Die Coffee-Methode - Energize your Life (German Edition)
For six weeks, we followed the Steves game plan. We shared squalid bunks with other young travelers from Denmark, Australia, Canada and Japan. In the stately public parks of Paris, we ate rotisserie chickens with our bare hands. One stifling afternoon at the Colosseum in Rome, we watched a worker slam his ladder against the edge of an arch and break off some ancient bricks. He looked over at us, looked down at the bricks, kicked dirt over them and kept working.
Once, I left my underwear on a Mediterranean beach overnight and, since I could not afford to lose a pair, had to go back and pick it up the next day, in full view of all the sunbathers. Wherever we went, Rick Steves was with us. We seemed to have entered the world of his slides: the fruit markets and overnight trains, the sunny French river under the ancient Roman aqueduct. Sometimes our European hosts, with the quiet pride of someone who once met Elvis, told us stories about Steves. He was a gentleman, they said, a truly good man, and he always came in person to check out their hotels, and he never failed to ask them how their children were doing.
By the end of our trip, we were completely broke. We flew home looking ragged, shaggy, weather-beaten and exhausted. But of course Steves was right: Our lives were never the same. We were still young Americans, but we felt liberated and empowered, like true citizens of the world. The most important things we learned all had to do with home. As the English writer G.
I began to realize how silly and narrow our notion of exceptionalism is — this impulse to consider ourselves somehow immune to the forces that shape the rest of the world. The environment I grew up in, with its malls and freeways, its fantasies of heroic individualism, began to seem unnatural. I started to sense how much reality exists elsewhere in the world — not just in a theoretical sense, in books and movies, but with the full urgent weight of the real.
And not just in Europe but on every other continent, all the time, forever. I began to realize how much I still had to learn before I could pretend to understand anything. Some people get there themselves, or their communities help them. But I needed him, and I am eternally glad I was dragged that day to see him talk. Steves answered his front door slightly distracted. I had come in the middle of his breakfast preparations. He was stirring a block of frozen orange juice into a pitcher of water. This was April , exactly 20 years after my first trip to Europe.
I had come to see Steves in the most exotic place possible: his home. He lives just north of Seattle, in a town so rainy it has a free umbrella-share program. There is nothing particularly exotic about the house itself. It has beige carpeting, professionally trimmed shrubs and a back deck with a hot tub. What was exotic was simply that Steves was there. He had just returned from his frenetic speaking tour of the United States and would be leaving almost immediately on his annual trip to Europe. For now, he was making breakfast: frozen blueberries, Kashi cereal, O.
But of course, he could not. Steves is gone too much, yo-yoing between the misty forests of the Pacific Northwest and the sun-baked cathedrals of Europe. Every year, no matter what else is going on, Steves spends at least four months practicing the kind of travel he has preached for odd years: hauling his backpack up narrow staircases in cheap hotels, washing his clothes in sinks, improvising picnics. He is now 63, and he could afford to retire many times over. Among his colleagues, Steves is a notorious workaholic.
On long car rides, he sits in the back seat and types op-eds on his laptop. His relentless hands-on control of every aspect of his business is what has distinguished the Rick Steves brand. It is also, obviously, exhausting — if not for Steves, then at least for the people around him.
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He has two children, now grown, and for much of their childhoods, Steves was gone. He was building his company, changing the world. For very long stretches, his wife was forced to be a single mother. She and Steves divorced in after 25 years of marriage. Every summer, when the family joined Steves in Europe, his pace hardly slackened: They would cover major cities in 48 hours, blitzing through huge museums back to back.
The kids complained so much, on one trip, that Steves finally snapped — if they were so miserable, he said, they could just go sit in the hotel room all day and play video games. They remember this day as heaven. One year, while Steves was away, the children converted to Catholicism.
His son, Andy Steves, eventually went into the family business: He now works as a tour guide and even published a European guidebook. Steves is fully aware that his obsessive work ethic is unusual. He admits that he has regrets. But he cannot make himself stop. He has the fervor of the true evangelist: The more people he meets, the more cities he visits, the more lives he might change. At one point, as we talked, he pulled out the itinerary for his coming trip — from Sicily to Iceland, with no down time whatsoever.
Just looking at it made him giddy. What would I do if I stayed home? Not much. Nothing I would remember. In his house, Steves offered up a little show and tell. He pointed out an antique silver cigarette lighter shaped like the Space Needle. He sat down at his baby grand piano and lost himself, for a few happy minutes, playing Scarlatti. He took me to a room filled with books and reached up to a very high shelf. When Steves was 13, he decided, for no apparent reason, to conduct a deep statistical analysis of the Billboard pop charts.
The lines were multicolored and interwoven — it looked like the subway map of some fantastical foreign city. You could see, at a glance, the rising and falling fortunes of the Beatles red and Creedence Clearwater Revival black and Elvis Presley dots and dashes. Steves kept this up for three years, taping together many pieces of graph paper, and in the end he summarized the data in an authoritative-looking table that he typed on the family typewriter.
