Click on the photo to enlarge
DOING THEIR OFFICE WORK
Click on the photo to enlarge
PIERRE CHECKS OUT THE VESPA
Click on the photo to enlarge
A WELCOME IN LYON
Click on the photo to enlarge
VAN GOGH'S PAINTING OF THE AMPHITHEATER
When you’re on a trip like this and you’re
meeting people who you’re going to depend on for a night or so,
and you’ve never seen them before, or they don’t know anyone
who knows you, it makes you feel alone, even though there’s people
all around you. It gives you a feeling of really being alone, -insecure.
If you could remain with them like for a month or so and get to know them,
their quirks and all, you’d get to feel more secure. So with meeting
new people all the time like we were doing and starting all over again
with the new people all the time, it gives you like a vacant feeling.
At least it did for me.
Most people don’t choose to have a life like that. They keep doing
what they’re doing, even though they’re not satisfied with
their life, -even if it’s deteriorating. Many times people would
say to us, “Oh! You guys got it good! You’ve got the perfect
deal. Always traveling. Meeting new people. It must be fun!”
Not so. “I’d like to say back to them, “No, you are
the ones that got it good. You are secure with your life, your friends,
your relatives and friends of friends. You’re doing it right. You
don’t have this strange curiosity to want to know how the world
works, how other people are doing things, making on with life.”
And those people would like to say back to me, “You don’t
know what my life is like, what I’m struggling with, what the future
looks like for me. I’m scared.”
Yes, a trip like this is a roller coaster. It’s uncomfortable. You
come to a new farm, a new village, and new people. It’s all strange
to you. And it’s strange too, for the people you meet. The only
thing that’s consistent is the people –they’re human
just like you. That’s about the only thing that’s the same.
So you have that to begin with. And you go from there.
The nice thing about all this for a curious guy like me is I can borrow.
I can see what people are doing in their life and if it rings true, I
can incorporate it into my own life right now and in the future. And I
can also see what really dumb things people are doing, I can ignore them,
and if I’m doing them myself I see how dumb it looks. These things
I witness are gifts for me that help me eliminate some of the loneliness
I feel on this trip. Makes it worthwhile.
Oh well, so far, I have already absorbed fragments of ideas about getting
on with life. During gray periods when nothing was happening I was saying
to myself, “Something big is going to happen. Maybe some revelation,
some kind of an epiphany, something that will point me in the right direction,
and it’s going to all snap into place. I’m going to see the
world in a new and different way.”
Well it did happen down in the south of France. It was in Arles, in Provence,
along the Rhone River, down near the coast, the Mediterranean. It was
the place where VanGogh made a lot of his paintings. It was an area where
the Romans, back before Christianity had come along, had established themselves
as a powerhouse. They brought new ideas to the peasants and tribes in
the area. The place became a trading post on the route from Rome to Spain.
Things were humming, the Romans even built an amphitheater in Arles and
of course they could do that with all the slave labor they got from their
The amphitheater was almost as big as the coliseum in Rome that you see
in the tourist brochures. You can imagine all the excitement that building
brought to the town, or I guess in those days you could call it a city,
maybe about 20,000 people. And Arles must’ve had everything that
you can expect in a city that size: the royalty, the military, the clergy,
the fast lane people, the barons, the slaves, the homeless, the arts,
and all that.
And then it fell all apart around the fifth century. I mean when the Roman
Empire fell, everything fell. Of course, it was gradual. Like everything
that falls apart, you don’t know it’s happening ‘til
someone taps on your shoulder and tells you so. The vandals, the barbarians
came in and tore down everything. Busted up the statues. They left a few
towers and pagan shrines that still stand today.
Since there was no longer any progress going on, no schools, no commerce,
the city of Arles shrunk back down to a village again. Prosperity vanished
and was replaced by the tribes quarreling amongst each other and with
other tribes. These vandals couldn’t destroy everything of course.
They let the wooden seats in the amphitheater fall apart and rot and eventually
the townspeople appropriated the marble and stone from the amphitheater
to build their own nearby lean-tos and shelters and temples. The magnificent
times were gone.
I remember in college, they called it the Dark Ages. Everything shrank
to rubble and stench. The town must’ve looked like a dirty ol’
But the human spirit was still there, and can’t be squelched as
they say, and in modern times now, Arles is a flourishing city again.
It took ‘em another 1,000 years or so.
Well, it was now a decade after WWII and allied bombers took their turn
at bombing Arles. It’s a shame, and rubble was still around the
While Rudi was out finding a store to replace the carburetor on the Vespa,
I strolled around the area of the old amphitheater. Over the centuries,
new dwellings had been built out of a lot of the marble and local stone.
