  Saw thatched house, the wilder wall (all chalk w/ thatched top and dry bottom), fossilized animals as door post, remains of old Sarum, which predated New Sarum or Salisbury.  The remains of the Old Sarum cathedral make up the wall around the New Sarum Close (area around cathedral), markers for “prehistoric man”.  At Stonehenge the sky opened up its full wrath.  As we rose from the crosswalk there were cows facing us — guardians of Stonehenge, against the distant grey sky.

Jim at Stonehenge 1985

So Anyway, as soon as we got back, the sky cleared and it was a beautiful day.  We found a pub to eat at.  Then went to InfoCenter and while they arranged for a reservation at Sidmouth we ate dessert at the corner restaurant.  I had a pineapple crumble and custard and a coke float.  We went back to InfoCenter and everything was set up.  Then to train station and Honiton (above Sidmouth).  I helped an old lady with her bags getting off the train who then thanked us by giving us a ride down to Sidford and our guest house (The Mariners)!

She (Mrs. Gush) lives in Sidbury (Dave country).  We settled in, then walked down to the Blue Ball Inn (pub) for dinner which took all night because we had to wait for a table (and 1 1/2 pints in the meantime).

On the train to Honiton

On the train to Honiton

“Massive, delicious, incredible, beautiful” — both the breakfast and Stonehenge!  I guess back in those days (not long after Stonehenge was built) the idea of phoning for a taxi to take you to the train station when it’s pouring rain and your friend is sick was unheard of.   What did I know about taxis —  I just learned about espresso a week before!  And it probably would have cost us more than an Parisian ice cream sundae. So we walked.  On the bus, it’s funny how I thought I knew what a “typical middle aged British woman” was like. Hey, I watched TV!  

Going to Stonehenge was a life goal ever since my father told me about it and then I saw pictures from my parents 1972 trip.  I must have learned about it at the same time people were walking on the moon.  I’m still completely enthralled by it.  I love the picture that Frank took.  It’s me, and this was a special moment.  During the Summer you were no longer allowed up around the stones, which must have been disappointing, but I don’t remember caring — just being there was incredible.  You had to walk under the roadway to get there, and these big, wet, dirty cows were waiting in the rain, welcoming us to one of the most super-cool places in the universe.  I made a little mythology out of the contrast.  I entertain myself that way. 

And then on to “Dave Country”.  Our original plan was to go to Devon, meet up with Dave Cousins of the Strawbs, and then for 3 days “tour the West Country” as we described it in the itinerary we left for our parents.  Maybe we’d head out to Penzance where my great-grandmother was born.  None of that happened, but it was still one of the best parts of the trip.    

Posted in Europe1985, Salisbury, Sidmouth, Stonehenge

12-13 August 1985, Paris to Salisbury

12-13 Aug-1985 Paris -> Salisbury

Parked and went to train station to lock bags & to find out that in order to make reservations for the ferry we had to find the channel ferry office.  The T.S. gave us the wrong address which sent us somewhere else which sent us somewhere else.  Meanwhile F gets sicker and the day gets older.  Ate lunch at overpriced cafe/restaurant and resumed search.  At 4:30 we were able to see Rodin Museum (something I wouldn’t miss).  From there back to train station for 7:30 train to ferry port.  Arrived at Le Harve at 9:45, met up with extremely stupid girl with whom we shared a taxi.  Frank’s backpack made a scratch in the cab so the driver, being very P.O.-ed took us squeally around every corner to the ferry port.  Upon boarding the boat we were ushered to the front section called the Panoramic lounge.  It was cold outside already, but the air-conditioner was on which put the cabin in sub-zero.  Because of this disgraceful condition F & I spent most of our time drinking tea & cocoa upstairs in the cafe, which was also cold.  It was almost warmer out on deck.  As we pulled out of port we could see the milky way very clearly, plus a shooting star (F’s first).  We ate dinner & breakfast on board & arrived at Portsmouth at 7:30 or so.  From there we tried to figure out which bus to take to the right train station (one that would validate our passes).  Then finally took a cab (to the wrong station) and then another cab (to the right station).  From there we found a train that went to Salisbury (had to wait about an hour).  Arrived at Salisbury at about 9:45.  I called ahead to the 2 places in Frommers and got cut off from the first, so I called the second with whom we stayed.  Took a cab to Guesthouse.  It was the nicest place yet.  F slept while I looked for phone (to call 1st guesthouse back) and somewhere to exchange money.  Found Post Office (the best I’ve ever seen).  Looked up Devon Air’s # and Dave’s in Sidbury.  Came back home & slept ’till 3:00.  F & I walked around to find a restaurant. Ate at indian restaurant because it was the only place open for dinner before 7.  Afterwards (about 7:00) F went home while I walked around.  Made way to Salisbury cathedral which was still open.  I enjoyed this church more than any other because I could read the information and graves.  Contains the oldest working clock in Europe, and the oldest altogether in England.  Build in 1203 – 38  it had tombs of crusaders & members of King Richard’s and John’s court.  After that I walked around surrounding park and sat by stream.  I then realized that F had the only key to the house including the front door so I figured I had to make it home before dark.  Luckily, when I arrived some other people were going in so I didn’t have to knock or anything.  Best bed I had slept on in the world.