This is what was in that binder: a systematic breakdown of the most successful bands from to , as determined by the objective statistics of an analytical adolescent weirdo. Steves laughed. It was ridiculous. But it was also a perfect window into his mind. Even at 13, a powerful energy was coiled inside him — an unusual combination of obsession and precision, just waiting for some worthwhile project to burst out in.
And that, coincidentally, was exactly when he found it: the project of his life. In the summer of , when Steves was 14, his parents took him to Europe. They owned a business tuning and importing pianos, and they wanted to see factories firsthand. Steves approached this first trip abroad with the same meticulous energy he brought to his Billboard graphs. As he traveled around the continent, he recorded the essential data of his journey on the backs of postcards: locations, activities, weather, expenses.
One day, Steves spent 40 cents on fishing gear. Another, he met a year-old man who had witnessed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. To keep everything in order, Steves numbered the postcards sequentially. He still has them all packed lovingly into an old wooden box. On that same formative trip, the Steves family visited relatives in Norway. They happened to be there in July , when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Europe was a crash course in cultural relativity. In a park in Oslo, he had an epiphany: The foreign humans around him, he realized, were leading existences every bit as rich and full as his own.
That first trip set the course for everything that followed. When Steves was 18, he went back to Europe without his parents. Soon, life in America became a series of interludes between travel. He taught piano to earn money, then stretched that money as far as he possibly could, sleeping on church pews and park benches, in empty barns and construction zones, from Western Europe to Afghanistan. He turned his cheapness into a science.
Instead of paying for a hotel room in a city, Steves would use his Railpass and sleep on a train for the night — four hours out, four hours back. He would stuff himself on free breakfast bread, then try to eat as little as possible for the rest of the day. Naturally, he recorded all this, and today he has an impressive archive of old travel journals.
Their pages preserve, in tiny handwriting, shadowy young dissidents in Moscow, diarrhea in Bulgaria, revolution in Nicaragua. In his 20s, Steves brought his wide-roaming wisdom back to the United States. He started to supplement his piano teaching with travel seminars. His signature class, European Travel Cheap, ran for six hours. Steves could have talked longer than that, but it struck him as impractical for his students. In Europe, he rented a nine-seat minibus and started to lead small tours. Eventually, his seminars and tour notes morphed into his books.
It had no ISBN and looked so amateurish that bookstores assumed it was an early review copy. This was the birth of the Rick Steves empire. Rick Steves both is and is not his TV persona. Offscreen, he allows himself to be much more explicitly political. He has the passion of the autodidact. Growing up, Steves led a relatively sheltered existence: He was a white, comfortable, middle-class baby boomer in a white, comfortable, middle-class pocket of America.
Travel did for him what he promises it will do for everyone else: It put him in contact with other realities. He saw desperate poverty in Iran and became obsessed with economic injustice. He studied the war industry and colonial exploitation. In the early days, Steves injected political lessons into his European tours. Sometimes he would arrive in a city with no hotel reservations, just to make his privileged customers feel the anxiety of homelessness. In Munich, he would set up camp in an infamous hippie circus tent, among all the countercultural wanderers of Europe.
Today, Steves is more strategic. His most powerful tool, he realizes, is his broad appeal. He has an uncanny knack for making serious criticism feel gentle and friendly. But other nations have some pretty good ideas too. Steves learned this strategy, he said, from his early days running tours, living with the same people for weeks at a time. Survival required being pleasant. Instead, he pointed out different perspectives with a smile. He became fluent in the needs of American tourists. I want to preach to organizations that need to hear this, so I need to compromise a little bit so the gatekeepers let it through to their world.
This balancing act has become increasingly difficult over the past two decades, in a world of terrorism, war, nationalism and metastasizing partisanship. After the Sept. They canceled tours and cut back budgets. Steves, however, remained defiantly optimistic. He promised his staff that there would be no cuts, no layoffs and no shift in message. He insisted that a world in crisis needed travel more, not less. Soon the shock of Sept.
In his hometown, Steves caused a controversy when he walked around removing rows of American flags that had been set up in support of the war. It was, he argued, an act of patriotism: The flag is meant to represent all Americans, not just war supporters. Lately, Steves concedes, his political message has begun to take over his teaching. Some moments in the book verge on un-American.
Occasionally, despite his best efforts, Steves still ruffles feathers. After one recent speech in the Deep South, event organizers refused to pay Steves — their conservative sponsors, he learned, considered his message a form of liberal propaganda. In recent years, Steves has become a happy warrior for an unlikely cause: the legalization of marijuana. He first tried the drug in Afghanistan, in the s, in the name of cultural immersion, and he was fascinated by its effect on his mind.
