About Nightfall in Verona

Welcome to a Great Story from a Loquacious Renegade...

In 1973 I had the great good fortune to be treated to a trip to Europe by two friends. We bought a VW bus in Frankfurt and wound our way over the Alps to Tuscany. A week and a half later I was in a train headed down the coast of Italy alone, embarking on what remains the adventure of my life. Nightfall in Verona is the memoir of my odyssey, written last year thirty-seven years out.

Friend Caroline Marshall, editor of the NPR Anthology Listening to Ourselves calls my book "fabulous."

The inimitable poet Ruth Mowry writes: "
Oh heartbreak and romance. This is incredible. You are a wonderful writer, and this has captivated me, just this chapter! Wow."

My friend and editor Jack Brooks says I've written a "glittering, lyrical tour d' force."

Thanks to all who spurred me on and served as my "beta" readers and editors: Caroline, Jack, Maureen. I'll be publishing the work through my imprint, Orfea Books with customary fanfare soon.

Use the archived links on the sidebar to access the chapters. Do leave a comment or two-- and thanks for reading me.

I post poetry at La Parola Vivace, and I blog on the issues du jour at Loquaciously Yours. You can contact me at jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .

Jenne' Andrews March 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter One- Nightfall in Verona, Jenne' R. Andrews

(Here goes..comments welcome at post's end-- Ch 2 up tomorrow.)  

Chapter I - The Poet Gives Herself to Destiny...

Sempre libera degg´io
folleggiare di gioia in gioia,
vo´che scorra il viver mio
pei sentieri del piacer....

Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life's path as I please.

Violetta di Valery - "Sempre Libera", Act I, La Traviata, Guiseppe Verdi

My best friend and fellow poet Caroline and her sister Julia had been to Europe before and they were world-traveler savvy. I was not.

So it was that in early June of 1973, I borrowed a huge Army Surplus duffel bag into which I packed the following:

An extra pair of low-waist, bell-bottom jeans. A few knit tops. A cream wool poncho from New Mexico given to me by my mother.  A blue-striped rayon mini-dress I had made. Bikini underwear times four.  An extra front-loading bra.

In case we encountered a blizzard somewhere, a long flannel nightgown, and a pair of long woolen socks.  A brush for the long hair it had taken me years to grow.

And, down at the bottom of the duffel bag, where I thought they would remain undisturbed until I needed them, my journal, my manuscript of poetry, tampons, my diaphragm, and a huge tube of contraceptive jelly.  
I kept my passport and money in my jacket pocket for easy access.

But at the Customs Desk at O'Hare, the graying and weary agent opened and closed my diaphragm case, raising one eyebrow, nodding, as if to say:

“Good idea...”

He jotted everything down on a yellow form.

My companions, who had flown out before me, had state of the art backpacks with various handy compartments so that they could be perpetually organized: no packing, repacking, frantic searching needed. They took one change of clothes a piece, and cash to be converted country to country with which to buy couture bikinis and other clothes along the way.

They brought enough underwear so that they only had to rinse it out every ten days or so, hang it from the low branches of a tree in a campground, breeze-dry it fast, and put it away. They were each on the “pill,” later finding it hilarious that I would bring my diaphragm to Europe.

“If one of those European men gets pinched by that thing, he'll just pull it out and throw it out the window,” one of them had laughed.

My friends wouldn't have been caught dead in flannel nightgowns; they brought long t-shirts, counting on their new sleeping bags to stay warm.  I had carried my bedroll separately: an old thing loaned to me by an ex-boyfriend, a cotton batting-filled “mummy bag” smelling of Minnesota fishing trips and campfires.

I had thrown myself into a hurried leavetaking, finding it most difficult to abandon my home of the moment. My apartment was in a turn of the century brownstone that gave itself to a writing life, and my neighbors were writers and thinkers. I felt safe there in a time when it was hard for me to feel safe anywhere; in many respects, having lost a whole childhood to filling an ill mother's shoes, I had not yet fully come to terms with being out on my own. Yet, I needed to take wing.

I forced myself past my anxiety, praying that I was making the right decision. Like a rueful catbird vacating a nest, I consolidated my shabby-chique belongings, stored them in a friend's basement and bid farewell to my little studio  with its French double doors opening out onto a tin roof from which I could actually see the Mississippi River over the treetops, the barges steaming upriver.  

I could always come back, I reassured myself; St. Paul with its mythical Fitzgeraldian twilight, its dissipated raconteurs and plethora of poets who congregated at day's end at the Commodore Hotel bar around the corner from my apartment, would be waiting.

