Sunday, July 1, 2012

Breaking Away

My mother found and saved an old diary I kept when I went to Italy in 1979 to meet an Italian exchange student I had known in high school. It's mostly the sort of stuff people write when they're 19, but I found two interesting entries. The first is the very first entry--written when I flew alone to Europe via on Icelandic Air to Luxembourg. I caught a train south to Milan and then another to Turin. Despite all my random punctuation and thoughts, I captured the moment when I first set off on my own. This was also my first time on a jet airliner.
21 luglio
Chicago O'Hare 
I'm looking at the jet, which turn- excuse, I had to get on it.*
I'm sitting in a window seat, just abreast of the starboard wing. I'm very excited. The seating is very comfortable. I'm alone in my seat--I've got 3 seats to myself and the armrests come up out of the way so that could actually stretch my legs out sideways or sit indian style.
We'll be served dinner in an hour. They just stepped on the gas and we're moving forward--I'm writing so fast I want to look out the window--Oh, I never thought this dream would come true. We're taxiing now, picking up speed now, there's no getting off now. Step on it! roller coaster! thunder rumble! bouncing on the ground then a firmness under me. I can see Chicago out there, a city of lights as far as I can see, lines and triangles of light, squares like luminous patchwork quilts, lots of red, orange, green. The pilot just banked the jet away from the city and we're off to Iceland.
Just had dinner--pretty good considering where I am. They served chicken breast in rice, a salad, a stuffed tuna tomato, and after dinner coffee and cognac. It's about 10:50 CST and I think I'll shut my light out. I'm really fortunate to have these seats to myself. 
An hour later, I noted the date change. Pretentious me also thought it cool to mark the calendar dates in Italian:
22 luglio 
It's about 12:54 CST and I still can't sleep I'm so excited. The sun no sooner vanished to the west when it rose in the east. It's getting light out now and looking out the window I can see a foamy sea of clouds, a bluish white blanket covering what must be the sea beneath. I tell you, from this point of view the earth verges on unreality.
The plane ride feels much in the way of a bus ride, except for the view out the window--the light of the sun is now on the plane.
I just set my watch ahead 5 hours; we're descending to Iceland for a stay of 45 minutes. We're going to drop through the thick of these clouds now--it's like fog--I can't see past the tip of the wing; my ears are popping like crazy it's getting rough now--the world below, the sea, just came into view. I can see Iceland, a lighthouse, the land looks barren, very rocky no trees, steam is rising from a point in the distance.
After a brief stopover at the Reykjavik Airport, the flight continued on to Luxembourg:
I believe I'm flying above the Scottish countryside. The clouds are dense but scattered. It's a patchwork of green and gold fields. I can see also winding rivers.
Upon taking off from Iceland (that wretched, barren wasteland), I was joined by a middle aged French couple who speak no English. Had lunch. I ate every calorie--I don't know when I'll eat next. 
The next entry is fragmentary but describes the landing:
like plunging into a gaseous sea and then the land reappearing. 
* "which turn- excuse, I had to get on it" makes no grammatical sense. I can't tell if a word is missing or  if I just meant to be cryptic. I was aware at the time of the inevitability, but I don't recall exactly what I was thinking 33 years ago. I had left behind a serious girlfriend who was upset that I was leaving for a month (which turned into 8 weeks).  I had no regrets at the time.


  1. I had no regrets at the time.

    How about later?

  2. No regrets about the trip. She got over it. I was good.

  3. 3 seats to yourself is outstanding! I appreciate you giving us a glimpse into your youth. Who says a diary is gay?