This is my affectionate (and occasionally confessional) journal that covers a portion of a trip in September 2010. It also is an embarrassed acknowledgement of the absolute folly of taking a journey with someone you do not really know. Sexual engagement is not at all the same thing as intimacy. You would think I might know this at my age.
During such a journey, the stresses of travel bring out the basic nature of each of you at its most raw and sensitive. Every emotion is stripped down to its simple urgency, every nerve rubbed raw under the pressure of making connections and the boredom of standing in lines. A suitcase in one hand and a boarding pass in another are not conducive to negotiation.
Thus it was on this trip with a woman I met on the Internet. After a few months of fun correspondence that sparkled with intellect and maturity, she came to New York and stayed, at her own expense, in a very nice midtown Manhattan hotel.
The man/woman dance was pleasantly and reassuringly slow. I traveled back and forth, every day on the subway for two weeks, like a commuter, going into “the city” in the morning after the rush hour and returning late at night on infrequent trains, the cars almost empty, a rattling, mobile Hopper painting. My transient companions usually were either self-engrossed couples leaning against each other or tired men in work clothes, nodding their way to a warm bed and a welcoming family.
The sex was fun. I realized after a while that she was trying to figure out how to reveal her kinky side without scaring the hell out of the “Mr. Nice Vanilla Guy” pose I have perfected. At times it is too practiced. But before we got to the “‘good parts” we each discovered that we had lived alone too long. We each had been absolutely rulers of our own selfish universe for too long. Each of us had our own way of dealing with things – and perfect as they were, neither hers nor mine included co-operation and trust.
So, as the poet said, thing fall apart, the center cannot hold. Much too soon, our rough beast with two backs was slouching towards our initial stop, Amsterdam, where the rumble of street cars outside our hotel window became the leit motif of a mutually painful farce. The German Army of the 1940s had a smoother time there.
By the time we got to Paris (apologies to Bogie, but we will always be stuck with Paris) it became obvious, at least to me, that we were going nowhere.
The final confrontation came an agonizing week later, the night we returned to Florence from a side-trip. The bus dropped us at the side of the main train station. She balked at entering the building because she did not believe that our hotel was just a short walk on the other side of the train station concourse. This drama had already happened too many time, virtually every day, sometimes more than once.
So after begging and pleading and insisting did not persuade her to join me, I left her standing there and walked the five minutes through the concourse and then the short distance to the hotel.
She showed up an hour later. I had no idea where she had been or how she finally found the hotel. She didn’t say and I could not have cared less.
I offered her a choice. In the morning one of us would check out of the hotel. I would leave and she could stay, or the other way around. The next morning, in the hotel’s breakfast room, surrounded by chattering tourists planning their day, we had a funereal repast. Then I walked her back to the same train station and put her on the express to the airport.
The end was like hitting yourself on the head with a mallet; it feels so good when you stop.