It was a crisp, blue and prescient morning when I lugged my duffled and now baffling life to the curb in front of my apartment.  My heart pounding, I caught a taxi to Minneapolis-St. Paul International.  Several hours later, having withstood the first lap of my adventure, we deplaned in Chicago, where I boarded an older jet for Frankfurt. It was packed with German tourists who were already boisterous without the help of any beer.

I sat down next to an American woman reading a magazine. As we introduced ourselves to each other and began to talk, I learned that she was on her way to Switzerland to spend the summer in a cabin and write a book about her great-grandmother, a suffragette. I immediately envied her savoir faire and independence. Traveling alone to the Alps to a cabin seemed no big deal to her.  The implacability with which she returned to her reading, seemingly disinterested in the fact that we were en route to Europe, reassured me as we taxied down the runway toward the unknown.

We took off, up, and into an infinite dusk.  The Germans, with an innate sense that to be comfortable suspended over the ocean you drank, ordered brimming, yeasty steins of beer, and toasted to a safe journey.  I took one look at Lake Michigan under the rising plane, and ordered a gin and tonic.  

I'll just have one of these, I thought.

Suddenly, we were over an endless expanse of darkness.  The pilot came on the overhead speaker.

“Welcome to World Airlines Flight 122.  We're doing just fine, heading up to 14,000 feet; if you look out your window, you'll see the Atlantic.  We'll be over the ocean for about ten hours; Frankfurt ETA 7 a.m."

I wasn’t ready to look out the window at the ocean; instead I settled back, sipping my drink.  I pondered the events that had brought me to this problematic moment.  I had bravely assented to Caroline's invitation to take this trip.  She was worried about me; I'd been enmeshed in an affair with the volatile and hard-drinking crime reporter for the local daily newspaper. He had been popping in and out of my life like a besotted cuckoo, manically cycling between me and his wife-- the first woman prosecuting attorney in St. Paul.

I counted this glass ceiling-breaker among one of the last people to cross; she was damn mad that I'd fallen for her tom cat husband when we both worked for the paper, and often cruised past my apartment at night in The Good Ship Affluence-- her new Cutlass Supreme.  

I didn't blame her for being furious, and I had repeatedly tried to get him to go back for good. But he would show up at my apartment with his shirts and ties on hangers, a libido fueled by anxiety and obsession, so that I couldn't slam the door of my heart shut and keep it that way. 

The whole thing seemed to have no resolution and had been good for about a forty pound weight loss and a lot of tears.

Caroline was a writer and her sister Julia, a sculptor and painter. Caroline had made it through the worst of a divorce; she was free, beginning a new chapter, and she wanted to share it.  She had proposed the trip over a glass of wine in my apartment on a late spring day.

"Julia and I are already booked.  I checked and I can get you a cheap seat on a tourist flight and we'll meet you in Frankfurt. I'll cover it.  A trip always makes you feel better.  You'll get a new lease on life, I promise you."

I knew this chance would never come again. And, I was a poet: despite being worn down from the affair not to remember and a bad case of agoraphobia that had arisen from a panic attack I had a year earlier on the freeway between Albert Lea, Minnesota and Des Moines, it was my nature to take risks, to seize the day with all the élan I could muster.

Moreover, my first collection of poetry had just been accepted by the Minnesota Writers' Publishing House, a collective press started by the infamous poet Robert Bly. I had a sense of destiny about myself and I thought a trip to Europe would mean a windfall of fresh drafts.

Now, unbelievably, I was in the air and not only in the air, but sitting in an aluminum tube with wings that presumably, via the mysteries of aerodynamics, could and would remain aloft across open water for a number of hours. This was overwhelming and in those days, there was but one solution. After my third gin and tonic, finally accepting that I was suspended in time over the Atlantic, I relaxed. I dozed, my dreams punctuated by German drinking songs.  

In time the journey itself became a dream, laced with murmuring voices and the steady hum of the jet's engines. If I woke, I lulled myself back to sleep; if we fell out of the air, I wanted to be asleep and to have no awareness whatsoever of my own plunge into the sea.

Hours passed. Then, amid loud cheers from the Germans, we landed, taxiing to a terminal where as I de-planed, I could see my two friends at the gate.

My reverie over the Atlantic abruptly gave way to pellmell activity. Suddenly we were all on a train, whooshing into Frankfurt, Julia having lugged my knapsack into the packed car where it needed a seat of its own.

"Why on earth did you bring this?" they had laughed.

Numb with jet lag, I blurted: "Oh...I borrowed it.  It has everything in it that I'll need." They laughed again, as if they knew something I didn't.

