This Story Is An Excerpt Of Steve's Summer Abroad In Cortona, Italy Journal
TUESDAY, JULY 24, 1990
Unfuckingbelievable! The past five days have made my life worthwhile. If I left Europe today, I would feel satisfied that I have had the most incredible experience of my life. It all started last Thursday, July 19. At 9:10 p.m., myself and 20 others embarked on a journey no one will ever forget.
Took a bus to Camucia and waited until 10:09 when we got a train to Arezzo. Twenty minutes later, we arrived in Arezzo and waited for a train to Munich, leaving at 11:16. Upon entering the train, we all become suddenly aware that "maximum capacity" is not a term used by European trains.
The trains are organized into compartments called couchettes that consisted of six seats that recline into one big bed. Of course, all of these were full, so we all pulled up a piece of floor and tried to get comfortable. After waking up several times, unable to move because of someone standing on my hair, I got the bright idea of climbing up into the luggage rack, which is about 10 inches wide, and sleep above everyone. This was really not bad at all until a conductor came by and said to get down (of course, not in English). There is something basically degrading about getting kicked off a luggage rack so you can sleep on the floor. The floor, if you were lucky enough to get in the hallway, was only about two feet wide. Otherwise, you were in the area between the doors where the trains connected, or outside (or inside) the bathrooms, where people got on and off the train.
Woke up in the morning at the break of dawn, Friday, July 20. From my convenient hallway seat, I got a good view of the Swiss or Austrian Alps and countryside. The landscape there is drastically different from the Italian landscape. It's like the difference between Southern California and Virginia. Everyone managed to get into a couchette by early morning and slept a little better for a while until we were informed that a bridge had collapsed up ahead and that we would have to get off, hike across a field with all of our stuff, take a bus to the next train station, and then get back on the train. All of this happened pretty smoothly but caused us to be an hour late into Munich. Well, of course, this caused us to miss our connecting training to Berlin, which was only 40 minutes later. I found a train going to Nuremberg and then Berlin leaving at 1:34 instead of our planned 10:44. It all worked out for the better because it gave everyone time to change money and reserve some seats home from Munich to Florence. The trip from Berlin to Munich, however, was completely booked and promised to be a fun ride. Finally, on the way to Nuremberg, my only worry was that after leaving Munich ten minutes late, it was possible to miss the train leaving Nuremberg as there was only a sixteen minute layover. However, we made it there in plenty of time and left Nuremberg at 3:32 p.m.
At last, our next stop is Berlin. We were all able to get seats. Finally had a chance to break into my bottle of Absolut. Had a good ride up. Everyone was really getting psyched at this point. Had a chance to talk to an East German. His English wasn't very good so deep conversation was impossible but from what I could pick out East German life before last November 9 sucked shit. One minor accident on the way up. In my sock feet, I stepped back on my camera bag as I was sitting down and my X-acto blade sunk about three eighths of an inch into my heel. Being prepared with Wet Ones and Band Aids, I was quickly fixed up and had only to step lightly for the rest of the night.
Finally arrived in Berlin at just after 11:00 p.m., making the trip only an hour and a half later than the expected time of arrival at 9:23 p.m. Found our way to the site of the show, made camp in a nearby park, and slept in the cold. Ted, Lee, and Beth decided to find a hotel. Woke up again at the break of day. Brushed my teeth and had nothing to rinse with except vodka. Half the group stayed with the bags and the rest went to pick up our tickets in town.
Finally found the American Express office where our tickets were waiting. We were supposed to meet Ted, Lee, and Beth there but they didn't show, so I paid for their tickets (they had already paid me) and left them there for them to pick up. Made it back to camp to hand out tickets.
I am amazed that this group of 21 is able to keep together so well. It's funny, on the train to Berlin, because of my organizational efforts, someone referred to me as Captain Kirk. It didn't take long until that was shortened and combined with a previous name, and now I'm the all-popular Captain Zenga. I can only laugh. Anyway, after distributing tickets, everyone split up into groups and headed for the show.
By 11:00 a.m., myself and about 10 others are outside the gate awaiting entrance. Just after 1:00 p.m., they started letting people in. "They", by the way, are the security guards, each paired up with some huge German Shepherd or similar dog. There was certainly no fucking around. To get in, everyone was completely searched, including bags (which in most cases, mine included) were quite large. Glass and cameras were strictly forbidden. They threw away my bottle of vodka (half full) as well as a spoon and knife. I had my camera hidden, so managed to get it in. Many people had all their film thrown away. Amanda had nine rolls tossed out and her batteries just so she wouldn't have to throw away her camera. They found all my film but I guess since they didn't find the camera they let me keep it. Thank god!
Got great seats (a place on the ground) within 50 yards of center stage. The ground was three inches of loose powdery dirt. None of has had taken showers since Thursday and it was only getting worse. Within a couple of hours, the front half of the audience was absolutely packed. To walk back and pay the equivalent of $3.00 for a 10 oz. drink (even water) was a task requiring much balance and patience as you tiptoed between people's legs and over their bodies. It eventually got to the point where it was impossible to move, as evidenced by the fact that Amanda and Nancy left and never made it back. Thank god everyone was too dehydrated to piss.
