Lovers' last night in undulating Umbria
Lovers' last night in undulating Umbria
On June 29, 1973, I was
eighteen and completing a year of Italian studies at the University for
Foreigners in Perugia. My English boyfriend Martin and I had decided to take our
first trip together on our last night in Italy before leaving for our respective
homes in London and New York the following day. We’d fallen madly in love nine
months previously and could think of no finer way to bed farewell tot our
Our closest friend Peter
volunteered to babysit us that night to make sure that all went smoothly. Peter
would stick to pot and wine, relinquishing the pleasures of the acid that Martin
and I would take. Although I’d been smoking pot and hash, drinking wine, and
doing uppers and downers during that school year, dropping acid was something I
had never done, and I looked forward to it with giddy anticipation.
An Italian friend Roberto
insisted that we use his apartment for the trip. People who do acid know that it
is preferable to trip in a place that’s pleasant, interesting, fun and safe.
Roberto’s flat was sensational, with gigantic floor-to-ceiling plants and
trees everywhere, psychedelic posters, Dali-esque objets d’art, a king-sized
bed on a canopied outdoor patio, flowers, candles, incense, and a fully stocked
bar and refrigerator -- total luxury for us students.
Peter met Martin and me there
at eight p.m. Roberto graciously left to give us our privacy, since we didn’t
know him very well and might have felt awkward tripping in front of him. Peter
brought records by the Rolling Stones, Janis, Jimi, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull,
Cream, Blind Faith, the Allman Brothers, Humble Pie, Hugh Masekela and the Union
of South Africa, Osibissa, Loggins and Messina, Fela Ransome‑Kuti, and
just about everything else we’d been listening to all year.
We dropped the acid around
nine after relaxing first with a couple of joints, wine and about forty
cigarettes each. (I learned that year that eighteen-year-old bodies can take
tremendous abuse, and, of course, we thought ourselves immortal). For the first
hour or so, we felt nothing and complained to Peter, who assured us we’d be
Then I looked up at the wall
and everything on a particular poster was swaying. The daisies were keeping time
to “Purple Haze.” Then I began to see squiggly-looking creatures crawling
the walls. -- totally benign and non-threatening, just fascinating. It was like
being beamed to another planet where everything had a life of its own.
Martin seemed to be having
similar experiences, and we began laughing and pointing out all these wonderful
sights to each other. Everything seemed to be moving and dancing for our
enjoyment. Meanwhile, Peter entertained us with the finest music ever composed,
and showed us “traces” -- bright swirling streaks following his arms as he
swung them around and around, sort of like the running lines of light made by
car headlights in photographs taken at regular or slow speed.
At some point Martin and I
traveled to some place we called Babyland in which we played with each others’
fingers for hours and believed ourselves to be infants. We laughed and we cried
and it all felt good.
At dawn, we left the
apartment, still mildly tripping at five thirty in the morning. We walked the
deserted, cool cobblestone, ancient streets of Perugia back to our own
apartment. The only other people around were a couple of street sweepers. Back
at our flat, I threw open the shuttered windows and looked out upon the
magnificent rolling green hills of Umbria. The sun was brilliant, and somewhere
off in the distance church bells were ringing. As I gazed upon the distant tiny
town of Spanolla, it suddenly collapsed upon itself and disappeared into the
earth. Unless I’d just witnessed some catastrophic act of God, I was still
That morning, after we parted,
I hallucinated mildly all the way to Rome on the train. I looked out the windows
the entire ride and watched the trees undulate, even though there was no wind.
The Italian countryside had never been more beautiful to me, vibrantly green and
peaceful. The acid intensified my sadness tremendously. I was saying goodbye to
a man I was completely in love with. We’d shared every experience for almost a
year. We felt like one person, as though we were married.
I cried all day and collapsed
into bed when I arrived in Rome. He was coming to New York in a few weeks, but
our future was uncertain. Of course, being eighteen, we were convinced that we
were fated to be together forever.
That September, I went to
England and enrolled at the University of London. I stayed a few months, but
things had changed by December. It just wasn't Italy anymore and we weren’t
living together. I went home at Christmas and never went back.
I did see Martin again, two
years later. We met up in Florence. I was hoping to recapture some of that
magical Italian experience, but it didn't happen. There were money problems,
traveling problems. Nothing seemed to work out. That was the end of our great
When all is said and done,
what I remember most about our last night in Perugia was the laughter. I felt
I’d discovered a glorious new world, one that I planned to visit again. The
experience was truly joyful and it remains one of the most memorable and
cherished in my life.