"What now," I asked.

"We've decided that we should buy a bus or a van and camp wherever we go," Julia said.  "It's cheap and a great way to see Europe. You meet great people.  Lots of great guys too."

Our train slid along its rails like a silver fish into Frankfurt on the Main.  My anxiety hadn’t abated; I didn’t feel up to a camping trip.  We had talked about getting Eurail passes and I was disappointed.  In my selfish fantasies I had envisioned gingerbread Alpine hostels and hotel courtyards with small rose-trellised rooms, little writing tables in the windows where I could position myself as a semi-tragic figure looking out at a piazza at twilight.  I was ill-equipped to rough it, I thought-- I needed a real bed.

We meandered through a terminal choked with people from all over the world. Following my friends, lugging my knapsack, I was terrified. Swarthy and sinister-looking men followed us with hungry eyes. We were bombarded by multiple languages echoing from the loudspeakers announcing the arrival and departure of trains to everywhere.

Caroline stopped at a tourist's kiosk and was directed to a used car dealership near the army base.

That such a thing existed was a revelation to me; I had anticipated all things quaintly and quintessentially European, a cornucopia for the senses and not a tiny slice of Americana in the middle of Frankfurt-on-the-Main.

But we took a taxi to the used car lot, and here was a young ruddy-faced young man from state-side, greeting us, taking us up and down rows of cars and vans.

"Look at this," Caroline called, having gone off on her own to ponder the sea of vehicles.

We found her standing in front of a two-tone green VW bus with tangerine and cream-striped curtains.

"You should get this," the American, an ex-GI named Bob, said.  "It's perfect.  It was outfitted for a safari; look."

We stepped in.  

There were custom shelves and cabinets, and the curtains pulled all around for privacy. It could sleep six, which meant that there was plenty of room to make up our beds at night and for each of us to have room to stretch out and rest.

The bus was adorably conspicuous, and Caroline put down 250 in German marks for it. We had it tuned up, a tire replaced, and stayed in Bob's place that night in our bedrolls, on the floor.

On this, my first night in Europe, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't gear down at all. I was suddenly at my friends’ mercy, necessarily abiding by their whims, their guest. “Just relax and get some sleep,” I said to myself.  But I tossed and turned until at daybreak, life filled the cobbled streets. A market was set up under our window. German women appeared on their balconies, shaking out feather bedding, watering their geraniums. Everywhere the sound of German, sweet, salty, guttural.

My friends, rising like goddesses from their down bags, were shortly fresh-faced, their hair combed. I was preoccupied with the fact that I hadn't had a chance to bathe, and made do in a bathroom where there was not only a toilet but something then unrecognizable to me that would have solved my issues: a small porcelain bidet. I gave myself a sponge-bath, combed my hair and tied it back, and rubbed a little lipstick on my cheeks.

We went out into the day and got a ride to our bus. We stowed our belongings and our basics, which consisted of yogurt for the cooler, a huge globe of white wine and cans of hearts of palm-- the guilty pleasure du jour for all of us, somewhat compensating for the fact that we weren’t going to booking rooms at a five-star hotel. We would stop and get fresh fruit along the way.

We headed down the Autobahn to Nuremberg, Julia at the wheel. Caroline had the map.

“Where are we going,” I asked more than once, as we sped along, reaching for my journal and jotting down a few things on one of the counter tops in the lurching bus.

“We don't know. That's how it is in Europe. You just head out, you just travel around.”

Seriously? This I couldn't believe, that we would recklessly wind our way along thousands of miles from home, letting fate dictate the journey.

Nightfall in Verona Chapters 1 through 22 as published on this blog is the exclusive intellectual property of Jenne' R. Andrews.  You may e-mail me at jenneandrews2010@gmail.com with permission to repost or reprint requests..  

Chapter Two-- Nightfall in Verona, Jenne' R. Andrews

Scroll down for preceding chapters-- best read in order....x

Chapter II, Wherein the Poet Drinks-In Europe and Finds Relief in the Grass...

Nel mezzo del cammino della nostra "vita"nell'Universo, mi ritrovai sulla Terra, questa"selva oscura" che aveva smarrito la via dell'Amore.  L’Inferno, Canto I, Dante

In the middle of the road of our “lives” in the Universe, I found myself on Earth, that dark forest that has obscured the way to Love. Trans. Jra.

As night fell, Caroline, Julia and I pulled into Nuremberg in our reconditioned VW bus. We drove along the great square where bells tolled from a Renaissance cathedral.

