20 years have passed since 1989, the tumultuous year in which we witnessed several earth shattering events that some say, changed the world. 1989 was also memorable year in many other ways for me, It was the year when I spent a part of the summer working on the Jersey Shore, and another part of it with my friends from the “movement” in Italy, finding some time in between to wander along the eastern seaboard of continental US (and a little bit of Canada), with a backpack and a 15 day Greyhound Pass, finding my way up north to Quebec City and down south to the southernmost point of continental US – Key West. I had also the pleasure of seeing the city of my dreams – Paris, for the first time, spending a day wandering around the streets, en route to Padua.
The year for me had begun with the madness of a drunken Hogmanay in the company of a few friends, in a small pub in what is normally a sober Port Charlotte, on the Isle of Islay. The early days of January that followed were first filled with the worry and anticipation of the first University exams I was meant to sit for. The worry and effort I had put in turned out to be all for nothing – a nation-wide educator’s strike meant the exams couldn’t take place! The wet winter days of January and February, although fairly unpleasant, were maybe more earable than one would have anticipated, where I was, in the west of Scotland – so much so that it left the ski slopes in the highlands without the snow necessary for their survival. In fact the only snowfall I encountered was the 7 inches that fell over a weekend in late autumn (during the mid-term break in early November) and in Spring during the Easter break.
Spring brought the welcome blooming of Daffodils and Narcissus, blue skies and lots of sunshine – allowing us to spend many of the days preparing for the final exams on the lawn outside the library. The Easter break saw me spending a week on the Essex coast, as a guest of my classmate Jason, in a 300 year old house in Harwich, wooden beams and all, that his father had just moved into. Harwich is notable as one of the ports in which the Mayflower, which brought the Pilgrim Fathers to the US, was based in, as well as being the home town of Christopher Jones, the Master of the Mayflower. I had the opportunity of wandering around the coastal areas of Essex with Jason, stopping at places with names synonymous with the Victorian era, when it was fashionable to spend holidays by the seaside, in places such as Clacton-on-Sea, Southend-on-Sea, Mistley, Manningtree, Chelmsford and Maldon. At the end of that trip, I got on a bus to Colchester, to explore the old Roman town and its castle, on the way to London, where I spent a couple of days putting up at the Youth Hostel in Westminster, just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, before making my way back up to Glasgow.
Having been introduced to the Communion and Liberation (CL) movement by Fabio, an Italian exchange student from Padua, I found myself making trips in late Spring to attend meetings in Cambridge. It was during one of the weekends in Cambridge that we got up to the news of the events on Tiananmen. Watching the chaotic scenes on the BBC news brought a chill to our spines, as we sat quietly contemplating the carnage on the television. In the days that followed, a picture emerged, of the man standing in front of the column of tanks as if to impede their progress, which became a symbol for many of us. The end of Spring meant exams, packing up to move out of the Hall of Residence, and a day trip to the Isle of Arran.
In Europe, 1989 proved to be a significant year with a chain of events that started the momentum for what had seemed unimaginable – the fall of communism in Europe. The first free and fair elections ever held in Communist Europe, in Poland in early June, led to the chain of events which saw Hungary dismantling the Hungarian People’s Republic and opening its borders with East Germany, the fall of the symbol of the Iron Curtain – the Berlin Wall and the overthrow and demise of Ceauşescu in Romania – the first few tiles in the stack of dominoes that brought an abrupt end to the era of the Cold War that I had spent the previous 25 years growing up in.
The summer saw me headed to the Jersey Shore, on a J1 visa – that allowed me to work in the US on an exchange programme of sorts. Spending a night at New York City’s YMCA when I arrived was an experience by itself, a primer to the adventure that lay ahead. The train journey the following morning, that took the group of us to Ocean Grove, NJ, was a seemingly slow journey after the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. The adventures related to the lady in the red pick-up truck that I would spend my next month and a half working for are a chapter in itself. After that, I went solo, on a 15 day Greyhound pass, on an journey that began in the Big Apple, in the mixed dorm of a Youth Hostel, onto the Niagara Falls, crossing the Rainbow Bridge for a dime to Canada and the cities of Toronto, Quebec and Montreal, on then to Boston, and an endless journey through Atlanta, through Mobile onto New Orleans, then to Miami Beach, and onto the Keys to Key West, back up to St. Petersburg in Florida, Savannah, and all the way back to New York City. I would have made a longer journey across the US if not for Italy calling me.
Back in London, I plotted the next stage of my summer’s adventures and off to Padua in Italy I went, first making sure I stopped by Paris – and the Pompidou Centre. In Padua, I spent some time staying with Fabio, exploring the old streets, the market square near the University that hosts the first ever purpose built anatomical theatre, the ruins of the Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto left his mark on, before setting off on the journey up the Dolomites on Fabio’s trusty orange Alfa Romeo to the alpine setting of Corvara, in the shadow of Sassongher, where students from various parts of Europe, and Latin America had gathered to attend the summer meeting of CL. The trek the group made during the week up to the Rifugio Lagazuoi (2752 m) was a good way to experience the dolomites. After lunch of packed sandwiches and red wine on the terrace of the Refuge, the sudden change of weather, in which a thick canopy of clouds descended on the mountain, meant a change of plan as the cable car back down to Corvara seemed the only safe option.
Down the mountains after the week in Corvara in which Fabio took a scenic route, the views were one of the most spectacular I have seen up to that point in my life. Back in Padua, I found the time to visit Venice twice, once for the Regatta Storica, spend an evening with Alceste, his accordion and a group of singing students at Jesolo, and take a couple of day trips to Verona and Ferrara. After some weeks in Padua, I said goodbye to Fabio and made my way to Florence, the city of Michelangelo’s David and the Uffizi, which houses Botticelli’s masterpieces The Birth of Venus and Primavera, and never ending galleries of Renaissance art, and of course the beautiful Duomo and its Baptistery. After Florence, it was off to Milan, to meet up with Claudio and of course Leonardo da Vinci’s L’Utima Cena – the Last Supper, before booking myself on a chartered flight from Malpensa Airport back to Luton. The flight did not take off as scheduled due to a hydraulic fault on what seemed an aging Boeing 737, and I got to spend a night at Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
It was back to school again after that, the final year … moving into a new Hall of Residence – this time on campus, catching up with friends that were still there and meeting up with new friends. The changing of seasons, the red and gold of autumn, meant it was term time again and that the Summer of Adventure was over. The Autumn was one which saw a wave that swept over the Eastern Bloc, thawing the Cold War – the dismantling of the border fence on Hungary’s border with Austria, provided an escape route for many East Germans, Hungary was transformed into the Hungarian Republic in October, followed by Erich Honecker’s fall in East Germany which led to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall in November, Czechoslovakia followed Hungary in December. In Romania, events took a bloody turn when troops were ordered to shoot protesters. The troops however changed sides, and I remember seeing the scenes of fighting on the streets on television, as Ceauşescu’s trial and summary execution. It was a surreal experience watching the swiftness with which the once seemingly solid communist regimes were dismantled one by one … until eventually, the mighty Soviet Union itself gave way to the Commonwealth of Independent States two years later.