In his headquarters you will find a poster of the Mona Lisa holding a gargantuan spliff. On a shelf in his living room, right there among all the European knickknacks, Steves displays a sizable bong. Sometimes, fans urge Steves to run for office. To stay in a family-owned hotel in Bulgaria is to strengthen global democracy; to pack light is to break the iron logic of consumerism; to ride a train across Europe is to challenge the fossil-fuel industry. Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury — it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight.
When people tell Steves to stay out of politics, to stick to travel, he can only laugh. When I want to do something, I can do it. Steves is deeply indifferent to creature comforts. When I visited him, the back seat of his car was covered with a greenish slime, practically disintegrating, because of a mysterious leak. He just cracked the windows to try to dry it out. Steves prefers to spend his money on his favorite causes. His activism can be quirky and impulsive.
This, pointedly, was how much money he would get back from President George W. Last year, during a chat with one of the national leaders of the Lutheran Church, Steves wondered how much it would cost to send every single Lutheran congregation in the United States a DVD of his recent TV special about Martin Luther.
Die COFFEE-Methode: Energize your Life (German Edition)
In the s, working in partnership with the Y. The plan was to take that money out of the banking system and let it do a few decades of social good, at which point Steves could sell the buildings to fund his retirement. Eventually he worked his way up to buying a whole unit apartment complex — and then he donated it outright to the Y. The mothers, he said, needed it more than he would. Steves is obsessed with the problem of poverty and amazed at our perpetual misunderstanding of it.
This needs to be talked about. I can do it, and I can get away with it. I could retire now. Once the travel market finally recovered, some years after Sept. By taking a principled stand, Steves flourished. Today, his chipper voice is reaching more Americans than ever. One night, in his living room, Steves pulled out a plain black notebook. This, however, was something else entirely — a record of a very different kind of journey.
For the next 20 minutes, Steves would read me koans about the glories of being stoned. He would get baked, open up to somewhere in the middle and jot down whatever he happened to be thinking — deep or shallow, silly or angry. There is no chronology; on every page, axioms from many different decades commingle. The entries covered an impressively wide territory. I found myself wondering, for the thousandth time: Who does this? What kind of mind not only thinks of such a project but actually follows through with it, decade after decade after decade? As Steves read, he interrupted himself again and again with great shouting honks of laughter, and I cackled right along with him.
Then, suddenly, with almost no transition, we would find ourselves deep in earnest conversation about the nature of true happiness or the dangers of ambition. And then we would suddenly be cackling again. And of course there were many, many more descriptions of getting high itself. At some point, he looked up from the journal. Because this is me.
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He shook his head. An earlier version of this article misstated the size of a bus Steves used in his early tours through Europe. It was a nine-seat minibus, not a nine-foot minibus. When my wife and I were married, my mother-in-law told us she had a special gift for us. In Sweden, on an island, in the forest. As with all magical places, getting to the island in Sweden requires some effort particularly as my wife, son and I live in Los Angeles. After the plane, the train and a car ride to the countryside, a boat ferries us across the lake from the mainland. There are only a handful of cottages — with no electricity or running water — on the island.
Distances walking in the forest are hard to determine. You spend so much time walking over, under and around branches, brush and fallen trees that a simple hike can quickly become a disorienting journey. There are no straight lines in a forest. In Sweden, mushrooms are like gold. Specifically chanterelle mushrooms.
Aside from their high cost and their subtle earthy flavor cooked in butter and served on toast , their value is enhanced by how late in the season they grow. So Swedes are extremely protective of their chanterelle patches. The day my mother-in-law took us for our first walk, everything seemed slow and quiet besides the buzz of the mosquitoes. I listened to her tell stories of playing here as a child; exploring it made me feel young, and nostalgic for a past I had never lived.
I marched behind my wife and was careful when stepping over fallen trees or catching branches she bent back to allow me to pass. Some mushrooms you can eat, and some can make you very sick. Animals know this, and people who spend lots of time in the forest know this. My mother-in-law knows. She took us to a clearing among some trees, looked around a bit, then stopped and bent down. She said she had given each of her children a patch in the forest where she found that mushrooms consistently grew each year. The whale sighting happened right away, minutes into Day 1. Jon, Dave and I had just been dropped off on a remote Alaskan shoreline, an hour and a half by boat from the closest speck of a town.
Jon was working as a sea-kayaking guide that summer in Glacier Bay National Park, and he had invited us up for a seven-day excursion during his week off. As the boat that delivered us vanished, the drone of its engine dampening into a murmur and then finally trailing off, it became unthinkably quiet on the beach, and the largeness and strangeness of our surroundings were suddenly apparent.
It was a familiar phenomenon for Jon from the start of all his trips: a moment that people instinctually paused to soak in. We were on earth — finally, really on earth. We were only starting to move around again, packing our gear into the kayaks, when we heard the first huff of a blowhole, not far offshore. Jon was ecstatic. It seemed to him as if the animal were putting on a show, swimming playfully in the kelp, diving, resurfacing, then plowing its open mouth across the surface to feed.