Germans in dark clothing walked quickly along the sidewalks, seeming disconnected from each other and unfriendly, their heads down, eye contact verboten. Pigeons wheeled over the plaza but no intimacy of small cafes invited our interest, even amid the great stillness of antiquity and the dark history of Nazi rallies emanating from tall, spare, neatly arranged stone buildings around the square.

Perhaps the city was still subdued by the shadows cast by the war years, so that the echo of turmoil, of oppression, not to say the infamy of Nuremberg itself, infiltrated daily life. There was neither the ambience nor the clamor of another language I yearned for.

It was thus easy to feel lonely and fearful there; I took comfort in the intimacy of the bus, and that my friends and I were on the road together. We were free to plunder the moment of its intimations and distractions, or not.

After the big push to get ourselves on the road, we seemed to find ourselves a little reticent and tired.  But this was Europe—there was no mistaking it!  We were all there together, still riding high on our own bravado, our day to day uninspiring routines at our backs, very, very far away. 

I poured three brimming cups of white wine from the bottle in our cooler, passing two of them up up to the front seat.

“Salud,” I said, raising my cup. 

Julia looked at me in the rear view mirror.  She laughed.  “Salud.”  She balanced the steering wheel in her left hand and took a gulp.

We wound our way down a side street, buying bread, cheese and wine at a stand, and then Julia turned the bus around, heading back the way we came.

“Now what,” I asked.

“Now, we pull in somewhere and rest, she said, turning onto a dirt road and driving along slowly, looking for a cut-in in the trees. Our headlights could only probe so far into the thick copse. Caroline looked out the window for an opportunity.

I was terrified. I was sure we were headed up someone's driveway.

“This is somebody else's country.  We can't just camp here.  We don't even know where we are.”

She turned to me, tossing her shoulder-length hair impatiently, her dark brows knitted.

“Jen.  We know what we are doing.  Relax.  You've got to relax, so we can all relax.  Drink some more wine.  Write in your journal.”

Subdued, I complied. Julia pulled off the road and switched off the engine.  I lit a candle and opened my journal, and got out a pen.   They unpacked t-shirts and rolled out their sleeping bags, making the front seat into a wide bed and locking the doors.  

We had all gone out and peed in the grass by the watery light of the moon, marking our presence for days to come.  My friends had mastered the art of rolling up their bell bottoms and squatting perfectly; I had not.

After they fell asleep, I quietly poured a little water into a dish and rinsed out the cuff of my jeans.  I took off my panties and rinsed those too, wringing them out and hanging them over the curtains at the rear of the bus.  I reached into my duffel bag and took out my flannel nightgown and put it on.  Slipping out of my tennis shoes, I pulled on my long woolen socks.  I was buttoned up to the gills, and I felt less vulnerable.

I set aside my clothing for the morning so that I could find it in a hurry if anything happened.  I took long gulps of wine; the warmth of the alcohol permeated and sedated me.  I settled back against the seat, pillow-less, lost, again amazed; I was in Germany, in a forest, in the middle of the night.

I woke abruptly at dawn, my bladder bursting.  Without opening the curtains, I slid the door open, and promptly slipped out of the listing bus in my socks, sitting down hard with my nightgown around my thighs, coming to a stop at the very edge of a paved bike path.  

At that moment, around the bend came a horde of bicycling Germans in tweed suit coats and caps, briefcases strapped to the back of their bikes.  

Off in the distance, the bells of Nuremberg tolled seven times.   The German men glanced at me, and at the bus in disgust, turning their faces away, disappearing around the copse of trees.

“Get up,” I said, hiking myself back up into the bus. “We're in the way.  This is a commuter path.” 

My beautiful tousled friends laughed at me.  I stood there in my flannel nightgown, my socks extending a good six inches from my toes, like rabbit's feet.

“You think this is funny?” I was fuming.

They laughed again.

I pulled up my socks and stumbled into the trees, squatting in the loam. I came back to the bus and climbed in and furtively dressed beneath my nightgown like an old maid. My friends seemed unconcerned about staying daisy-fresh; I furtively sprinkled a little talc into my underwear, and under my arms, reclaiming my dignity.

“When do we get to take a shower,” I asked, while we sat in the sun sipping coffee made on our camp stove.

“Probably in Salzburg. Be forewarned,”  Caroline said. “Showers in Europe are cold. They're out in the open just like the toilets.”

“No surprise there,” I muttered.

I had already discovered in a brief walk through Frankfurt the day before that the toilets were literal gratings in the street with perfunctory barriers to scrutiny. When we pulled in for gas, we found the inevitable partition with its latticed cover set into pavement. No toilet paper within miles; I quickly learned to stuff anything that passed for Kleenex into the pocket of my jeans.