I couldn’t contain the superlatives once in England — best bed in the world! best church! best post office!  And just wait until I report on breakfast the next day… 

Getting out of France was such an ordeal.  That cab driver’s snarled, “merci beaucoup” after seeing the scratch on his trunk still haunts the memory of that dark cold night.  And that ferry ride was so dismal and frigid.  I remember being reprimanded by some oh so very important ferry officer for walking on the wrong side of the poop deck or gangplank or whatever.  Geesh.

Once we were in England I feel I started actually earning my keep by handling some of the logistics for us.   I enjoyed calling different places and making arrangements.  Although it’s pretty funny that I was still afraid I’d have to knock on the door of our guesthouse to get in at night!   The town of Salisbury was so cool and I can vividly remember that cathedral, and the clock, and the stream.  Just having time to casually walk around and think was a relief, something I’d missed so much from the month in Salzburg.   I’d never been to England before, but it felt like I was returning.   And I think it was more than just the language.   It felt like coming home.

Posted in Europe1985, Paris, Salisbury

11-Aug-1985 Gay Paris, day 2

11-Aug-1985 Paris

Talked to girl from Manhattan at breakfast who has been working in Southern France for a while and leaving in the next days.  Our first stop and last until dinner was the Louvre.  Went through Egyptian stuff, with Sphinx and Cat Woman – a god sat recessed from the lower floor wall – far back, about 10 feet, and at the entrance to the recess a knelling woman facing the god.  Pounds of romantic paintings.  I can’t very well even start to describe them.  Every one, though, would have caught my eye as one of the best in any other museum we’ve been to.  Many Medieval & Renaissance as well.  Saw 2 Michelangelo sculptures.  Bought 2 postcards of my favorite paintings.  Frank and I met up again at 4:30 and went home to rest and find a place to eat.

Ate at a restaurant by the Arc de Triomphe – crowded.  Talked to French guy who was hinting at doing something with him.  F said he was eyeing me.  He talked about parties he’d have with his friends on the roof — Saw Arc de Triomphe – which was more powerfully awesome than I expected.  Walked down famous street, through the concorde (with hieroglyphic monolith) and old buildings all around.  A huge sky.  Continued to Notre Dame, the most incredible cathedral in my known mind.  Ate the greatest ice cream with coke w/ lemon at the Cafe Notre Dame.

It’s hard to believe how Frank and I got separated in such an enormous place and then managed to find each other again.  And I don’t think either of us were the least bit worried about it.

The dinner that night was really incredible.  It was one of those Frommer recommendations – “off the beaten track, not frequented by tourists”.  I think it was goose-neck stew and the restaurant was so dark we could barely see it.  The tre French dude that talked to us was sitting next to me, and Frank was on the opposite side of the table.  That’s why Frank was able to say he was “eyeing” me.  Well, it wasn’t the last time in my life I’d be approached by men of that persuasion…but that’s a topic for another blog I guess.  I’ll never forget his key phrase when describing those parties on the roof – “boy, girl, make no difference”.

