Bill wakes me up around 4:30AM or so - time to head to the airport. Breakfast is eggs, bacon, toast, and juice - quite tasty.

At the train station, the sun is making meagre attempts at the colour yellow, but only succeeding, though admirably, at blue.

At the airport, the line is long! But Bill, who knows this airport, directs us to a machine, and then an obscure line, and we're through in maybe five minutes. Bill leaves and I wander towards my gate.


Not so imposing in the morning

In the airport, I find a piano with a sign that says, “Do Not Touch”. Clearly, this is the sort of sign that applies to other people and I go to convince the barman of this. Official permission in hand, I approach the piano, pause its computer and prepare to "rock out" with some Chopin. But now the barman comes running up. It's a new piano! He doesn't know how to make the computer work! It's clear that he doesn't have authority one way or the other and is waffling about what to do. As I start to explain (using other words) that I could probably build the computer from scratch, he takes the wrong path and decides I definitely cannot play the piano. As he watches, I re-enable the computer, give him a look, and depart as the keyboard begins to play itself, as though possessed.

Coming off of GreenlandAir's generous meals and freely-flowing drink, TransAvia is a bit of shock. TransAvia opines, through their actions, that when you buy a flight that's what you should get and nothing more.
The seats inside are a bit thread-bare and sparsely populated. The colour-scheme and staff clothing brings visions of leprechauns (with bad taste) to mind. Nonetheless, the plane (a 737) holds together for the duration of the flight.

It's been interesting to observe the characters in the plane's safety phamphlets. If someone hadn't already started a museum of these, I'd probably steal some and start my own. Virgin Air's characters are very angular and racially diverse. British Air takes a similar lent, but its been taken to an extent such that you really can't understand what's happening in some of the scenes. GreenlandAir's characters are cartoony and all a little pudgy, but their actions are unambiguous. TransAvia's characters are grayish, white and look a little like ghosts. You can understand what they're doing, but you can't identify them as being people. As we lift off, I hope to myself that they're not really ghosts: it wouldn't bode well.

The plane touches down in Athens and I still have this (bloody) extra bag of Greenland-infrastructure. Thinking back, I don't actually remember picking up the bag. I do remember putting on my hat and sunglasses in a face-obscuring manner as I walked past the airport's cameras to suddenly find that I'd somehow escaped into Greece without anyone looking at my passport.

But the happiness bleeds off a little. I'm in Greece. No one's here to meet me. No one's planning on finding me for at least a couple of days. And I have no plan.

I pick up an assortment of maps and bus schedules from a girl behind a tourism bureau counter, but her job is merely to facilitate plans you may already have, not to help you generate them.

But plans, if nothing else in life, are easy to come by. I stare at my map, twisting it occasionally and referring to my Greek phrase book until it happens as I knew it would: an older Greecian man engages me in conversation - or tries, the intersection of our vocabularies being epsilon.

Waving my free road map of Greece around, he gestures at some islands. Looking at me over the rims of his glasses, his wrinkly face resolves into a grin: "This is where you go! To the iiisland! You take de bus. De bus! I have just come from there!" He continues extolling the virtues of his plan for me, repeating himself many times to be sure I understand, before disappearing into the crowd, only to reappear several minutes later, his older-man suit - a white dress shirt and brownish trousers - wrinkled from fast movement: "You take X96! De bus! It is out there! It leaves in five minutes!" He stares at me expectantly as I begin to haphazardly gather my things (bloody extra bag), such that I'm sure to miss the bus. Again, he disappears.

An American girl with blonde hair, over-sized sunglasses, and a pink summer dress that clings a little too tightly appears next, “knows” that I am British, and tells me about some fantastic party islands she's been to. There is no union of her islands and the older man's… interesting.

Following the ancient wisdom of Bokonon ("peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God"), I take the old man's advice. But first, I need to call some people, so there's at least a general idea of where to find my corpse… Emerging from the glass cubical in the Athens Airport Buisness Center, I meet the Man. The Man has the all-important job of staring at you in an unblinking manner from within his rumpled white shirt, behind his gray little desk, as you chat it up with your far-off friends.

The man's forehead is sweaty and red, maybe burnt. His hair is thinning and he does not smile. Taking my card, he hunches over the credit machine much the way Rumplestiltskin might have hunched over his wheel. As he types in the numbers, his index finger bends backwards at the tip, a little bit, each time. I cringe inside.