Clearly I would need, sooner rather than later, to abandon my need for running hot water and master the art of a quick, discreet pause that required balance, flexibility and no self-consciousness whatsoever.

We repacked, and swerved back up onto the Autobahn. Caroline opened up the map.

“I think we should go ahead and get to Salzburg,” she said, looking at Julia for affirmation.

“Great idea.  Salzburg it is.”

“How far is Salzburg,” I asked.

“Just a few hours, “Caroline yawned, as if we were merely sitting in her living room back in the U.S. “ We'll stop and get a salad.”

I was ravenous. Wine, yogurt, hearts of palm: these things were all well and good, but what about real food?  I broke into the bread and cheese.

I feared a battle ahead;  Caroline and Julia would stay slim on the trip: I already wanted to eat my way through Europe, to try everything.  I also feared what would become of me if I couldn't eat a little meat now and then.  Meat was expensive, but I couldn't envision living on fruit and vegetables, as healthy and delicious as these were.  

In capitulation, Caroline had bought a few little pots of goose liver pate with rust-stains on them in Frankfurt I was sure had been tinned sometime in the previous century.

“Make these last,” she had said.  “We'll have one feast every few days.  We want to save our money for the discos, and clothes.”

I spread some of this dubious treat on a chunk of bread, choking it down. Across the morning we drove and drove.  We pulled over for a brief lunch of hearts of palm, apples and Gouda, pouring our chilled white wine into our tin camping cups, toasting each other.

After a few glasses of wine, my cheeks burning,   I told stories, in particular about the time my family went to Albuquerque to get a piano and left behind our rabbit, Ozma, in the garage in her hutch.  We had paid one of the neighbor boys to come and feed her.    

He had come twice a day to refill her dish with pellets and give her water, and when we came back she had tripled in size, her front and back legs extending out of the cage: mounded under her cage an enormous pile of droppings.

In fact, my forte' when in my cups, was story-telling; I had been much the entertainer in Minnesota, sitting at my friends’ kitchen table well into early morning.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, I believed before the trip, now happily embellishing my escapades as a dilettante writer to my captive audience.  We chatted about our receding lives, our parties of poets and other ne’er do-wells I held on the tin roof of my apartment.

Then, heading for Salzburg, looking out at the sea of green meadows boundaried by ever taller mountains on either side of us, heading for Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, I found myself pining for home.

I opened my journal to write a few self-admonitions:
“You are in Europe. Open your heart and mind to what this is.” I then described Nuremberg at nightfall, tand made notes about sliding out of the bus onto the commuter path. I listed what I could discern from the window.

This activity quelled my anxiety. We nosed into the mountains, up a winding highway, crossing the border into Austria, presenting our passports, paying at the toll booth.  

As we pressed on, I began to see the tips of mountains infinitely more stunning than the peaks of Colorado that made up the “Front Range” where my parents and brother lived.

We climbed higher, rounding a curve, and suddenly, there was a valley ahead and we were surrounded by the Alps. Now, breathing in ether, stunned by the shimmering, towering, sapphire beauty around us, we came down into Salzburg, parking the bus and making our way to the terrazzo terrace of a small cafe.

Julia and Caroline ordered “gemischte salats”, operating in German phrases extracted from one of our Berlitz foreign language guides. A little salad.
Caroline looked at me.

“I think we should eat in town tonight,” she said. “And go to a concert.”

I was overjoyed-- this was more like it.

After sight-seeing in the afternoon along narrow streets with the throng of other tourists, we went back to the bus, changed into dresses, and found our way to the Mozart cafe, where I ordered a golden mushroom omelet that melted in my mouth.  Mozart poured through the air.  There was Mozart on the jukebox in the cafe'. The unparalleled composer lived on here with a vengeance, despite having been dead for over a century and a half.

We emerged into the dusk, and walked to a concert hall, sitting in the back, where a pianist's hands flew over the keys, the great arched ceilings of the hall filling with a waterfall of sound.  

Rapt, I didn't care what piece it was, only that we were there in Mozart’s birthplace, enfolded in music.  I doubted that there could be too much of his music, or anywhere more beautiful than Salzburg and I thought it would be nice to stay put.

I began to relax.  That night I wrote again by candlelight, not as worried about keeping clean underwear cycling through my duffel bag to my little tub of water to hang in the rear window.

I had only known how to live by trying to keep all things under control.  The indifference of my friends to any kind of itinerary or destination was still troubling to me, but it had occurred to me that they were operating on the instincts of true adventurers and that perhaps I should trust them.  This trip was meant to liberate us, take our minds off all things painful and serious.