This was August in Paris, so it stayed light until 9 or 10 o’clock.  It was an perfect evening to be mesmerized by the famous cathedral.   I imagined Quasimodo pouring lead down from the gargoyles while inside, Leonin and Perotin quietly invented Western polyphony.  Where we ate ice cream was called something like “Cafe Notre Dame” which, while corny, had incredible desserts.  Frank has referred to this as the “great ice cream argument”.   Our disagreement was whether or not I would treat us both to ice cream using some of the “emergency” funds provided by my father.   I insisted that we use that money on ice cream, and I can’t remember if Frank was bothered more by my offer to treat, or by my misuse of critical trip funding, or both, or neither.  But it was really great ice cream.  After all that it was getting late and we had to get back to the hotel.   I remember walking really really fast to get home.  Frank and I usually walked pretty fast, but I was struggling to keep up that night.   In my mind, it feels like we were floating – or maybe sliding – along the ground,  being pushed by a big wind or force behind us.  There was an urgency creeping into our trip.  A desperate need to settle down.

Posted in Europe1985, Paris

10 Aug-1985 Paris day 1

10-Aug-1985 Paris

Arriving in Paris was an ordeal. We managed to find 2 lockers open, but we had no money so I stood a good 45 minutes guarding our treasure as people of all creeds and colors walked by looking for an open locker. 2 French young guys tried to take one of ours, but they couldn’t get their pack to fit. Frank finally arrives with money, and then of course I have to get money (while Frank got metro tickets). We found a hotel on second try (which is good for 6:00 in the evening) near the Eiffel Tower (Grande Hotel). We relaxed for 15 minutes and then went in search of much needed food. Found Frommer place that was very expensive but with huge portions that thrilled me no end. It included dessert as well — we were totally stuffed, dead tired and partially drunk; we still had to pick up our bags from the train station. We got home at about 11:00 and slept until 1:00pm the next day. It took us 2-1/2 hours to get out. We bought fruit, cheese, and bread and ate it at the Eiffel Tower park. We then stood in line to walk up to the 2nd level only.

For me, the Tower was much more impressive from the ground. A total marvel for the sight. Even walking up – at every step the view was a sculpture, a picture. From the ground in front looking up the tower bends over you.

Drawing from the diary.

From the ground the first level doesn’t look that high up, but when you’re up there you’re higher than most buildings. Then we came home and did wash against regulations.

Everything is happening so fast, I don’t have time to think about things like in Salzburg. I was just reading over the old Salzburg entries, I wrote down so much. Now I’m either too tired to write, or I just write in general w/ no details. Things must be absorbed. I had to stop Frank to sit and just look up at the tower today — he was rushing by the most awesome view. I don’t understand. Those are the things that are most important to me.

Well, as we learn shortly, Frank was starting to come down with an awful cold. So on top of being the main coordinator of this whole adventure, he was not feeling well. So, 25 years later, I understand. I travel to Europe at least once a year now, and getting sick abroad is one of my worst fears. And by the time we got to Paris, we really were getting exhausted — apparently by the fact that we got to our hotel with our bags at 11:00pm, slept until 1:00 and didn’t leave the place until 3:30! Another cultural education moment for me, courtesy of Frank, was having wine, cheese, and bread for dinner by the Eiffel tower. That was so good.

The contrast between those long days just sitting by the river in Salzburg and rushing around all these cities was severe. I’ve always thought it was a great overall trip for that reason — I saw lots of cities really quickly, but I also really got to know one in particular. But as I reread these entries, it feels different. I’m not sure what I really got out of this rush tour of Vienna, Venice, Florence, and Paris. Yeah, it was great to say I’ve been there — and the overall adventure Frank and I had of finding restaurants, hotels, and train stations was very challenging in an exciting way. And at the time it felt real, like I was doing something that would change my life. And it did – I’ll never forget it. But my Salzburg experience was on another level. A story Frank tells about this trip is when we were about to leave some hotel, either in Venice or Florence, I threw a map up on the wall and yelled, “I’m not leaving this room until you tell me where the Hell we are!” I don’t remember yelling, exactly…but yeah, it was a shock to be moving around so quickly.

