One of the innumerable pleasures that travel brings a young, single person is that your social life picks up immeasurably. Granted, it's more expensive than a blind date, but it's frequently cheaper than a computer dating service. And, you don't have to resemble Robert Redford to be successful.
These foreign encounters can't be planned. Visit a local museum or see the sights of a city and you meet interesting women. They are courteous, cheerful, love foreign accents. A favorite pastime is to guess your hometown, and although they've usually been off by a continent or two, I have never felt it incumbent upon me to correct them.
"You must be from Australia," a pretty young woman said to me once. "Yes, Melbourne," I replied without hesitation. And, a delightful evening followed.
Not surprisingly, I've begun to travel more and more. Whenever I return home, my address book is inevitably thicker than my suitcase. When the customs agent at the airport asks, "Do you have anything to declare?" I usually sign, "I'm in love."
All of this unnerves my mother who asks, "Why can't you meet a girl who doesn't live 3,000 miles away?"
But, really, I tell her, I don't travel to meet women. I don't go to bars, rarely frequent discos, and I can't converse in any language, save English. I travel to see the world, visit exotic places, and if I meet a woman, well, that's nice, too.
Why does it happen? I travel alone and thus am susceptible to foreign encounters. I get lost easily and must summon help frequently. A map, even if it's in English, is foreign to me. I don't have a watch. I take lots of public transportation. Which is how I met Polly.
Riding through Hong Kong, I gazed out of the bus window to watch the scenery go by. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected a young Chinese woman smiling at me. I smiled back. She giggled and asked, "You, American?" I beamed, "Me, American." From then on, it was terrific. A real chatterbox, Polly was particularly interesting because she knew more English four-letter words than three-, five-, six- or seven-letter words. The more she talked, the more I knew that here was a girl that you did not bring home to mother -- and, definitely, not to father.
Still, her giggle was infectious, and we went out to dinner and dancing. As we danced, she told me the names of all of the other men she knew from around the world. It was a very long list. I returned a year later, and called to invite her for dinner. Again, it was a memorable evening, especially when she revealed that she couldn't remember me from the year before. I've always tried to be considerate and understanding -- especially since my trip to Rome.
In Rome, I stayed in a hostel room containing four beds. One morning my three American roommates left, and four beautiful Scandinavian women arrived. I graciously offered to give up my bed and move across the hall so the four friends would not have to split up. Gathering up my belongings, I shuffled across the hall, reminding the girls that my name was Saul Schachter, SAUL SCHACHTER.
All was serene until later that evening when I was dressing to go out. I discovered that the shirt I needed was hanging on the line outside the women's window. I knocked on the door, and one of them called, "Come in." Although it was 9 p.m., the room was dark and the girls were in bed. One whispered to me that they had had a long train ride and were exhausted. I apologized for barging in and explained softly, "I just want to get my shirt. I left it outside your window."
"Don't worry," she replied, "I'll get it." She rose from her bed stark naked and calmly walked over to the window to retrieve my shirt. I was delirious. So delirious, in fact, that I left a pair of socks on the line for the next day.
I knew these women for only a few minutes. But I knew Maria even less. In fact, I never met her. When I was in Italy a few years ago, I befriended a 12 year-old boy, and we began writing to each other. Enrico's letters were translated by his 20-year-old teacher. Soon his teacher, whose name was Maria, began adding her own personal little tidbits at the end of Enrico's letters. As the months went by, Enrico's letters were getting shorter and Maria's were getting longer.
Soon I was receiving pictures of Maria's family, and each one of them would add their own greetings. These letters were getting very crowded. I figured that Maria was planning for a June wedding. She invited me to Rome the next time I was in the neighborhood, and I did return the following year -- to see Enrico -- but Maria was away. I guess I'll have to return the tuxedo and call off the reception.
There were other memorable women. There was Marina, whom I met at a synagogue in Moscow. There was Nina, whom I met in Oslo when I was lost, and Cathy, a Chinese woman I met while I was studying Chinese in Shanghai. All of them were very kind, but my interest never went beyond friendship. That is, until I met and fell for Teresa from Dublin.
I met Teresa at the Dublin Horse Show in 1978. Teresa was sitting beside me, and since I didn't know how to keep score, I would politely ask her. Teresa had long brown hair and a delightful Irish brogue, and she spoke so soothingly that I started making plans to cancel my flight home. It started to rain, but I never noticed. I subsequently had dinner at her home, where she burned everything, and her mother made us sandwiches.
I returned to New York, and during the next year we kept the postal system busy with our frequent letters. We made plans to meet in Athens during the summer of 1979. At the appointed time and place, Teresa failed to show, but she left word with a mutual Greek friend that she was on the island of Poros. I took the next ferry to Poros, but found no Teresa. She was on the island of Paros. It seems that with her Irish brogue and our friend's Greek accent, the vowels got lost in the translation.
I never saw her in Greece. Since she was returning to Dublin, I sent a letter ahead that I'd be arriving in Ireland in one month. When I arrived, Teresa was not around. Ireland had had a terrible mail strike, and my letter never arrived. Teresa was off working 20 miles away as a nurse on the 8 p.m.-to-8 a.m. shift. During my 10 days in Ireland, I saw her three times for a total of three hours.
Faced with these frustrations, Teresa and I sensed that this relationship was not going to work out. Her letters became fewer and fewer. Nevertheless, her mother's enthusiasm for me never seemed to wane. When I hadn't heard from Teresa in a while, her mother would write to me and apologize for her daughter's negligence. She sent me birthday cards and letters telling about Teresa's activities. It got to the point where I was confiding in friends that I hadn't heard anything lately from Teresa's mother.
We planned to meet in Hamburg the summer of 1981. Teresa was working there for the season, and I was making my second around-the-world tour. After I left China (and saying goodbye to Cathy), I went to Hong Kong (where I said hello to Polly). Then, it was on to Hamburg to see Teresa. Unfortunately, I was bumped off my flight in India, where I was stranded for a week, and flew out just when Teresa had proceeded on to another destination. We never saw each other.
In September, Teresa's indefatigable mother sent me a Jewish New Year's card, and I promptly sent her a calendar of all the Jewish holidays so she should not be remiss in her obligations to her adopted son-in-law.
Teresa is supposed to come to New York this summer. I hope I recognize her when she arrives.