At my back, the ever-oozing wound of my unresolved relationship, the demands of my career, trying to cover rent and groceries with gigs as a poet in the schools, and always, the “shoulds” and overwhelming responsibilities of being the eldest child of parents who were struggling that sent me from Minnesota to Colorado again and again to clean the house and prop them up like Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. My arrangements never stayed put, and I had yet to understand that I could not save them from themselves.

In the morning, having found a campground on the outskirts of Salzburg, we had coffee at a cafe near the highway that would take us through the Alps, up and over the Brenner Pass, to Italy.

Now there was a bit of planning, Caroline getting out her map, and a pad and pen.

“We should drive straight through,” she said.  “It snows on the pass, and we want to make it over between storms.”

Mythologies of travelers lost in this manner had reached the U.S. and somewhere I had read about them.

I froze with terror. We, three young women in a VW bus outfitted for the flat, i.e., a safari, that chugged along like a freight train, were going to drive up above timberline into a cleft in the Alps where people skidded off the highway into oblivion, not to be found until the following spring.

“When were you last on the Brenner pass?”

They could see that the plan wasn't sitting well with me, my persona as the resident nervous wreck re-emerging.

“I went over by train,” Caroline admitted. “It was beautiful. About five years ago.”

“Who's driving?”

I thought about Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona-- the years of trips with my father, driving up San Francisco Peak outside Flagstaff, where, as we crept in first gear along a narrow road that dropped off on both sides, he would stick his head out the window and crane his neck to scrutinize the trees.  He was searching for clusters of dwarf mistletoe, one of his specialties. But he was an inveterate mountain driver.

"You're going to drive," Caroline said. "You're the experienced one in this kind of country; you'll get us there."

I was not at all sure I was equal to the task. I tossed back more wine.

Fortified, we set out again, up the alpine highway, climbing until our ears rang.  We wouldn't make the switch until we stopped briefly in the town of Zirl, far up into the cleft where the highway had been traveled for many years, and a fabled destiny must surely await us.

Chapter III will go up tomorrow-- enjoy-- feel free to comment.  There is a drop down archive box to locate preceding chapters in the text box below the posts.  xJenne'

copyright Jenne' R. Andrews 2011 - All rights reserved.  jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .

Chapter Three - Nightfall in Verona-- Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter III, Wherein the Sojourners Linger in Austria

...At the same time, always, overhead, there
is the eternal, negative radiance of the snows.
Beneath is life, the hot jet of the blood playing
elaborately. But above is the radiance of
changeless not-being. And life passes away
into this changeless radiance. Summer and
the prolific blue-and-white flowering of the
earth goes by, with the labour and the ecstasy
of man, disappears, and is gone into brilliance
that hovers overhead, the radiant cold which
waits to receive back again all that which has
passed for the moment into being.
D.H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy.

It is said of the "old" Brenner Pass over the Alps into Italy that the route inspired the great German poet Goethe to write Iphigenie, viewing all from in his carriage on the way to Verona or in detouring to Lake Garda in Tuscany.

“How much I wished to have my friends for a moment near me in order that they might rejoice over the view which lies before me...” he wrote in Italian Journey in 1786.

The route ascended shortly after Zirl, Austria, and one climbed by way of a narrow mountain highway up into the clouds.  By day, at the summit, before later improvements that cut at lower elevation through the Alps, one could look back at Austria and Germany and in the other direction, to beautiful Tuscany spread out below. The descent, I read from the brochure we picked up, involved a series of heart-stopping switchbacks that would require a veteran mountain driver; hence the old route, at the time of our trip, was typically only used by locals.

As we left Salzburg where we had been steeped in Mozart and the crisp, cold white wine of Europe, I had been designated to take us over the pass and we had determined we would see more breathtaking scenery on the old road.  

Caroline had been reading our brochures.

“I think we should go ahead and stop at Zirl,” she said.  “They say the cathedral is not to be missed.”

I had been bracing myself to take over as we agreed; I was eager to follow Goethe's route. But I was relieved when, after about an hour, we cut off to the road into Zirl. We followed directions to the Cathedral of St. James and pulled in to the visitors' parking lot.

We put on sweatshirts; Julia loaded her camera with a new roll of film, and I tucked a notepad and pen into my pocket.  Caroline took our picnic basket out of the compartment at the front of the bus.  We had picked up more white wine heading out of Salzburg; we saw a picnic table under the trees, near the cathedral cemetery.  