A moment I remember is Frank saying to me at one point, “It’s the people that make these experiences important”. I thought this was really bizzare. First of all, it was just him and me. There were no other people that were adding significantly to the experience. And, in my mind at the time, he and I were similar socially — we just had a few friends and were not very outgoing. So what was all this about “people” being important? I’m serious, I really remember thinking all that. Now it hits me like a high-speed train. One of the reason Salzburg meant so much to me was the people. Although I spent most of the time perfectly content to be by myself, it was the friends I made, the people that befriended me, that made the difference.

Posted in Europe1985, Paris

8-9 Aug-1985 Florence – Geneva

8-Aug-1985 Florence => 9-Aug-1985 Geneva

Left hotel at about 9:30 and found place to eat (after a while).  Had 2 sandwiches & mug of fruit.  We got lost on the way to first gallery (Palace Pitti) and found ourselves at fortress on top of hill overlooking city.  Saw a couple Florentine lizards (about 8 in. long).

Eventually found museum.  Temple.. of St… and Futillige… a war, some really nice M…. (???) Then we sat in park between Pitti and castle for a long time relaxing.  We then tried to go to Uffuzi, which according to Frommer closed at 7:00, but we found it closed at 2:00, just like everything else.  So, Frank went to Vecchio gallery while I went to Cathedral and Baptistry (partially designed by Michelangelo).  Bought present for Mom and Grandmom, got stamps and post cards.  At 7:00 we ate dinner, on way back to pension got pizza and ice cream.  Then sat in train station writing post cards ’till train came at 11:30 pm.  We had it all planned out that Frank would run with 2 little bags and get a seat and I would follow with packs.  But of course after we pulled it off, we found out that our car didn’t go to Geneva.  So we went to other 1st class car & woke people up.  Japaneses, old witch looking french/british woman and a real obnoxious old dude who reserved the 2 seats by the window for himself to sleep and snore.  Then he would sit up and play his FM walkman to polkas, rock, and classical.  After which he would lie down again and snore.  Otherwise not a bad 9 hour train ride & got some sleep.  We saw how nice Geneva was and kind of regretted not planning to stay there.  We realized when we got there that the TGV needs reservations – luckily F was able to exchange money and get there in time.

Took a brief walk around and down to the lake (took 2 pictures) and ate at a Wendy’s.  Saw Manpower office.  And then through the wisdom of Frank planning boarded the 1st class high speed TGV for Paris.  It’s like an airplane flying backwards — everything’s automatic.

For my mother I bought a little crystal swan and a tiny mirror for it to swim on.  For my grandmother I think it was a doily of some sort.  Everything was bought at the large open-market in the center of town.  I was told to make sure I barter!  They expect you to barter!  No, I didn’t barter.

I think something I didn’t fully appreciate even at the time was that Frank really had all this planned out pretty well.  He kept track of the schedule, made sure we got to where we needed to be by when.  But even our best plans didn’t always work out — like our master plan to get a good seat on the train to Geneva.

I love that description of the “real obnoxious old dude” on the train — I had forgotten about him.  Polkas on an FM Walkman?   How 1985!   It was an absolutely perfect day in Geneva, and it was such a bright beautiful place.  In order to eat (and I guess to make reservations on the TGV), we exchanged money for some Swiss franks, some of which I think I still have.  The Wendy’s (probably my idea) was awkward.  The girls at the cashier were supposed to give everyone a really dumb little toy — one of those little balls of hair with sticky feet, antennae, and goo-goo eyes.   She was trying to ask me which color dopey animal I wanted.  The combination of my uneasiness, her cute embarrassment (and what I typically read as contempt) has stuck with me.  I chose the blue one, and held on to it for a while…  But those pictures of us by the lake would look great on the back cover of our still unreleased record album, don’t you think?   I do.

Posted in Europe1985, Florence, Geneva