He took it as a good omen. Though I had no idea at the time, he was anxious that Dave and I might feel intimidated about making the trip; such a big payoff, so quickly, would get us excited and defuse any apprehensions. For Dave, the whale-sighting had exactly the opposite effect. Once, when he was a kid, his dad took him scuba diving with dolphins. They were friendly, awe-inspiring creatures, purportedly, but they terrified Dave instead.
He could still conjure the feeling of hanging defenselessly in that water while the animals deftly swirled around him, less like solid objects than flashes of reflected light, while he could move only in comparative slow-motion. Ever since, he had harbored a fear of large sea creatures — a niche phobia, particularly for a young man who lived in the Bronx, but a genuine one still.
And so, even as Dave understood that a chance to see whales up close like this was a major draw of a kayaking trip in Alaska, and though he feigned being thrilled, some second thoughts were kicking in: We were going out there, he realized. The whale left me exhilarated and gleeful, like Jon; but deeper down, I also remember feeling shaken, like Dave. Nothing about the animal registered to me as playful or welcoming. It just appeared in the distance, then transited quickly past us, from left to right. Watching it made me feel profoundly out of place and register how large that wilderness was, relative to me.
At the time, I was working at a literary magazine in New York City called The Hudson Review, picking poems out of the slush pile and mailing them to an outside panel of editorial advisers.
I was trying hard in my letters to impress one of them: Hayden Carruth, a gruff and irreverent year-old poet who lived far upstate. Never then or now have I been able to look at a cloudless sky at night and see beauty there. A kind of grandeur, yes — but not beauty. The profusion and variety of celestial lights have always frightened me. Why are they there? Why these instead of others? Why these instead of nothing? That was how I felt, watching the whale from the beach: afraid that everything was accidents.
It was mid-August , and we were 23, 24 and We had graduated from college together two years earlier. Dave, whom I also grew up with, shot out of undergrad knowing he wanted to be a doctor and had just finished his first year of medical school. Any similar momentum I had after graduation was instantly sapped. Three weeks after that, he died. My grief was disorienting and total; at a moment in life when everything is supposed to feel possible, making any single decision became impossible.
I gave into that sadness for the better part of a year, resettling at home in New Jersey with my widowed mother and sliding back to the summer job I worked during school, glumly breaking down beef at a butcher shop two towns over. I read a lot of books about Ronald Reagan, for example, even the collection of his love letters to Nancy.
He withdrew awkwardly after the funeral, and I suppose I was happy to hold that against him. It triggered some longstanding jealousy. A part of me always resented how he seemed unfairly exempt from the self-doubt and heaviness that I was prone to. Jon, meanwhile, was teaching at a rustic little boarding school in Switzerland, where his mother was from. The summer after graduation, before starting the job, he set out for Alaska with a friend, sleeping in the bed of their old pickup.
In the minuscule town of Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay, he picked up seasonal work in the warehouse of a kayak-tour company. Jon had little actual experience of sea kayaking but had always felt drawn to the ocean in the abstract. In college, he and another friend plotted out a paddling expedition near Glacier Bay, across the border in Canada and applied for a grant from our school to fund it. The grant was set up in memory of an alumnus who died in an avalanche while mountaineering.
They seemed insufficiently prepared. He was bright but scatterbrained, forever picking up things and putting them down, both figuratively music projects, conversations but also literally. I can still picture him hustling around the house we shared in college, hunting for his keys or his soldering iron, having gotten in over his head rewiring some device.
He was an artist; one piece I remember consisted of a half-peeled banana, implanted with circuitry and suspended in a jar of formaldehyde. Once, he grew grass in our upstairs bathroom — a living bathmat, he said — until the turf became muddy and flooded the downstairs. Jon had no serious concerns about our safety, but he felt he bore responsibility for our emotional well-being.
To enjoy ourselves, we would need to feel comfortable, not just in the wilderness but also with him as a leader. We knew him before he became a professional guide, and our perception of his expertise lagged behind the reality. Do we have everything we need? Jon seemed to have solid answers for all of them. He was living alone for the summer in a house that an acquaintance was building in the woods. The structure was framed-up but largely wall-less, and Jon, to be safe, needed to check that no moose had wandered in.
After a spectacular first day of paddling, we came ashore on a rocky tidal flat about two miles from where we were dropped. Jon gave us his detailed tutorial about bear safety while we set up our campsite. The last thing you wanted was to come across a brown bear unannounced. This was intentional. It was essential for their safety, but it felt silly or vulnerable somehow, like singing in public. It loosened everyone up. They were performing for their friends now; the whole group was in on the joke.
