Barbara and I courted in 1972 under painful circumstances – my body was healing from a fall down a mountain. Bone knitting and affection were helped by us being kindred spirits and we became close quickly. She wanted adventure, and I was an adventurer. So, in early 1973 we set off for a several-month wander in Europe and North Africa.
Traveling with Barbara made exploration and life exciting -she was lively, engaging, witty and brave. My hearing was not good but hers was perfect. My language skills were not that great either but I was more a gabbler than she. We did just fine when communicating in French or Spanish or Italian: Barbara did the listening and I did the talking. But she was really good at Fake Swedish.
We were not compatible in all travel needs. Unlike prospector me, she was very fussy about toilets. She abhorred the French and Spanish style squatting WC (“doobler vay say”) even when they were clean. Filthy squat-type loos were the style in North Africa, though. So part of my job was to find acceptable American-style toilets. Yet, I was not that good at WC reconnaissance work, being shy to march into a cafe and check out toilets without providing some patronage in repayment. But with flashing smile and pretty face Barbara could get away with such cheekiness.
She was very curious. In London, we walked beside an elderly Rolls Royce parked on a suburban street and Barbara just had to check if the door of the car was unlocked. It was, and she opened the door to peer inside the car; meanwhile I hurriedly tried to scoot us away, much embarrassed. The next thing we knew, we were being escorted into a nearby house by a burly bloke who introduced to a party of folk having a party. The owner of the car made much of our bad manners and “American” rudeness, and for a few worrying minutes, it seemed that things would not go well with us. The image that comes to my mind now is one of those tense, suspenseful scenes in a horror movie ending in pillage, gore, maverick eyeballs and fugitive limbs. But we won release by making the party laugh – I could be jolly and Barbara had a sometimes scathing, yet always clever, wit.
Barbara was beautiful: lissome, long blond hair, and fair of face. She attracted a lot of attention. In North Africa we would be walking and I would find myself in eye-contact duels with local men as they checked her out. But Barbara was well able to fend for herself and if my eye wavered from theirs, hers did not. Neither did her scorn waver if she felt insulted. In Fez, one man stopped me and and offered me money for her. I blustered with anger but Barbara stopped the man’s nonsense by scoffing at the paltry thousands he offered. At such times I would have to hurry us along our journey…
Barbara was not afraid of protecting herself, as she showed vigorously in Rome. It was our practice to find a building with a door bell labels advertising cheap rooms. Barbara would stand guard with our backpacks while I explored the prospective rooms. One evening I was looking at a room in an apartment at the top of a tall building when I heard thuddings and whackings and yelling -Barbara’s voice mixed with those of a man. Rushing downstairs I saw a youth cowering beside an older lady who was yelling at him. Barbara yielded a plastic poster tube in her hand, which she had grabbed from her pack. Apparently the boy had pinched Barbara’s bum – an insulting practice of Italian men at that time, intended to show interest and admiration in the pinched woman, who were often tourists. But after months of North African and Italian men ogling her, Barbara would have none of his impertinent admiration – she had grabbed the picture tube and whacked the youth a few times with it. The old lady, checking on the yelling, had then added her own chastisement to the kid to augment Barbara’s feedback. There was nothing more I needed do or say.
We traveled as if we were married. When it came to finding rooms, if people objected to us wanting our own room we moved on to find another room. This custom worked well most of the time. But after a few grueling days of travel from Morocco, we arrived tired in Oran, Algeria, and found that there were few hotel rooms in Oran; Algeria being focused on the welfare of its people, rather than the comfort of tourists. After being turned away from many hotels we found a room at one unpleasantly seedy place. The man checking us in sneered at our non-married state but assured us that he had a room available for us with a “marital” double bed. Dumping our packs on the floor of the horrible room, we collapsed with relief onto the bed – and I then slipped off my side of the bed and fell onto the floor. The marital “double bed” was actually a double mattress on a single-sized bed frame.
Traveling with Barbara persuaded me that she was a wonderful travel and life mate: after returning to Canada, we formally qualified for a marital bed by becoming wed in September 1973.