I keep all the newsletters I send out in a binder, along with a sample card of what I have sent out, and my Christmas card list (dating back to 1987). They make an excellent summary of every year, which is why for the sake of my blog each year (from 2010 through 2018), I will feature a "retro-Christmas newsletter" about events that I experienced 20 years ago. Enjoy!
The Carillon Scholar
Christmas 1993 * La Maddalena, Sardinia
“I have sailed this impossible ocean
I have sailed this crazy sea
I can never be what you want,
whatever you want me to be”
Johnny Clegg, "I Can Never Be (What You Want)”
Compared to the amazing adventures of the previous two years, this year was somewhat of a let-down for me, but as I reflect on all that I experienced, I can honestly say that it wasn’t a bad year at all.
In January, I was excited about the inauguration of a Democratic president and probably was the only sailor on the USS ORION who was happy that day. Each time a controversy occurred in the news, some of the officers I worked for would always ask me, “Do you still like Clinton?” Uh, why wouldn’t I? I’m not a flaky, fair-weather person. I might not always agree with what the Democratic president does, but I much prefer when my party is in the White House. Despite what the naysayers say, I think Clinton is more Kennedy than Carter, and that would be just fine with me.
Starting in January, I had a persistent eye problem that the Squadron doctor (LT. Jensen) couldn’t figure out. Some shipmates thought I had pinkeye. Others gave a more obscene diagnosis. Basically, my eye was red, making me look like I haven’t slept in years or that I was some kind of demon. Anyhow, by April, LT Jensen said that if I cared about my eye at all, I needed to see the eye specialist at the Naval base in Naples. I had hesitated going because my supervisor kept telling me that it was a “boondoggle” and would make me look bad if I went. He threatened that I might not have my Squadron job when I got back. On top of this, the USS SIMON LAKE was due to arrive in late April for a transfer of duties as the ORION sailed back to Norfolk for decommissioning. I didn’t want to miss out. Anyhow, the gravity of what LT Jensen told me was enough to convince me to go. After leaving the eye doctor one day on a shuttle bus back to the barracks at Capodichino, the bus jerked to a stop. I looked out the window and saw two young men in white shirts and riding bicycles. One of them looked familiar…a classmate from 7th grade in Bellevue, Nebraska, whom I haven’t seen since the school year ended in 1985. After some amateur sleuthing around, I learned that the Mormon missionary was indeed my friend, John Adams, from Logan Fontanelle Junior High School in Bellevue, NE. I visited him at his Rome Mission on the way back to La Maddalena, Sardinia. This coincidence amazed me and really got me thinking that there must be something more to the universe than what atheists or religious people claim.
Travel was a big part of my year. I spent Valentine’s weekend in Nice, France on an MWR trip with some shipmates. The most annoying thing about traveling to France with Americans is that someone will inevitably bring up all the negative stereotypes Americans have about the French, which ticks me off. I have not found the French to be rude or arrogant. In fact, there was a man who worked the front desk of the hotel we stayed at near the beach who singled me out from the rest of the herd and asked me questions about Robert F. Kennedy. I was impressed that out of a group of Americans, he probably picked out the one Kennedy fan amongst us. We had a great conversation while the other Americans were out looking for rude French folks to tell the shipmates back in La Maddalena all about. Other than that, it was great to see beautiful Nice again with trips to Monaco and Monte Carlo casino as well as a perfume factory near the hillside village of Eze. I love the French Riviera!
In the summer, I went to sea with the USS SIMON LAKE to Gibraltar, which is a place I have wanted to see ever since I saw my favorite James Bond film in the summer of 1987: The Living Daylights. I got to admire the view from the top of the rock, watch the Barbary Apes terrorize the tourists offering bananas (some of the apes look like big, fat teddy bears), fail at downing one tot of bad rum, and went on a day trip to Tangiers, Morocco where we ate North African cuisine at a restaurant. I had to sit on my left hand throughout the meal so as to not offend any Arab diners who might glance our way. The mint tea was especially delicious. The young boys selling trinkets were persistent in wanting a sale on illegal items such as switchblade knives and tortoise shell drums. I left Morocco with only a book on Morocco and some photographs. I would’ve liked to have spent more than a half day there, though.
From Gibraltar, I flew to London for what was supposed to be my second Eurail trip, where I would pick up my Eurail pass at the USO in Paris and head to Scandinavia. I was interrogated by the British customs agent, took the train to Canterbury but decided not to stay the night and just continued on to Dover to catch a ferry to Calais. A late arrival in Calais meant that I had to sleep at the train station like other backpackers, hoping that no one would attack or rob me in the middle of the night. Then I caught the first train to Paris in the morning. I learned at the USO that my Eurail ticket had not arrived from Germany, so I decided to spend a few days in Paris before heading back to La Maddalena. I was disappointed because I had written a detailed itinerary for Scandinavia and had no idea what I wanted to see in Paris that I hadn’t seen in October 1992 (or 1988 or 1985). So, I rode random buses with no end goal in mind and just had a relaxing time, seeing Paris like a resident rather than like a tourist. I visited bargain stores, strolled around residential areas, relaxed in parks, and saw the view from the top of Notre Dame cathedral. It was a relaxing time in a great city.
In October, I finally made it to Prague, Czech Republic. The biggest shock was how cheap the prices were. It was 4 cents to ride the streetcar or subway or bus, I rented a studio apartment for $25 a night, a bottle of Coca-Cola was 23 cents (which cost more than $2 in any western European city), and I even got to see “Jursky Park” (“Jurassic Park” in English with Czech subtitles) for what was advertised as the most expensive movie ticket prices ever seen in the Czech Republic: $1.50! I loved the gothic architecture and layout of the streets in Prague. Some places I visited included the famous clock tower in the main square, Wencelas Square, Lennon’s Wall (someone had painted a portrait of John Lennon in graffiti style along a wall), Prague castle, and Charles Bridge (the one with all the statues). I stayed in a hostel the last night and had interesting conversations with two Aussies, one Brit, and one Dane. To me, that was probably the most memorable aspect of my trip because I love hearing what foreigners think of America and Americans, as well as hearing about what their life experiences were like. My shipmates tend to use all 30 days of their leave each year to visit family and friends back home and don’t understand why I spend my leave traveling Europe by myself. I love the people I get to meet on my travels and I also know that when I’m in college, I don’t want to regret the fact that I lived in Italy for 3 years and didn’t make a point to see as much of Europe as I’m able to see in three years.
The saddest news for me this year is that my temporary assignment to Submarine Squadron 22 has come to an end, as the SIMON LAKE requested me back so that they could send me to man the Palau Community Center for my final year in Italy. I love working in Squadron 22 and consider it a huge blessing, but all the officers I liked the most have transferred and many of the replacements have not been as good, so perhaps it’s for the best. At least I get to keep my barracks room at Paradiso, even though my commute to work includes walking for 20 minutes from the barracks complex to the pier in downtown La Maddalena, then a 30 minute ferry ride to Palau on the mainland of Sardinia, then a 10 minute walk to the Community Center. My job is to keep the center clean, to operate the snack bar, and keep the place operational. The Community Center is only for U.S. Navy personnel and their dependents, so that means I have to tell curious Italians or even American tourists that they can’t hang out there.
That sums up my year and I hope that you have a BUON NATALE and best wishes for a great 1994!