Discover more from The World of Tosh Berman
The Paul Bowles Mood
Thursday, December 30, 2021
I have a series of role models that I use just to get myself out of bed every morning. In fact, I have a closet full of role models because when you get down to it, it’s the clothing that makes the man, even if you are a lousy dresser, it is the window to your soul. Not the eyes. When I was 33 years old, I received some money and resolved to spend every last drop of it on a trip to Europe. I went with my friend Kimley, who I worked with at the Licorice Pizza store in West Los Angeles. It was the first time that I did something so adult-like. But now I remember the real reason why I went to Europe was to see a girl there that I had a brief affair with within Los Angeles. I just wanted to continue the relationship, but not here in Los Angeles, but in London, where she now lived. One would say it was an act of love or passion, but the truth is I needed to remove myself from where I lived so I can change, and change was the genuine passion for the trip. Making love to her was just a side dish. I was curious about having a sex life in London, and would it be like anything in Los Angeles? Ironically enough, I didn’t have sex at all while I was in London or in Europe - I mostly wandered around in various cold landscapes trying to find myself in a new light.
The role model for this specific trip was Paul Bowles, a writer that I greatly admire. To be the point, the one thing that impressed me the most about him was hearing that he traveled with many, many suitcases. So I decided to not only bring two or three suits, including ties, and a hat to come with each outfit, but also a mini-version of my library. I remember choosing Frank Sinatra recordings as well to put in my portable cassette player. Kimley also had her version of the cassette player with her music - so we had he and she music thing going. Memory is that she had Alex Chilton cassettes - both solos as well as with Big Star - and besides my Sinatra, I think I had Les Rita Mitsouko as well.
The plan we made was to go to London first, and that was basically the whole plan for the trip. We bought one-way tickets to London, with not the slightest idea when or if we will return to Los Angeles. We both quit our jobs on the last day, and I remember leaving a note to my manager at the store saying the “next time you will see me, I’ll be a girl.” I haven’t the foggiest idea why I wrote that, but I wanted to do something dramatic and important-like.
We went to London, and we stayed with the girl that I had an affair with. It seemed on her part, that the relationship was over, finished, and mostly forgotten by her. That was a shock to my system. Luckily I chose the Sinatra soundtrack for this trip, so it wasn’t a total disaster. But I did discover London as an adult, and that was a real eye-opener for me. For my whole life, I worshipped London as the cultural landscape to end all cultural aspects. But once I got there, I found it very cold, and there seemed to be a depression added to the cityscape. To this day, I don’t know if it was me, or the city itself. I think London recognized a poor soul and tried its best to welcome me to the British world. I think we stayed in London for three weeks, before proceeding to Paris.
I never been to Paris before, and it was even a more significant fantasy land to me than even London. Everything I thought I would love about Paris, was truly there in front of me. I think we stayed for three weeks and then decided to take a train to Rome. Rome only meant two things to me: Fellini and Pasolini - and that was it. I remember we took a train and we traveled with a French grandmother and her grandchild. They were eating cheese and bread and were incredibly polite and quiet. I took a nap on the train and woke up with an Italian grandmother and her Italian grandchild. She was screaming at him, and he was crying and hitting her over her entire body. At the same time, the grandmother was trying to cut pieces of dry salami for the child. I had to walk out of the cabin with Kimley, and we both discovered that we were surrounded by Italians. We were not in France anymore that’s for sure.
When we arrived in Rome, a good-looking young man immediately took our suitcases and told us to keep pace with him. We didn’t think twice if it was alright or not, in fact, I thought it was a Paul Bowles type of thing. So, of course, we followed him. He took us to a hotel that had marble floors, but no bathroom. I remember I had to piss, so I pissed in the sink by the side of my bed. I found Rome to be more Pasolini than Fellini, and I was profoundly impressed with the Roman police, because of the way they were dressed. The motorcycle cops had knee-length leather boots and carried small machine guns. Their helmets were beautifully designed, and I loved how they look. In fact, the entire police force was good-looking. Some even had a feather in their cap. I never come upon dandy cops before in my life. From Rome we went to Florence, which seemed like the perfect Italian city - I remember hearing the Style Council in all the pizza joints as well as the fine restaurants. We went to Venice, but only for a day. We were thinking of staying overnight, but the hotels were either crowded or very expensive. Also, the city was too beautiful for me. Ironically enough, at the time, there were posters and banners all over Venice, for an upcoming retrospective Futurism exhibition. The irony is that the Futurists wanted to pave Venice with cement. Now, Venice is still there (or barely), and Futurism is something out of the past.
From Florence, we went to Munich Germany. The first thing I saw when I left the train was a German with a Hitler mustache and wearing leather shorts. And beer. It seems Munich was very much drunk on beer. We went to a beer garden and ordered a beer. The beer came in huge glasses, which seemed obscene to me at the time.
Nevertheless, I drank the whole glass, and not precisely did I become intoxicated, but really full. The third surprise was the food that they served at our hotel. For breakfast, we had cold luncheon meats and soft-boiled eggs. It was pretty disgusting. My thoughts on Munich were that it was downtown ancient German culture. Also, it was spotless. The people and the streets were both immaculate. From there, we went to Hamburg, because the Beatles went to Hamburg. Also, my grandmother was from Hamburg as well. This port town was very impressive to me because we went to another beer garden and someone threw a glass of beer over our heads, and it smashed against the wall. I didn’t know if this was the usual Hamburg greeting for visitors, but I tipped my hat towards their aim. Also, Hamburg was very sexy, due to that both men and women wore leather pants. It was like the whole city was either pre-Beatle Hamburg look or more likely Jim Morrison fanatics. We then went to West Berlin, which at the time, appeared to be in the middle of East Germany. I remember being on the train and the German police came on with German Shepherds to check out our passports.
Once we arrived in Berlin, it felt like Los Angeles to me. The cops there wore short-sleeved shirts and seemed to be more casual. Also, the streets were wide, and unlike the streets of Europe. One thing that stays in my mind was going to a bookstore, and that store has a gigantic display of Herman Hesse books. It seemed that they re-issued the books with all Andy Warhol covers. At the time, I thought it was a weird mixture of having Warhol doing the Hesse covers, but then again, perhaps it is him going back to his roots as a graphic designer for book and album covers. Also, we visited a large record store, and I was amazed to see all the vinyl albums were unwrapped - in the words they weren’t shrink-wrapped like they are in the States. It’s the little things that make the big impressions while one travels.
After being in Berlin for a while, we went back to Paris and stayed there I think for three or four more weeks, and then back to London to fly back home. We intended to stay forever, but we both ran out of money. To this day, I don’t really plan ahead, the only reason I leave a place is either out of boredom, or the money ran out. But I did wear a suit every day on our tour of Europe. A year later I got some more money and went back to Europe again - this time alone. Yet, I was still in a Paul Bowles mood. I will be for the rest of my life.