I had never seen a wild bear, though I have backpacked in bear country a handful of times. I felt comfortable with the animals in the abstract. There were bear trails everywhere, leading from the tree line to the water, and disquietingly close, I felt, to where we were pitching our tent. We found heaps of their scat. We saw trees where the animals had slashed off the bark to eat the inner layer, tufts of fur from their paws still plastered in the sap.
I pretended I was having fun. But that evening I grew increasingly petrified, almost delirious. My eyes tightened, scanning for bears.
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The sound of the wind became bears, and so did the mossy sticks cracking under our feet. I gave myself a migraine, then phased in and out of sleep. At sunrise, I woke feeling foolish. While Jon cooked pancakes, I reasoned with myself, privately, in a notebook I brought on the trip.
I tried to conceive of the situation as a geometry problem. Yes, some number of bears roved this landscape, I wrote: relatively tiny, independent blips, going about their business randomly, just like us. In all that empty space and confusion, a lethal collision of their moving blips and our moving blips would be an improbable coincidence. It was embarrassing, really. I was reminding myself that freakishly horrible things are, by definition, unlikely to happen. Even now, my reasoning feels sound. Day 2 was a slog. We paddled through a spitting drizzle in an endless straight line, along the high granite walls of the coast.
We talked less and less, just pushed through the emerald chop.
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Then eventually we gave up, hauling in our boats and making camp in a wide, crescent-shaped cove, short of the site that Jon originally picked out on his map. In the s, one prospector built a cabin not far from our campsite and brandished a gun at the Alaska Natives who passed through. We intuited that the scenery was beautiful, but we could see very little of it through the fog.
Soon, the big rain started. We rushed through dinner, then loafed in our tent until, eventually, the loafing turned to sleep.
Gale winds, with gusts up to 59 miles per hour, turned back two cruise ships in Skagway, about 85 miles north. Around 2 a. We heard torrents of water lashing down and the waves crashing in the cove. We got up three or four hours later. The rain and wind no longer felt ferocious but were still too gnarly to paddle through; there was no question, Jon said, that we were staying put. We cooked breakfast and took turns playing chess in the tent.
By late morning, the storm seemed to have passed. We were antsy. We figured we would take a look around. The terrain was crammed with thickets of alder and spruce, underlain by ferns and a furor of prickly things. The plant pierced fleece and hurt like fire. There were no trails. We followed it downstream, looking for a way across, and eventually found it bridged by a hefty tree trunk.
It seemed like an easy crossing. Jon stepped up and led the way, and Dave and I waited in a single-file line on the stream bank behind him. The creek was loud, like a factory with all its gears and rollers churning. But I must have scanned those trees long enough to feel satisfied and safe, because I know I was turning my head, to go back to my friends, when I saw the dark shape rushing forward in my peripheral vision.
What I heard must have been roots popping. If a tree is large enough, you can apparently hear them cracking underground like gunfire. The thud was seismic. The trunk crashed down right next to me. Mapping out bits of evidence later, we concluded that the tree must have been about 80 feet tall and perhaps two feet in diameter.
It was some kind of conifer — a spruce or cedar. When I got to him, he was crouching, stunned but O. The sight of Dave going down had canceled out everything else. It had narrowly missed his head, struck his left shoulder, shearing it from his collarbone and breaking many of his ribs. Jon had heard nothing, seen nothing. He was turning around to help Dave onto the log — again, feeling responsible for our safety — and the next thing he knew, he was in the water.
He tried to reach out his left arm but could not make it move. He could not move his legs. He felt a bolt of pain down his spine. Jon later described flashing through an idiosyncratic sequence of thoughts, all in a few milliseconds, as if watching a deck of cards fanning across a table. One was an image of himself in a wheelchair, sitting behind a mixing console in a fancy recording studio. He had never worked in a recording studio and, though he played music, he had no particular plans to.
Still, this vision apparently felt like an acceptable future and freed him to resurface in the present. That was when he registered me, screaming his name. He knew from his many wilderness first-responder trainings that moving a person with spinal injuries risks paralysis. He somehow hoisted himself out of the stream before Dave or I got to him, using his right arm and his chin and biting into something loamy with his teeth, for additional leverage.
He reassessed the situation: better. Also: worse. He now realized that we were at least a mile inland from our camp. Suddenly, his body was walking; his legs just started working. Dave and I put him between us, supporting his frame. He was moving faster than we expected, but uncoordinatedly. Then he crumpled between us. We tried again; Jon was dead weight. Dave noticed that his breathing was shallow and his voice was low — signs, Dave knew from med school, of a collapsed lung. He began battering Jon with a pep talk, telling him, firmly, that he had to get up, that we had to get out of here.
He looked down to see why this log he was resting on was so lumpy and realized that he was, in fact, sitting on his left arm. Jon had zero feeling in it. He found it amusing, this sensation of complete estrangement from one of his limbs. Jon had been stressing that it was important to stay together. But this was another theory of wilderness survival that appeared to be breaking down in practice. Someone would have to get on the radio back at our camp.