At around 5:00, the first opening band, Frumpe, played. It was the first time they played together for 18 years and the last time was opening up for Pink Floyd. They were pretty good. Next, the Hooters played. I'm not a big fan of theirs, but the atmosphere was right so it was good. Next, The Band played. They were excellent, only they didn't play "The Night They Tore Ol' Dixie Down." After that, the Chieftains played. They did tribal music and it was really good.
Then, finally, the waiting was over. Around 10:00 p.m., it happened. I won't even try to write how I felt. I just couldn't do myself justice. All I know is that if I could take my feeling and make a pill out of it, I would be a millionaire. Either that or be in jail, for it would certainly be made illegal for - as everyone certainly knows - anything to make you feel that high must certainly be against the law. The only problem was that there were some sound problems at the very beginning but they were quickly resolved. It ended at midnight with the most incredible display of fireworks directly over my head. Consequently, I was rained on by bomb fragments and ash to compound my dirtiness.
After the show, everyone met back at the designated spot. Still not a single problem traveling as a large group. We all then hiked into East Berlin and helped destroy the wall we had all just heard so much about. On the way, we just happened to run into Ted, Lee, and Beth whom we had not seen since arriving in Berlin. They went and got an expensive hotel that cost them 350 marks (about $240) for one night. They say it was great and worth it but I can't imagine how. They never went to pick up their tickets so they had to buy new ones and then got way in the back of the show. They were definitely the big spenders of the group. After hooking up with us, we all headed off for the wall. It was very hard work, but I finally got a piece about the size of an egg with some original paint. This I will frame with my ticket to the show as a tribute to the Wall.
At one point, I was sitting on top of the wall and it was incredible to think that less than nine months ago I'd have been shot dead on sight. At Potsdamer Platz, where well over 200,000 people had been only hours ago was Dead Man's Land before November 9, 1989. What an incredible change for the better.
We all hiked back to the train station, stopping at McDonald's at 4:00 a.m. for a bite to eat. This was the first meal I'd had since this trip started. Upon entering the train station, I was amazed at all the thousands of people asleep on the floor. The station was huge with many levels and it was absolutely packed to the gills. I found out when the earliest train left for Munich and even though I was tired to death, I still found myself searching everyone out and getting them in a group as they had all started randomly littering the floor themselves. By the time everyone was together on the platform from which the train left, it was half of an hour before our departure. So much for sleep. True hell began at 6:34 a.m., July 22, as we packed in like sardines onto the train. I could only hope that everyone had gotten on.
Jeff, Catherine, Michael and I made it no farther than the door before we could go no further. As such, we spent our time just inside the door, having to get up at every stop. Just when you thought there was absolutely no way to fit another person on, the door would open and someone would be looking desperately in. The conductor outside the train would merely state that "all compartments are the same" and somehow, there would be one or more people in our space.
When finally, ten hours later we arrived in Munich at 4:30 p.m., everyone was happy about our seven hour layover as no one was interested in hopping back on a train. About fifteen of us made our way to the Hofbräuhaus. We all proceeded to prepare for our trip home by immediately ordering a stein of beer (one liter size) and also ordered some food. The food was excellent and the beer was better. Our Italian friend Mazi (Marcelimiano) informed us that it was the proper thing to do to drink nonstop the last two bubbles of the glass. The steins are composed of four rows of circular indentations, or bubbles, so two bubbles was almost one-half a liter to slam. Of course, we all happily obliged. After eight bubbles, I called Dad, had a chance to talk to Mike, and hopefully he'll be able to visit me before I leave Cortona. Went back inside and drank eight more bubbles before it was time to leave.
Five hours at the Hofbräuhaus did me right. I led everyone back to the train station and got on the 11:20 train. This time we had reserved seats. We got on and let the alcohol do its job by passing out until we got to Florence at 9:20 a.m., Monday, July 23. The only pain in the ass was when the conductor would come in, flip on the lights and yell "Tickets!"
Had two hours in Florence. Finally got my Pros and Cons CD that I've always been looking for over here. Paid out the ass for it (a little over $20.00) but it was an expected expense and now I can force myself not to buy anything else. I really ended up spending a lot on this trip. I bought two T-shirts, program, poster, and sticker, among other things like food and a hammer and chisel (for the wall). Probably spent about $400 in all but it was worth twice that much and I can only be happy to have spent the money on something that means so much to me instead of some damn AU parking tickets. Left Florence at 11:05 and into Camucia by 12:25.
Cortona was such a blessed sight after all of that traveling. I practically ran back to the monastery to take a shower. The water literally ran black off my body, especially my hair and legs. It really wasn't that miserable being that dirty because I wasn't ever sweaty and it was an even layer of dirt caking my body. The weather was perfect this weekend. The days were hot but dry. No humidity to make you sweaty. The nights were quite cold but we all had blankets.
Since we've been back, people can't thank me enough for making the experience of a lifetime a reality for them. It makes me happy to know that everyone really appreciates all the effort (and there was lots of it) that I put into this trip. Roger Waters' concert was broadcast live on Italian TV so last night we all sat around and watched the video of the show that I had Maro make for me on his VCR. It was great but will never compare to the real thing. All my classes today had been canceled luckily, so it's been very restful.