Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Find Yourself Tour

The connection from the long-distance bus in Athens to the ferry in Arkitsa which takes us to the northern most part of Evia could not be easier. The bus leaves us off right at the port where the boat waits patiently. A calm forty minute ferry ride in the late afternoon sun and we have arrived on Evia.
The return passage is not so straight forward.
It is a good thing I had a thermal bath and a massage in Edipsos and am relaxed enough to deal with the drama of trying to get back to Athens. I was naïve. Again. It will not be the last time.
I just missed the eight a.m. ferry so I am waiting an hour for the next one to depart. They move fairly quickly back and forth to the mainland all day so it could be within the hour, I am not certain. I am aware that I lately I have been arriving in destinations just minutes after my needed departures have left; causing me to wait, a lot. It happened at the bus station from Athens the other day when I met the San Francisco couple, and this morning I heard the horn of the leaving ferry just as I was rounding the corner into the dock. I am late these days.
Excited about heading to Athens now for an official few days of sightseeing and then it is New York City bound.
I am ready.
I have gotten comfortable with people staring at me now. They are curious because the tourist season has ended and I am one of the few remaining visitors still lingering around.

Last night, I met a group of terribly loud Americans in the only open taverna in the village. The women were getting drunk on white wine and the men were refraining because, "Someone needs to be able to carry her home."
I have spotted several Greek families on late season holidays and a few others who keep to themselves mostly. There is an unavoidable chill in the air in Evia.

I took a photo of a Greek couple on the street last night during sunset. They have visited America several times. Her husband has a deep, earthy voice and each carefully chosen word weeps slowly from his mouth when he tells me his impression of The States, "Like most countries, the people are good, it is the government that is bad.
"That’s how many of us feel too," I tell them.

His wife offers me advice on the eve of the eve of end of my Greek journey, "Forget all of the bad things; remember only the good things."
I say I will try, but secretly I wonder if this is possible, or even wise. Still, the more dangerously crazy moments do tend to fade to the back of my mind over time. Or maybe things just stop being so scary when you realize you survived them.

I have to specifically retrace the steps in my mind to recall the terror of my arrival in Santorini. However, I think I have an vividly clear memory of each delicious moment on Paros and Milos and other pauses along the way. I do not think it is a bad thing to remember moments of fear and uncertainty.

Waiting in the sun this morning I am reflecting...
I still see the expressions on the faces of the warm people in Parikia.

When I am quiet I can hear the soothing sounds of the church bells, and the smell of incense throughout the town, especially on Sunday mornings.

When I try I can recall the taste of feta baked with tomatoes and onions and want it now like I wanted it when it arrived at the table and the steam carried the odor into my senses.

I know what it sounds like when freshly caught octopus is beaten against a rock... ten times for every kilo it weighs.

… and the soft sweeping sound infiltrating the silence and darkness at dawn.

And I remember how nice the small hot pebbles of Paloeohori Beach felt on the bottoms of my feet; and how it was lovely-treacherous sliding on the big black rocks on the shore in Santorini. I was almost lost into the sea forever then, but no one knew it.

Ferry horn announces departure to the mainland.

There is no bus in sight when we arrive so I ask the man at the ferry ticket counter when the bus to Athens is due and he looks at me like I have lost my mind.
"You cannot get a bus to Athens at the port."
"But, the bus left me right here just two days ago. Does it do a pick up here on the way back?"
"No, you have to go to the station, one kilometer up the hill. You cannot miss it. There is a bus to Athens every hour." He tells me.
And now I am trudging up the hill.

Along a wide road with hardly any cars at all, I am walking as close to the shoulder as possible because I know that in Greece the cars, when they do come, have the right of way, always. I ask the builders constructing a house across the road if I am going in the right direction and they wave at me and tell me to press on ahead.
A road worker is laughing at me. I imagine he thought it was his imagination at first; the image of a lone woman lugging a suitcase along the road transformed from an unlikely mirage in his mind to a comic reality. He is amused and tells me that I am indeed going in the right direction. I stop a pick up truck and two men ask me if I am headed to Athens or Lamia because there are two different bus stations for the different routes. Clues, I think, come when you need them.
Things are getting complicated but I remind myself that in Greece confusing things make sense eventually, when I am patient. It is a stuggle against impatience now, that's all, it is a test. I am counting the hours left in daylight and creating plans B and C in my head for return to Athens. I am not a mathematician but this seems to be well longer than a kilometer. I am sweating through my sweatshirt, and this area is mostly deserted, no homes, no stores, no sheep. Still, the few people I do see all tell me I am heading in the right direction so I keep moving forward.

I would not call it a bus station exactly…

More like a wooden shelter at the crest of the highway off ramp. The only marking is written in black magic marker on the charred seat, "Demitri loves Vanessa." A sign of teenage mayhem.
There is a Mercedes Benz parked in front and Nikolai has his foot propped up on the road guard where he is tying his shoe. He does not hear me coming and is surprised to see me when I beg him to confirm that this is the bus station to Athens.
Nikolai assures me that I am in the right place. He too is waiting for the bus, he will give a mysterious envelope to the driver but not get on board. It is all very strange; but, I am relieved.
I am mindful that it has become a challenge for me to find my way in Greece these last few days. Lately it seems my life is a series of instances of being lost and found, and lost and found again... lost, at the moment. The time nearing the end of this journey has its heaviness.

Nikolai shows me photographs of his horses and his big house on Mykonos. I tell him I had a thermal bath and a massage on Evia. It doesn’t seem like a fair exchange.
He invites me to visit him on Mykonos where I can swim in the sea and ride horses on his vast land and he will teach me Greek. Then, quite suddenly, Nikolai gets into his car and drives away shouting to me out of the window that I should not worry, he will check on me in a little while.
I am very confused today in Greece.
There are precious few cars exiting on this offramp and now with Nikolai gone I am feeling quite isolated and maybe even a little frightened. I am wondering how all this is all going to turn out. I choose to be hopeful.

As promised, Nikolai returns several moments later. He is carrying three long stemmed roses, the cut ends wrapped in a wet paper towel. He presents them to me ceremoniously and tells me that when he saw me his heart began to beat faster. I am grateful for the effort but uncomfortable with my part in it. I pull my hand away when he tries to kiss the top of it. In and out of his car again, he gives me a feather that was dropped at his feet by a bird flying on Mykonos.

Nikolai is worried that the roses will die during the hot bus ride to Athens so he fetches a water bottle out of the overfilling trashcan next to the bus stop, wipes it down with his handkerchief and fixes the rose stems into the makeshift vase which he proudly offers to me. I do not tell him about my strict rule of not handling garbage unless fully outfitted in a hazmat suit.

Now I am wearing my heavy daypack on my back, my suitcase at my heels, carrying a used water bottle with three long-stemmed roses in my left hand and a single feather in my right. Desperate to ask Nikolai to take a photo but I refrain.
When the bus finally comes, Nikolai kisses my hand and tells me to call him as soon as I arrive in New York City so that he knows I am okay. The whole reality-dream is a little much for me today.
I eat dried figs and chocolate cookies with my sunglasses on. I am bus bound for Athens now…