Coming of Age, 1972 - Episode #6

Monday, October 17, 2022

After breakfast, I hiked with Beat (Bay-AHT) and Urs, from the Youth Hostel at Pwll Deri to the ferry landing in Fishguard. For a while we shared the road with a large flock of sheep heading the same direction.

The four-hour crossing from Fishguard to Rosslare, Ireland, was uneventful. We sat on deck in pleasant weather and talked. Beat and Urs were nineteen, and apprentice architects in the city of Basel. Beat spoke English more fluently than Urs, but he was also aggressively working to improve. He kept a note pad in his pocket, pulled it out anytime I used a word that was new to him, and would ask me about the word's meanings and use. My own attempts at language learning had suffered from a lack of just this degree of diligence, so I took note of how the process should be approached. Beat already spoke Swiss German, High German, and French; he was working hard on English; and during the time I knew him, he picked up some Italian and Hebrew. I had fumbled through five years of French and a year of Japanese, but from watching Beat, the Spanish studies I would begin soon after I returned from Europe promised more success.

We landed at Rosslare, and went through immigration. Then, after we were in the parking lot outside, another agent came running after us. He had a spray canister to treat our boots, and told us that Wales was experiencing an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease.

From Rosslare we walked into the city of Wexford, where we bought a few groceries in a small store, and asked for directions. Beat had seen mention of a campground, but by the time we reached it, the gate had been locked for the night. We rolled our sleeping bags out in the field beside the gate, and went to sleep.

At about midnight, a car pulled up at the gate. The German youths who manned it demonstrated recent indulgence in alcohol, which would not have bothered us, except that when they could not get into the campground, they decided to drive circles in the tall grass that hid us in our sleeping bags. Beat and I stood up, waving our arms. Meanwhile, Urs slept peacefully. The Germans did stop, about twenty yards short of running us over. Then they retreated to the far end of the field and attempted, drunk as they were, to set up a tent.

In the morning, Beat and I had fun showing Urs the tire tracks in the grass, and then set off. We hadn’t walked far, however, before we realized that none of the cars that had driven by us would have had room for three young men. We decided to split up. Beat gave me his address in Switzerland, and I set visiting him as a goal. Perceptive readers will notice how circumstances and opportunities were chipping away at my original plan to spend my year in Paris.

It was Sunday morning. I had now been in Europe for a week, even if it has taken a month for me to recount the story.


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