Friday, February 25, 2011

You Can't Go Back...

...but you can try.

As I sat down to type this blog reflecting on my upcoming return to Europe after 55 years, I somehow accidentally hit whatever key or combination of keys it takes to turn on the computer's camera and suddenly, on the screen before me, there appeared the visage of a withered, rheumy-eyed, purse-lipped old man who resembled nothing so much as a reconstituted unwrapped mummy. I never cease to be truly shocked, and overwhelmed with sorrow, that the body which has served me so well for all these years has come to such a sorry state.

But I digress--hardly a surprise.

I leave for London, to which I've never been, in the present, on March 15--a fact underscored by my being accompanied by my best friend, Gary. From London to Paris, of which I have vivid and fond memories. It is in Paris that the main purpose of the trip--and the overlapping of present and past--will begin. It is in Paris that I'll begin retracing many of the steps I took so many years ago; walking the same streets, visiting the same places, seeing the same things with the same, albeit much older, eyes. After several days in Paris, Gary will return to London while I launch myself more deeply into the past. I'll catch a train from Paris to Cannes as I did 55 years ago after a four-day Navy-sponsored tour. It is Cannes which holds the fondest memories of my first eight-month European trip, from November of 1955 to July of 1956. In Cannes I hope to find the small quay which is the cornerstone of my memories of Marc and Michel, the two young Frenchmen, and Gunter and Joachim, the two Germans, with whom I formed a brief but wonderful international alliance I can close my eyes and relive to this day.

I'm sure the quay is long gone, but I hope can remember approximately where it was, and hope the waters are still as clear, so that when I look into them I can ignore the wizened-though-not-wise old man reflected there and instead see Marc, young and beautiful, walking across the bottom of the sea carrying a large rock for ballast. And I can, even as I write this, hear the laughter and feel the same pure joy of...being...that I felt then. To actually be there, physically, again is one of the things I most look forward to on the trip.

From Cannes--next-door Nice, actually--the train leaves for Venice and Florence and a brief return to the present, since I've not been to either of those cities. Several days there, then back to the past with the train to Naples, which is my least favorite of all the cities I've visited (I had the watch stolen off my arm on Christmas Eve, 1955). I'm going to Naples only long enough to visit the Naples Museum, perhaps take another tour up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, and try to find the landing where liberty boats from the Ticonderoga, anchored in the Bay of Naples, came ashore. I'll be staying about an hour south of Naples, in Sorrento, from which I can visit nearby Pompeii, which holds an indescribable fascination for me and which I see as another highlight of the trip.

Also while in Sorrento, I plan to take a day trip to Capri, which I didn't have the chance to do the first time.

Then, to Rome. I checked to see if the Hotel San Remo, the small, seen-better-days-even-then hotel I and my fellow sailors on a three-day tour from Naples had stayed. There is a Hotel San Remo, but from its photos on the internet, it definitely is not the same place. I'll probably plan to do the same tourist things I did the first time, including the Vatican, though I'm sure I will not have the opportunity, this time, to participate in a mass audience with the pope, as I did with Pope Pius XII.

On April 13, I'll be boarding a plane in Rome for my return to the U.S. and to the present.

Gary, in his role as best friend, keeps cautioning me not to expect too much from the trip; that it will not be the same, as much as I may want it to be. I know he's right, of course. I am fully and painfully aware that I am not that same 22-year-old sailor filled with first-time wonder. Yet I will try to recapture as much of the past as I possibly can, as well as creating a set of new memories.

The body cannot relive the past. But the mind and the heart can.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

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