We spread our tablecloth under the trees and ate bread, fruit and cheese, washing it down with wine. We were surrounded by mountains cast in ethereal blueness, their  steep, faceted faces ascending to snow-crowned summits.

Against this backdrop, the spires of the cathedral reached far into the sky.  

The cathedral's facade, an admixture of Baroque and Renaissance convention, was resplendent with gilded angels, rococo embellishments. We stood in awe, when, suddenly there was a great peal of sound.  The majestic, unmistakably precise and exuberant sound of Bach reverberated off the peaks; someone was playing a fugue, his hands traveling quickly over the keys of the cathedral organ, his feet dancing on its pedals.

“Let's go in.  I want to see him play,” I said.

“I want to photograph the inside,” Julia said, checking the camera on the cord around her neck.

We entered the cavernous cathedral. I looked up into the loft, where I could see someone sitting, half-obscured by a pillar.

Now the piece came to a crescendo, filling the nave and crashing to a close with a ritardando, a fading away of sound.

"Bravo, bravo," I cried, clapping.

Caroline looked askance at me, grabbing my arm.  "Shhhh."

Out of the gloom, near the altar, a group of nuns came by, each with an implacable face, hands prayerfully folded.  

Julia took photographs of the towering stained glass windows, each telling a story of Annunciation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Exquisite marble statuary stood in alcoves throughout the nave.  Candles flickered at triptychs of the Blessed Virgin.

I imagined a High Mass in this exquisite setting, and had the impulse to walk up and kneel at the altar.  I held myself back, unsure of visitor etiquette.

Finally we went out into the church graveyard, where we walked among the graves in air so pure it took our breath away.  There were exquisite marble carvings and bas reliefs at the head of each, so time-worn that the names and dates on them were indecipherable.  

I passed such a relief of a grieving woman set at the head of one of the graves, and turned back:  the subtlety of the pain etched in stone on her face shocked me.  Unlike the other sculpture, she was turned away, looking out at eternity with a delicate, down-turned mouth, unflinching eyes.  A wave of recognition passed through me; this was sorrow recast in art.

In addition to my necessary items in my faded army duffel bag, I had brought with me a host of endings, good-byes and impossibilities. I had written them down to get them out of me, and spread them out like cards on a table in therapy. In reality my fading affair was the tip of the iceberg.

As I looked at the statue old losses rose like phantoms out of my knapsack to stand with me in the tangled foliage  and wild rose bushes of the graveyard. What would it take to banish them-- I was abruptly afflicted with pain that leached out into the present.

My friends called to me that it was time to leave.

“I'll be there in a minute,” I said, as they walked back toward the bus.

I picked a small pink wild rose and laid it at the foot of the statue.

I spoke a short prayer in Latin from a requiem I had sung. No lingering at the feet of grief incarnate. I left the marble woman there, asking her to mourn on in my place.

On our way back to the bus, Caroline turned to us mischievously.

“I bet there's a disco in town,” she said.  At that time there were discos all over Europe.  

“I thought you wanted to keep on and get over the Brenner tonight,” I said.

“I did.  But let's live it up,  go out to dinner and then go dancing.” 

I was in immediate agreement.  We found a campground on the map and pulled in, each of us going off with a towel and a small bar of soap to one of the inevitably cold showers.  I unbound my hair and soaped up, sluicing down, rushing to get clean, dry and back to the bus.

At dusk we set out on foot to downtown Zirl; Caroline had seen a small inn on the way in and we walked in that direction.

“Look at that place.”

“Must have been built in the Middle Ages,” I muttered, not especially excited about our plans. I was worried about having the stamina to get us over the mountains.

“You are such a wet blanket. Always a wet blanket.”

I knew that wasn't true; I was tired. I had been tired before I got on the plane. I was tired on the way over the Atlantic, tired in Germany, tired in Austria, and tired now. But there was nothing to be done; as in other moments when my lingering depression tugged at me and I caught myself brooding, I cheered myself back up: we were in Europe! The drama of my former life was far away. I forced myself out of my gloom, stopping briefly at a bistro, tossing down a shot of espresso, while my friends window-shopped.

Then we stepped into a lamplit tavern where there were dark simple tables scattered on a grey stone floor.

We were seated in a corner; across the way sat a group of burly Austrians, drinking beer.

These revelers took one look at us and promptly moved their chairs over to our table, turning them around and straddling them. They were ruddy and bearded, with twinkling eyes.

Thankfully, Julia knew a smattering of German and one of them knew a bit of English.

“American girls!” one of them boomed, delighted, lifting his stein.

Another one leaned toward Julia.

“How about eine kleine nachtmusik,” he said.