By chance, while marooned in our tent during the rainstorm the night before, Jon showed us how to use the device, though he did it almost as a formality; the hand-held VHF unit was merely a line-of-sight radio, he told us, meaning its range was small, its signal too weak to pass through most obstacles.
There was a moment of discussion, or maybe just an exchange of looks between me and Dave. I told Dave he should go. Besides, I took for granted that Dave would make it. He was more capable in my mind, less likely to cinch himself in indecisive knots. I know that you, growing up, definitely felt insecure about things, and I think you looked at me and thought, Dave has everything figured out. But I had so much anxiety. But I guess I thought of the tremor as strictly physiological. What if he broke the radio, foreclosing whatever marginal chance we had of getting help?
There were lots of ways to screw this up, Dave realized. More occurred to him as he ran. He found the radio. He turned it on. He was lying near a log on his injured side, his beard and glasses flecked with dirt and tendrils of moss. He seemed to be on the brink of losing consciousness. Still, I knew I was supposed to keep talking to him, to tether him to the world with my voice somehow. I started vamping platitudes: We were going to get out of here soon, and so forth.
But I could feel myself treading water, even blundering, at one point, into a long-winded apology, worried I overstayed my welcome that one Christmas with his family. I was afraid that the helplessness in my voice might be counterproductive, unsettling Jon instead of steadying him. It was a tremendous silence to fill. What can a person say? I had two literature professors in college who made us memorize poems.
You never knew when some lines of verse would come in handy, they claimed. One liked to brag that, while traveling through Ireland, he found that if he spat out some Yeats at a pub, he could drink free. This is how I wound up reciting a love poem to Jon. After that, I imagine I also did some W. Auden; I knew a fair amount of Auden back then. Jon and I would spend about an hour and a half together alone on the forest floor. I ran through everything in my quiver — Kay Ryan, A. Ammons, Michael Donaghy — padding each poem with little prefatory remarks, while Jon said nothing, just signaled with his eyes or produced a sound whenever I checked in.
By , little had changed in the art of analgesics since morphine had entered into use in the 19 th century and was regularly employed during the American Civil War The narcotic was routinely administered to subdue the pain of the wounded. Given the enormous number of servicemen who got injured, one of the predominant features of the First World War was the body-in-pain. Shrapnel from exploding shells ripped flesh and shattered bones, causing ghastly wounds. Injuries to the kidney, lungs, and bladder brought agonizing suffering, as did facial mutilations.
When during the initial treatment and dressing of wounds front-line medics administered the injured morphine, they marked their foreheads with crosses in indelible ink in order to prevent drug overdose at further stages of medical care. A widely accepted recommended dose was one-fourth of grain sixteen milligrams. Problems, however, abounded: patients were mistakenly issued the narcotic more than once and the badly injured were deliberately given larger amounts to ease their very severe pain.
Moreover, if administered not as an injection but in tablet form, the absorption rate of morphine varied unpredictably. The risk occurred, too, when the wounded self-medicated themselves with morphine while awaiting professional aid. Morphine overdose could have been harmful because it obscured the clinical picture and hampered proper diagnosis. Morphine continued to be regularly administered, frequently for weeks on end, during the subsequent treatment and recovery of patients.
Unsurprisingly then, like in the previous armed conflicts of the 19 th century, particularly the American Civil War and the wars of German unification, many veterans developed an addiction. Perhaps the most famous of these patients-turned-morphinists was Hermann Goering , a fighter pilot ace and later powerful member of the Nazi elite and commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe. The narcotic was employed to kill not only the pain but sometimes also the hopelessly maimed servicemen.
If a soldier had no chance of survival or had received horrendous injuries, doctors would, and not at all sporadically, order a humanitarian dose of morphine. Often unable to perform euthanasia themselves, they would ask nurses or fellow soldiers to administer a lethal injection. Morphine sulphate was also used, next to atropine, omnopon, and sometimes ethyl-chloride, as a preliminary drug before anesthesia in surgeries.
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The practice of anesthesia itself had not considerably advanced from the mid th century but the war fueled some progress. So on the one hand, the same substances as before were employed: ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide for general anesthesia and Novocain, adrenaline, or cocaine hydrochloride as local anesthetics.
On the other hand, they were administered with greater awareness and attention than in the past. The experimentation and debate over a universal method of anesthesia endured as military surgeons began to recognize a close connection between anesthesia and the rates of mortality and morbidity. It became apparent that some patients died not from their wounds but because of the inappropriate use of anesthesia: the wrong choice of an agent, dose or method of delivery be it gas and oxygen, spinal, or rectal.
Yet it was not only the physical body under surgery that needed to be desensitized; the psyche of the fighting men called for strong detachment, too. Widely sanctioned by cultural and social practices, drinking was inherent to soldiering and served four general purposes. The first was medical: to anesthetize, disinfect, and cure it was believed to have potent and versatile healing properties.