I call my friend who apologies from a warm, windy beach somewhere for not being there. It's alright I assure her, and it is.

I leave the man and mail some books back to my uncle. The postal lady is smoking behind the counter, leaning waaay back in her chair, with sunglasses and a fashion magazine… is that alcohol in that glass? Too busy talking on her cellphone to really deal with me, she takes the fat envelopes I've franked and pounds them with her stamp on them in a lazy, distracted manner. The stamps run across the paper like the footprints of stampeding wildebeest.

Then it's time to go, thank goodness. I've probably picked up the plague and all its extended relatives just by looking around too much. The bus takes me to the harbour through miles concrete buildings. I'm glad to be leaving.
Of course, it's never quite that simple. The harbour isn't clearly marked and I wander in a huge circle before finding the ticket counter. It's by a wee grass-bare park inhabited by friendly-seeming street dogs and an old train car, with matresses by own end. Having purchased the ticket and picked up a few more Greek words, I settle down with my pennywhistle to wait.

As I play, a woman shows up and begins making out somewhat noisly with the man next to me. He occasionally interrupts her to sing, very skillfully, what sounds an ezan. The net effect is something like classical music with grunge-distortion… maybe this is the way these genres get going.

The boat arrives almost an hour late. Groaning and creaking, it backs up to the pier and the tail opens like an alien-spaceship movie. And just inside there's a horde of people who start streaming out almost before the plank's hit the ground. Behind them, there's a swarm of motorcycles and, behind those, a swarm of cars. Three traffic police blow their whistles at random, but the horde takes no heed and departs into the night with a profusion of horns.


The big moment of the exit stands out as one of the pictures I most regret missing ths summer.

On the top level of the boat, watching the harbour slide away and the distant lights of Aegina draw closer, I know that this was absolutely the right choice. And at this moment there is no other place I would rather be anywhere than here. The sea is calm tonight and I spend a good deal of the voyage staring out over it. I'm the only person on the top deck and this remains true for the duration of the voyage.

I doze a little towards the end and wind up having to sprint in order to get off the boat before it disembarks to Bob Knows Where. On the way down, the spare black bag in which I'm carrying my Warm Things from Greenland taps lightly against the belly of an obviously pregnant woman. I'm horrified and, as we're swept away by opposing flows of traffic, stammer apologies in a language I can hardly pronounce. Years later, I still worry about this.

Normally, showing up at eleven o'clock in a strange town without pre-arranged lodging is an ungood idea - it certainly was in Tain. But something about a harbour lined with patron-teeming restaurants and fruit merchants suggests things will be alright. I wander down narrow, crooked streets without direction, stopping, here and there, into hotels, all of which seem rather expensive.

In one dark alley, I meet a young girl with a bushel of roses. "You speak English?" "Yes." "You want a rose?" "No no…" "Yes! You do!" It annoys me when people beg me to buy their products, but this flowerchild not only transcends such self-deprecations, she's discovered a whole new level of assertiveness: I am somehow holding a rose, still protesting that I do not want it. In the end, though, I do. Coins tumble to the ground as I hunt for change and I note that she's honest about helping me pick them up. Two euros exchanged, we each slide off into the darkness.

For me, the flowerchild is pathogenic, the rose symbolic. It's been a good experience, but it's also the impetus, metaphorically, for an antibody response which will leave me immune to all future vendors this trip - well worth a small price.

Ultimately, my steps carry me down the darkest of dark streets and, at the end, there's a single glowing sign across from a palm-imbued courtyard decorated with Christmas lights. Discussing rooms with the proprietor, I chance on a great discovery: hotels are cheaper if you promise not to use the aircon. I have no cash and my credit card doesn't seem to be working, but he pooh-pooh's all worries - we will deal with this in the morning. With that, I'm handed a key and pointed upstairs.

The room has high ceilings, wood, a shower without a curtain, and a matress with a Moh rank around seven. It reminds me, in a vague way, of that most venerable of hotels… the legendary El Portal. Sleep comes quick enough to the sounds of laughter and chatting through the wooden slats of the shutters.




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Mom - Thursday, October 01, 2009 at 13:29:18 (PDT)
Ah--how well I remember the vast El Portal of New Mexico and the piano you played there on our 2 visits. The renovating owners would be surprised to find its counterpart on a Greek island!