She blushed.

“Nein, danke.”

They tried to foist beer on us, but we weren't beer drinkers; we didn't want to look like them.

“Vin. Wine. Vino,” I said.

“Ah. Vino.” One of them got up and began a foot dance, shuffling in a circle while the others laughed and clapped.

“Vino prego, ancor vino.”

We laughed. We drank with the Germans, picking at the bratwurst and sauerkraut brought to us on steaming platters.

“Where you go,” one said, during a lull.

“Dancing. We want to go dancing.”

They looked at each other.


“Yes, Caroline brightened. “Is there a disco in Zirl?”

“Yavol,” one said.

“Bye-bye American girls. We hate discotech. We dance the old way.”

They got up again from the table. One walked over to the jukebox and dropped in money; a tinkly polka ensued. The men began to waltz together across the floor.

“Run for it,” Caroline whispered to me.

We bolted out the door in hysterics. We looked down the street, where we could see people walking in promenade at dusk.

I stopped.

“Do you hear that?”


From the depths of the dusk, seeming to come from a small doorway into a building without windows, came a familiar song:

“I want to hold your HAND.... I want to hold your H-A-A-A-A-N-D...”

“Wow,” Julia said. “The Beatles.”

“Yes,” Caroline said, grabbing my hand. “Hurry. This has got to be it.”

We walked swiftly through the redolent Tyrolean nightfall to the door of what appeared to be an old inn, now a nightclub. We each gave the man at the door a few marks, and went in.

To our delight, there were couples already out on the floor, gyrating, swiveling their hips.

I had thought we had heard a jukebox. But lo and behold, there was a band of wild-haired young men on a stage in the corner. Somehow they had mastered a medley of rock and roll classics in English. They were wrapping up the Beatles song when we stepped in.

Then there was a dramatic pause and everybody looked expectantly at the lead singer whose carrot-red curly and frizzed hair all but obscured his face.

He began tapping his feet; the drummer picked up a riff.

He whispered into the microphone, in a thick Austrian accent,
“Ah Can't Get No....” and put his hand to his ear to invite a response.

“Vee Can't Get Nein,” shouted the crowd.

Out of the tavern shadows came a young man in lederhosen and a white long-sleeved shirt. He grabbed Caroline by the hand and took her out on the dance floor.

Another such man came and grabbed Julia.

I shrank back in the shadows. I wanted to observe for awhile.

“Ah can't git no.... satisfaction.... Ah can't git no girlie action…”

The Rolling Stones classic reverberated from the rafters. The band wasn't half-bad-- or perhaps it was that we were so juiced up. We had been living on white wine and little else for a week, seeing all things through a dream-like scrim of intoxication.

A tall young man came up to me.

“Dance you mit me, ya?”

“Sure,” I said.

He led me out onto the floor. I had worn my striped mini-dress and slip-off shoes. I shook my booty; he shook his, tossing his mane of long hair, grinning at me.

He took a step toward me and gave me a biting kiss on the neck, sliding one hand into my dress, under my bra.

“Whoa.” I stepped back and pushed his hand away.

I shook my head. “Dancing. Dancing,” I said, my voice utterly drowned out by the music.

“Yavol. Dancing. Dancing.”

He backed up a step and waved his arms, gyrating his hips. I looked over at Caroline; she and her epiphanous Tyrolean were in a clinch.

The song wound down and I went back to the table, waving off my partner. Julia was already seated.

“Look at her,” she said.

“I see.”

“Well, she's been pining for something like this since her divorce.”

We watched them. Things got steamier. Suddenly, they disappeared.

I was stunned.

“Where did they go.”

Julia smiled.  

“They might be doing it standing up out in back,” she said. Or, maybe he's taken her off to his cabin up in the forest, like the big bad wolf.”

“He didn't look like a wolf. He looked like an extra from The Sound of Music.”

I pondered this turn of events.

“Oh God. What are we going do.”

“We don't have a choice. We have to wait.”

Julia and I left the tavern and walked back to the bus. The street lamps of Zirl were lit; people strolled arm in arm past bistros still open.

I was restless, fuming.

“Listen, Jen. We'll find things to do. We'll go back to the cathedral. You can write; I'll draw. She'll be back.”

“What if she doesn't come back? We'll have to call your parents, or contact Interpol or something.”

“She'll be back,” Julia said. “I know my sister.”


Chapter Four will go up tomorrow. Please scroll down or click on the archive drop-down menu at the end of this post for preceding chapters.  Comments via the comment link are always welcome.  

Copyright Jenne' R. Andrews 2011