The second was mental-therapeutic: to numb emotionally suppress fear, stress, and bad memories , relax, and reward for the hardships of combat. The third benefit was enhancement: to inspire courage and keep soldiers going. In the course of the First World War, governmental rations of alcohol and self-medicated drinking served all these time-honored functions.
Moderate consumption was, in general, recognized as desirable, since it raised the fighting spirit and preserved morale. As alcohol boosted self-confidence and increased the willingness to take risks, inebriated soldiers felt invincible and could easier go over the top running toward the hostile fire. Finally, alcohol helped repress traumatic memories and cope with the actualities of modern war.
While most of the belligerent parties provided their troops with regular rations of alcohol, at the home fronts the conflict worked in favor of temperance movements. The motivations for introducing state restrictions on the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages varied. Dominating, though, was the disapproval of wasting crucial resources in the time of ultimate national emergency: uncontrolled drinking could have hampered the general mobilization of societies and jeopardized their productive energies.
On ethical grounds, leisure drinking was presented as downright immoral and highly improper. Civilians should have sympathized with their troops, who were expected to make a supreme, if not always sober, sacrifice. And finally, because the consumption of alcohol in the strained time of war could get out of control, governments felt obliged to undertake measures to prevent social decadence and preserve public order. Overall, however, these measures turned out to be counter-productive. The Russians massively restored to running hooch, while the state income from the sale of alcohol considerably dropped, straining an already stretched war budget.
We have been well reminded that in sternly prohibiting the sale of spirituous liquor Russia has already vanquished a greater foe than the Germans. From the times of Peter I, Emperor of Russia , a soldierly allowance of vodka had been customary. Initially issued in the navy three times a week, in the practice developed into daily governmental rations known as charka milliliters. It later became commonplace also in the infantry , but in this long-standing practice was terminated. The first was the diminished fighting power of the Russian army, its poor combat efficiency, and jeopardized discipline in the aftermath of the humiliating Japanese defeat in The second was the eroding authority of the individual officer-alcoholics and the overall officer corps.
Hence a Russian soldier in was expected to fight the Austro-Hungarians and Germans devoid of the formerly traditional provisions of vodka and, due to tsarist restrictions placed on its military supplies, having fairly limited access to drink. Not surprisingly then, when the fighting stopped on the Eastern Front , soldiers eagerly traded bread, sugar, and other items with their German counterparts for some alcohol. Albeit prematurely, because soldiers would not find an ally in the communists, for whom alcoholism epitomized the tsarist oppressive order.
They aimed to uproot drunkenness, the very instrument for the debasement of the working class. Recruits of the newly-established Red Army were dissuaded from drinking vodka. When the fighting moved to Ukraine , well-stocked with various forms of beverages, Leon Trotsky , the head of the Red Army, grew anxious. Preventively, he issued a draconian order under which many soldiers caught drunk in the units deployed on the southern front during the Ukrainian campaign were shot on the spot.
Historically, however, the ambitious Bolshevik temperance plans were doomed to failure. In August , in an attempt to encourage its troops to face the advancing Wehrmacht , Stalinist authorities reintroduced daily rations of vodka: one hundred grams a day. The temperance fervor also ran high in Great Britain. In , the Central Control Board was established and quickly restricted the alcohol market, for example by limiting pub opening hours and reducing the strength of spirits. But was alcohol equally damaging for the troops on the front as it was claimed to be at home?
Traditionally, English sailors and infantrymen were issued provisions of wine, beer, brandy, and from the 18 th century on, mostly rum.
The phrase derived from the English soldiers fighting in the Netherlands in the English-Dutch wars of the 17 th century who developed the habit of fueling their fighting spirit with one or two sips of a Dutch gin. The distribution of rum belonged to the commander of a division. Officially, the army justified the practice entirely and exclusively as a medical necessity: as a remedy for fatigue, stress, and hardships during arduous campaigning. So, formally, commanders were expected to consult military doctors, but most were willing to unconditionally grant alcohol to their men.
A standard allowance was 2. Rum, inherent to the life of the British soldier, became synonymous with combat. Mornings in the trenches usually began about a. Men were given tea, bread, bacon, and as Paul Fussell noted:. To foster a fighting mood before going over the top soldiers were given a double ration of rum which they usually drank blended with coffee, tea, or cocoa. What rum was for the British army, wine was for the French. But before it became a standard provision of the troops at the beginning of the 20 th century, soldiers had received a small daily ration of distilled alcohol one-sixteenth of a liter.
The government contracts would secure them lucrative incomes. Thus at the outbreak of the war, every poilu the nickname for the French soldier was allowed a quarter of a liter of a low-quality red wine known as pinard. Quite often, before an attack servicemen were also given brandy. As the conflict progressed, the rations increased to half a liter and in some units distributed even up to one liter per man per day.
