From the Back Story

. . . Late on a hot night in August of 1964, I stepped into a crowded, one-room train station in southern Italy. I had been walking all day, all summer, with a knapsack, and the protection that God gives a seventeen-year-old boy alone on the road from Copenhagen to Athens. The station was crowded with peasants (and their chickens) waiting for a train that turned out to have been several hours late. When I came in I caused quite a stir, probably because they thought I was German, but they soon tired of me and went back to their own exhaustion. That is, everyone except one man, a one-legged, ramrod straight, bemedaled ancient, a soldier of the Great War, with flowing white hair and military mustaches. He was braced against a wall, his right arm curled around two crutches. For the next few hours, this man unleashed a storm upon me, with no pause, no mercy, no slackening, and no regret. He did it with his eyes, which he did not remove from me for a single second. Never have I seen a greater or more intense display of almost every conceivable human trait, and every thought and emotion that he conveyed hit me like a bolt from a crossbow: anger, pity, amusement, respect, contempt, hatred, affection, memory. My impression was that he wanted to drive me from the station. And he almost did, but I held my ground, meeting his gaze, for all the amazing hours of his attack. Only at the end, when the train came, did he smile. And only much later, many years afterward, did I realize that this man had entrusted me with his life. . .