Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baby steps into gay life ('75)

During my summer of traveling around Western Europe (1975), I felt free and totally unknown, and I played with being gay. I had accepted privately that I was gay, I avidly followed gay news, I had been a spectator at the Hollywood gay pride parade, but I hadn't told anyone or done anything.

On this trip, for the first time, I knowingly set foot in gay bars, I went to an all-gay porn shop, and I tried cruising. I never actually hooked up with anyone. Especially with cruising, I was frequently paralyzed by not knowing the "rules" (as well as not knowing the language!). I scoured Amsterdam's red light district twice looking for a male prostitute in a window, but I never saw one.

I kept notes on my gay-related activities on separate pages in my trip journal, and I ripped those out after the trip so I could show the rest to everyone. The gay pages went into my permanent personal diary, and I reviewed them for this note.

Cathedrals, monuments, and history ('75)

Transcribed from my travel diary from my summer in Western Europe in 1975:

[After visiting Notre Dame in Paris] With every additional monumental cathedral I see ... [I believe more strongly that] God's greatest cathedrals are his own natural ones.

So much of the stuff that Paris is famous for relies on historical, religious, artistic, and linguistic background that I lack to be appreciated.

For myself, it would mean more to see a Garden of the Symphony or Chapel of the Sonnet or Palace of Imperialism or Monument to Mercantilism with appropriate scenes depicted in the stained glass or the statuary and with a fitting degree of ornateness of design, etc. ...

[In Venice] I can't believe bare shoulders would truly offend God.

My dependence on language ('75)

Transcribed from my trip diary of my summer in Western Europe in 1975:

[Paris was the first time I had been alone in a place where I didn't speak the language.] Not knowing the language is going to be most educational. For a perpetual reader and listener like me, this throws me way off balance. My entire usual mode of observation, conversation, sign/ad/map/label/instruction reading, etc. is inoperative. I haven't fully recovered from the shock.

And I notice again how when confronted with a foreign language (any), I instinctively respond in any language. That is, I'm muttering bits of English, French, German, Spanish, even Hebrew.... It's as though my mind only has two channels: English and (all/any/every) Other.... I can't get past "Parlez vous Anglais?" if the answer is "Non." ... [or] understand an oral price or date or day .... The data that would most interest me in a foreign culture are mainly communicative – newspapers, TV, ads, speech idioms, casual conversation...."

[In Berlin,] There are very few English newspapers, magazines, and books anywhere. The stores that say "International Press" may have a few, but seem to specialize in pornography.

Western Europe trip - '75

In Regents Park, London

In the summer of 1975, against my grad school academic advisor's wishes, I went to Western Europe for about six weeks. I knew I wouldn't have a block of free time like this again for decades.

I visited London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam.

I used a backpack, a Eurail Pass, and I stayed in hostels and with friends of friends.

Oh, and in the photo above, that's one of my mother's purses I used throughout the trip, long before the popularity of the murse.

I kept a diary, including a detailed accounting of my spending. Here's the summary page – $1100 for everything, including air (click to enlarge):

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

From my diary, here are a few excerpts about London:

[On my third day in London, ] I finally found a water fountain! Outside one gate to Regent's Park, there was a very nice one engraved, "Erected by the Municipal London Drinking Fountain and Horse Trough Association." And it didn't work!

I fell in love with the British Museum.

[I saw several West End plays,] ... Alec Guinness in A Family and a
... Paul Scofield in The Tempest.

Three additional blog posts are also from my trip diary – about language, about cathedrals, monuments and history, and about taking my first baby steps into gay life.