In the backyard of one of the adjacent houses, I spotted a family clothes
line with towels and clothing fluttering in the breeze. Just adjacent
to it was an alley where several marble benches lined the alleyway near
I don’t know how the marble benches got there but I sat down on
It was quiet. Not like a thousand years ago when there was the roar of
human voices coming from the adjoining amphitheater; only the sound of
the shirts and underwear flapping nearby in an occasional gust of wind
from the clothesline. I lay down on my back and looked up at the fleecy
clouds and my thoughts turned to the past and what may have happened on
this very bench 1500 years ago. A vandal may have slaughtered a Roman
soldier on this bench, or a local young woman and her boyfriend may have
made love here. I sank into a coma-like dreamworld and let myself float
into a surreal existence where I could see a crazy vision of Romans, vandals,
and even modern people, all struggling with the same questions we all
ask about ourselves and our existence. And a question came into my mind,
but it’s strange, there was no question, in other words, it was
a sentence with no question mark at the end, it was more like a feeling,
like a yearning, like the question was yearning for a question.
Odd, wasn’t it?
If there was an answer, it came in the form of several answers to me over
the next few months. I had been wondering if what I was doing was right.
I mean, look I was in my late twenties, buzzing around Europe on a motor
scooter. I could’ve been working in downtown Baltimore, working
for big money at an ad agency. Whatdahell!
I needed to give myself justification for going on this trip; that nothing
was more important than what I was doing. I needed a permission that would
erase the hardships that I might encounter on this trip or in the future.
I needed a confirmation that this trip was correct.
After a while, doubts that
I had about this trip disappeared. The realization came to me that the
choices for the rest of my life would be based on what I would learn on
this trip- questions about myself, and questions about the existence that
I would lead in the future.
My life’s decisions would not depend any longer on what society
wanted me to do with my life, as long as their was no harm involved, but
what I wanted to do, based on what I would learn on this trip if I survived.
If I would keep going, and not give in to the fears and doubts that I
would be encountering, -I would find my answers.
As I lay there on that marble bench, carved out of marble some 1500 or
more years ago, I pictured the generations whose eyes had seen this bench,
and whose fingers had rubbed the marble on this bench, I lay still and
a message came to me.
To this point, back in Maryland, my life had been a continuing agenda.
“I’ve gotta do this, do that,” my personal notes would
My life had been a checklist. I was a product of others. My parents, my
teachers, my friends. I wasn’t a product of myself. The message
was a reprimand, and I heard this message, “Lead your own life.”
But how was I to know how to do that? How do you know how to lead, if
you are not sure where you are going and what the future holds for you?
I lay there on that bench, I don’t know how long. It was as though
centuries of war and turbulence, good times, and hurricanes had come and
gone. I was floating and suspended in a cloud of ancient mystery and modern
I know it’s a spooky story to tell, but I thought I would let you
know. Of course you may have already had such an experience. It may have
been during a walk in the wilderness or a stroll along the ocean surf,
or riding on a bus in downtown Baltimore. You can understand how you just
can’t put your finger on what you’re trying to explain. You
start the day as one person and the next day you are someone different.
But that’s what happened. And it stays that way for the rest of
I fell asleep trying to search out in my mind how I could “lead
my own life.”
An answer came to me. Although I rarely remember my own dreams, this is
what I remembered. In my dream, somehow the topic was disease. Yes, illness.
I have always been healthy so I don’t know how disease came into
the picture. What? It all sounds silly. The discussion in my dream was
what would be the opposite of disease.
It was ease.
Yes, “ease”. Rarely do people talk about ease. They talk about
disease. What is ‘ease’? It must be a state of mind you’re
in if you are not diseased. Dis-ease. We all talk about disease. Something
we’re all afraid of. But ease? Had I known ease? Is it even in our
English language? Ease? How do you call this thing ‘ease’
in other languages, or do we know what ‘ease’ is?
The dream said again to “be myself”. I would have to be ‘at
ease’ if I would forever ‘lead my own life.’
Yes, I know it sounds simple. “To have ease, you will lead your
own life.” Does it mean you should become sort of an island and
filter out the world? Isn’t this what the monks do in the monastery?
But, I was interested in experiencing the world, not running away from
it. How could I accomplish this “ease” thing?