In , the French Army consumed 1, million liters of wine. Should the war have continued to the end of it was expected to have used as much as 1, million liters that year. In the fall of , wine manufacturers from the Midi region donated substantial stocks of pinard to the army. And yet, the French authorities were also concerned with the effects of drunkenness on the morale of the nation and its troops. The beginning of the war coincided with the prohibition of absinthe, the spirit made of wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs. Although it contained only tiny amounts of the hallucinogenic compound called thujone, the authorities blamed absinthe, the consumption of which totaled thirty-six million liters in , for causing degenerative addiction among the population.
Thus on 16 August , the government prohibited its sale by an emergency decree, while in February the legislative assembly outlawed the production, distribution, and sale of absinthe. France, in fact, followed Switzerland , the USA , and other countries where this drink had already been banned under the pressure of temperance forces and due to concerns over its supposed role in facilitating tuberculosis, epilepsy, insanity, and crime.
The restrictions in France were further extended to cover the production of spirits the maximum strength allowed now being 23 percent and its marketing selling to women became forbidden. The French maintained that wine proved strategically superior to beer, a primitive beverage which allegedly contributed to the defeat of Germany. Yet beer was for the Germans precisely what wine was for the French: the essential part and manifestation of national identity. An almost patriotic habit of beer drinking was grounded in the specific Prussian understanding of Germanness.
However, drinking habits among the ranks of the German army were slightly more diverse. Whereas units from Bavaria were indeed likely to be administered daily rations of beer, units from the wine-producing regions of Rhineland were often issued wine. Thus servicemen in the trenches received daily allowances of either half a liter of light beer, one-fourth a liter of wine, or milliliters of brandy or schnapps. In both Germany and Austria-Hungary , unlike in other belligerent states, there was little concern over intemperance and alcohol did not became the subject of moral concern or state control.
A marked decline in alcohol production in the case of beer in Germany down to 30 percent of pre-war levels and restrictions on its sale did not stem from any prohibitionist policies but were spawned by the concerns over the unnecessary diversion of scare grain supplies. The general wartime scarcity of resources was also the main reason behind a moderately restrictive alcohol policy adopted by Italy , which showed patterns similar to those of France but in a way also analogous to those of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
While the Italian anti-alcohol movement reached its peak around , the war quite effectively brought an end to the temperance debate and activities. As a standard provision amounted to a quarter of liter of wine per man per day, it took as much as 50, liters to meet daily demands of an army of , men. In addition, when extra allowances were issued occasionally also of brandy or grappa , not only were they enthusiastically welcomed but sometimes even proved essential for maintaining morale and raising the fighting spirit. In the aftermath of the disastrous defeat in the Battle of Caporetto in November , the Italian army lost large amounts of materiel to the Central Powers, including nearly five million liters of wine and 1, liters of cognac.
This example reveals that at times a hostile deprivation of beverages may paradoxically be salutary. Yet, how about self-deprivation? In the United States, where the temperance movement had gained in popularity, drinking was presented as thoroughly unpatriotic and unethical. The war only brought grist to the mill for the anti-alcohol crusade. Army Manual of Military Training instructed servicemen:.
In practice, however, given the ubiquity of alcohol on the Western Front, it was impossible to keep military personnel completely dry. In sum, overall, the USA neither issued alcohol to its soldiers nor accepted their alcoholic self-medication. In the early 19 th century, European militaries began to consider what traditionally had been practiced by the Andean peoples: the use of coca leaves for improving physical endurance.
At the outbreak of the hostilities, the drug was easily available at pharmacies, both as a sole medicine and as an ingredient in many popular medicaments and tonics used, for instance, for a runny nose and coughing. It should not be surprising then that it promptly found its way to the battlefield. The drug was used by military medics as a local anesthetic but it was not its therapeutic application that is the most interesting. For cocaine was both issued by the authorities and self-prescribed by soldiers also for enhancement purposes.
The rate of its consumption by fighting men remains unknown and there is no way to estimate the figures. Nevertheless, limited and often circumstantial evidence suggests that cocaine was dispensed by some of the armed forces to boost the troops and fuel their fighting mood. It helped soldiers calm down, focus, and improve performance. The drug was taken during long-distance flights by German fighter pilots and, as French records revealed, early airmen were particularly keen on the stimulant:.
Cocaine infused into the few duelists of the air who made use of that cold and thoroughly lucid exaltation which — alone among drugs — it can produce … at the same time it left intact their control over their actions. It fortified them, one might say, by abolishing the idea of risk. Still, cocaine was much more popular among infantrymen than pilots. At the beginning of the war, it is said, the German Army Command planned each and every of its soldiers to be issued daily rations of cocaine to decrease their appetite and increase stamina.
After realizing, however, that not enough drug for this purpose was available, the idea was abandoned; instead, troops were regularly distributed small cigars. This well-known London pharmaceutical company was also the first to launch the production of cocaine in tablet form.