As far as traveling alone, it’s the way I’d started out. In June, 1971 I arrived in Paris with less than two hundred dollars in my wallet, and no idea where I would be spending my first night. I treated the city as if it were a Disney theme park. Oblivious of urban dangers I’d be terrified of back home, I meandered the streets of Paris on foot from seven in the morning until ten at night, cheerfully oblivious to all the historic and culturally significant sites and landmarks I passed. At night I’d sit in a café and put down all I had learned in a journal, most of which was a gumbo of proto-emo angst, insecurity, lonesomeness and a struggle to get laid masquerading as a quixotic search for cosmic love.
I met Carolyn a little over six months later in Munich. One look at those California Girl blue eyes and long blonde hair and I knew I had found the girl of my dreams. Carolyn, on the other hand, soon saw she’d met the boy, if not her nightmares, then the kind of dreams you have following a late night pizza. It didn’t take her long to realize I required the kind of patient nurturing, Buddhist understanding and a missionary’s sense of purpose and faith that only time could provide. Forty years to be more or less exact. What had been a relationship in 1972 that was a like a pair of shoes three sizes too big, became one in 2012 that was a perfect fit. And meant for the road.
With Carolyn I began to see all those points of interest I’d missed on my own, and even some of uninterest that were transformed when filtered through the lenses of her eyes and just the right angle of shadow, light and composition. She showed me what I’d been missing in my own travels, which was just about everything. What she showed me about life and living is the thing I’m missing now, and the thing my own faltering vision will remain on the lookout for.
Back in ’71, I pal'd around for a few days with what had turned out to be a fellow student heading for the same summer school program at Oxford as I was. I watched her buy a hat at a flea market, impressed with how well she was able to communicate with only a crude grasp of a handful of French words. Earlier I had, with my two years of college French safely tucked away in a dusty recess of my mind, confidently ordered from the shopkeeper what I’d intended to be sliced ham, only to be smilingly handed a bottle of water. “You need to focus,” my fellow student admonished, “so you are not so dependent on others to get by.”
I must have taken her words to heart, because by the time Carolyn and I arrived for the second time around, I’d morphed into a fairly competent logistical planner. Together we made a synchronized team of traveling companions. I got us to where we wanted to go, and Carolyn showed me all the things we needed and wanted to see.
Without her now, I seemed to have come full circle. For this train trip, I’ll land in Paris in the a.m., transit to Montparnasse by bus, sit in a café and try and find a hotel for the night. I’ll wander into Gare Montparnasse the next day, peruse the tote board for a train departing as soon as possible, flash my Eurail pass, find a window seat and then finally look to see where the train is going. It’s not the way Carolyn and I would have done it at all. On the other hand, it’s exactly the way both of us were doing it when we happened to meet that first time around. Even better, though, on this trip I won’t be looking for the girl of my dreams anymore.
I’ll see her right by my side, thanks to the eyes Carolyn has taught me to look with.