The big question is, “Did I carry through with this message on this
trip?” Yes, I did. For example, all my life to this point was a
schedule. I was always “on time” looking at my watch or looking
at clocks. In Arles I stood up from the bench, took off my watch, and
threw it over the wall of the amphitheater. I began living the moment,
with ease. I have never worn a watch since. I am no longer the tense person
with an agenda. I have chosen to lead my own life, with ease, sometimes
much to the displeasure of the world I live in. I have learned to resist
that great magnet that draws you back into the fold. I have learned to
be in control of my “ease.” There is no alcohol, peyote, herbal
medicines or drugs.
From that day on, I became self-directed. Yes, all through Europe and
North Africa and down into black Africa, I looked at the world with ease.
I sought after people on my trip who looked at the world with ease. I
didn’t find many, and the most I found were not associated with
advanced societies. But not always. Some were involved in complex lifestyles.
But they had “The Ease.” As I continue this writing about
my trip, I’ll be introducing you to some of them.
Yes. I carefully observed them like a detective. It surprised me that
they were of the same thinking as me. I had a silent admiration of them,
but I rarely discussed it with them. This “ease” is like an
apparition. If you acknowledge the presence of the apparition, it will
fade and disappear. It’s something few people acknowledge. But it’s
As I write this, I have returned to the USA from my trip. Will “The
Ease” continue to be with me? A life at ease may be looked on as
irresponsible, and uncaring, even egoistic. But in the end, I must be
responsible to myself. We will see.
O.K., on to my story.
The rolling hills of southern
France and the landscape of grape vineyards stretched out before us. Each
evening on our way to the coast we would look for a farm on the horizon,
ride up to the back door and introduce ourselves as a German and American
touring the world on a motor scooter.
I know it sounds crazy, but Rudi’s formula for traveling the world
on practically no money worked, at least for the two of us. If you want
to try the formula out, as I mentioned before, at least have a guitar
with you, even if you can’t play it, everyone seems to play a guitar
or who has a friend who does. Let them play your guitar, or theirs if
they have one handy. I remember as a kid, my parents used to listen to
the comedian ”Jack Benny” on the radio. He carried a violin
around with him. He couldn’t play it, but it sure served to break
barriers as a way to get to know people.
With Rudi’s formula, it didn’t matter if the farmers were
prosperous or tenants, no one turned us down. They would give us permission
to sleep in the barn. Before the sun went down, we would start practicing
our songs in the hayloft, the children of the family would come over to
listen in, and pretty soon the husband would come over and say something
like, “C’mon! let’s have this songfest over in the house!”
“When we got to the kitchen, a steaming soup was on the table, and
an extra bottle of their best wine, and midway through the meal, we would
see the father whisper to one of the kids, who would bolt out the door
and on his bicycle ride to all the neighbors to invite them to come over
for the evening.
After a musical fest that lasted long into the night, the wife would say,
“You two shouldn’t have to sleep in the straw, I’ve
prepared a bed upstairs for you!” In the morning we washed up with
hot water and were invited for breakfast and when we said our goodbyes,
they often presented us with a sack of bread and cheese, some fruit, and
a bottle of wine.
We reached Avignon in a really
strong downpour of rain, and drove the scooter into a large garage doorway
that had “Vespa Agency” written above it.
“World Tour!” A mechanic said as he looked over at our windshield
sign from his workbench.
“On our way to Africa!” I shouted over the roar of the motor
as I turned it off.
“Been a long ways?” He said, curiously looking at the souvenir
stickers and paintings on the side of the scooter.
“Well, Rudi’s been down to India, and I’m from America,
so between us we’ve really seen a lot of country. We’re determined
to make the tour of the world!”
“Where did you start?”
“Rotterdam. on the 25th of May,” Rudi answered.
The shop was filled with motor scooters, some being repaired, and others
brand new. “Well, it looks like we pulled into the right place to
get out of the rain!” Rudi said.
“How do you like the Vespa?” The mechanic asked.
“Fine! Only had to clean a few spark plugs and we can do that ourselves.”
“Well, fellows, can I do anything for you?”
“We need a couple of our cables adjusted, and an oil change and
the carburetor looked at.” Rudi said.
“We’ll get to work on it right away,” The Pierre, the
mechanic said. “From the looks of that rain out there, you guys
are going to have to sit around a little while anyways!” And then
he spotted the guitars. “You guys play guitar?” He questioned.
“Sure do,” I said.
“Say, there’s a Vespa club meeting down here tonight at our
place, and they’re going to show movies. I bet you guys would like
to come. And I bet Monsieur Boulonge would like you to play us a couple
songs. How ‘bout it?”
“Sounds good,” I said, looking to Rudi for confirmation.
“Good, I’ll call him right away!”
In a few short minutes, Jean Boulonge was down from his adjacent scooter
sales office to talk with us. He was a man in his middle thirties, muscular,
and full of life. “Hello, fellows!” He greeted us with a powerful
handshake. “You fellows speak French?”
“I do, and Rudi’s getting along pretty well.”
“How about German?”
“That’s much better!” Rudi said.
I remembered that the Germans had occupied the southern coast of France
for four years during the war. He must’ve learned his German then.
“We’re glad to have you fellows with us,” He continued
in German, “Pierre has told me all about your world tour! How about
coming to our Vespa meeting tonight?”
“We’d like that!”
“I hear you play folk tunes; will you entertain us with a few tonight?”
We nodded that we would, and I asked, “Is this a regular club you
have in this place?”
“This is the shop where we repair scooters right here, but once
a month we use it for meetings.”
“Only scooter drivers?” Rudi asked
“Yes; we have about 150 scooters in Avignon, and at least half of
the owners belong to our club. We go for Sunday afternoon drives, and
on picnics, and sometimes we have a “gymkhana,” where we put
up obstacles for the contestants to drive around, or through, in the least
amount of time.”
“Sounds like fun,” I said, “Do they have these scooter
clubs all over France?”
“Sure,” He said in his enthusiastic way, “They have
them all over the world!”
“The world?” Rudi asked. And we looked at each other, both
with the same idea in mind.
“Do you think they would like to talk with us in different countries?”
I asked Jean.
“You bet your life they would!” He smiled, “We’re
glad to see you here, aren’t we Pierre?” He said, glancing
over to his mechanic, and motioning for him to bring an emblem of their
club. “Here boys, this is a souvenir from our club; you put this
on your scooter - - and then we can travel the world with you!”
I looked at the metal emblem. It read “Vespa Club of Avignon”
and it pictured and insect flying over a map of France. “What’s
this bumble bee represent?” I asked him.
“That’s not a bumble bee,” He laughed. “It’s
a wasp! This is an Italian scooter you have, and Vespa means wasp in Italian.
He smiled and gave the plaque to Pierre, who began riveting it to the
front of our scooter. “Let’s go have an aperitif!” He
smiled. “We’ll celebrate your arrival at Avignon!” And
the four of us went next door to a small bar where he ordered us each
an aperitif called “Raphael”.
“How about you fellows having dinner at our house tonight?”
“Thanks!” we answered together.
“And a place to sleep. You got one?” Jean asked.
“No, we don’t,” Rudi answered.
“Fine!” you can both stay with us. We have an extra room and
a big double bed.” He seemed to get a big kick out of the fact he
was going to have a German and American sleeping in a double bed in his
We finished our drinks. Pierre, the mechanic headed back to the shop where
he said he would get our scooter in top shape, and we headed home with
“This is Rohn Engh and Rudi Thurau,” He threw an arm around
each of us as he introduced us to his wife, Florence.
“Pleased to meet you, Ma’am,” We both said, as she motioned
for us to sit at the dinner table.
“They’re camping out here with us tonight!” Jean smiled
to his wife, and she gave an approving smile as she poured our wine.
We talked about scooters most of the meal. I never knew there was so many
people enthused about motor scooters until I met Jean Boulogne.
“And every year here in Europe, we have an international rally.
My wife and I are going, and some of the members of our club. We’re
taking a week off for vacation to go!”
“Where’s it going to be?” Rudi asked.
“Barcelona, in late August. It’s sponsored by the Vespa club
of Europe. Do you think you fellows can make it?” He asked, hoping
our answer would be a “yes”.
“No, we hope to be in Africa by then,” I said.
“Well, we’ll be thinking about you,” Madame Boulonge
said, who didn’t seem to talk very much. She sure cooked a good
“You fellows picked a good means of travel. You know that, don’t
you?” Jean said, breaking off a large chunk of bread and smearing
it on his plate to wipe up the remaining sauce.
‘It doesn’t take much gasoline!” Rudi said.
“Sure, that’s true, but I mean the sheer enjoyment of riding
one of those things! My wife and I look forward to Sunday afternoons to
go riding on our scooters. You feel the whole countryside around you.
And you fellows traveling around the world are going to feel a lot more
of the world than if you were in a Jeep or a station wagon or some kind
of automobile.” He poured us another glass of wine. “Here’s
to a fun time at the club meeting tonight!” Jean said as we clinked
“Will there be any girls there tonight?” Rudi asked.
Along the coast to Spain