It’s winter and in the words of our hostel concierge, island hopping to Turkey is “pretty grim.” So we decided on a day trip, which is really what makes Athens special. Use it as a base to island hop, go to Delphi, see the other ruins. Aegina was supposed to be beautiful–ancient temples, cheap scooters, and remote fishing villages. So Yan, Anthony and I crossed the sea for an hour in the sun and wind and talked about how we enjoy being away from people from our home.
Anthony had seemed worried about renting a scooter, and sure enough he was scared to when the guy renting them made it seem like they were challenging. Along the coast, past turquoise water and other islands in the distance, we stopped at a white church and ate blood oranges, casting peels into seafoam. It was cold and beautiful. Anthony took my scooter up the road, turned around and flipped us off. Yan and I laughed. He came back and wanted to go back to get another. But we’d already come so far. We could take turns driving. We’d save twenty Euro that way anyway.
Yan and I rode together. I cruised past Anthony and turned to go up a hill, gassing it. But at the top of the hill Anthony wasn’t behind us. He probably got lost. We turned around. At the hill’s bottom, he had dismounted and was pouring water over his hand. His hand was bleeding profusely. He had tried to take the quick turn, given it too much gas, and the scooter had gone out from under him. Now I knew why he had been so scared. He had crashed his friend’s motorcycle the same way a few years ago. The moped was slightly scratched. The wheel and the steering wheel were out of line… He rang a nearby doorbell for help and an old woman came out of her home. He said that she was yelling at him, but I could see that she was happy to help. Her ancient instinct to nurture and care came back when she saw his blood. She would tell her grandchildren about this when they called to ask how she’s been.
When his bandages had been applied we drove up the hill again to see medieval citadels dedicated to different saints. We strode up the stone path, under the blooming almond trees, to an open vista of the hills across the valley. There were yellow flowers blowing in the wind. It was sunny and we took pictures. Yan said, “This is the greatest day of my life.” It was funny to hear him say, maybe because he’s 19. I agreed halfheartedly, pretty sure it wasn’t, but pretty satisfied at the spectacular beauty and the close company. The top, to the top we went, straight up the rocks, disregarding the path. And there at the open, flat top was another group of people. I waved, and sat behind the citadel, wanting to be away from them. We ate sausage and bread sandwiches with our olives and looked out past the edge of the island, at the blue water in the distance. Anthony had brought a halva bar for dessert. The other kids finished, said hello and that they were from Missouri. Anthony was still cranky from the pain of his wounds. We weren’t especially nice to them.
We saw them again later, walking on the side of the road. I honked, quietly called them suckers. It was cold riding around at 35 mph; the wind blew straight through my insulated sweatshirt, burning my core and making me shiver. At the back of the island we went to the Ancient temple of Aphea, daughter of Zeus, and nymph goddess of the island. Then we rode fast to Perdika, an ancient fishing village at the other end of the island. My body was stiff with cold and sun. But when we sat down to order calamari, which was fresh caught off the island, and some of the best I’ve had in my life–not chewy, but tender and crispy–we warmed up and hurried to get back to the port for our 445 boat back to Athens. We drove past the shoreline Eucalyptus trees, nearly level with the water. I knew Anthony was worried about what would happen with the moped; we had stopped at a gas station earlier for a mechanic, but there wasn’t one; Yan still drove the crooked moped.
When we arrived back at the shop and an older woman was there, probably the proprietor’s mother, we relaxed. Yan wouldn’t have to lie about getting into an accident. The old lady was oblivious–I would’ve walked out with the key in my pocket if I hadn’t double checked. As we left, the shop owner came whizzing by on a scooter. He slowed, stopped. We waved and walked away quickly. As soon as we turned out of the street we started running. If he saw what had happened he could chase us down, maybe even prevent us from getting on the boat, make us pay for a new moped. Anthony was a hundred yards ahead. And even when we were seated in the deck saloon, Anthony looked out the window at the dock nervously, like a wanted man.
We talked about the women we planned on hanging out with at night. There was the German, a sexy little blonde from Munich with herpes on her upper lip; the Aussie, with wholesome features, taller and bigger, who made great eye contact and smiled a lot; and the Canadian with close set eyes, a schoolmarmish attitude and a hot bod. All the forward thinking led to uncertainty and worry and we got off the boat unable to find a liquor store.
Back at the hostel, we split up: Jan to shower, Anthony to shit, and me to get the liquor. I walked beneath the Parthenon, the lights illuminating the Acropolis. At the liquor store I bought ouzo and the woman said her sister drinks it with Fanta, so I got some of that too. Anthony went back downstairs to make dinner while I showered and dressed for our evening out. It was all of our last nights. The Aussie was going home to Australia in the morning, Yan was leaving for Paris, and we were going to Delphi. Excitement was in the air. It was already nine o’clock when Anthony, Yan and I sat down for our spinach salad, sprinkled with feta and fresh-cut apple with a side of buttered toast.
The girls came in with another man, a guy with long blonde hair who had been wearing a shirt with a surfer and a monstrous wave at breakfast. He was a little older, and seemed cool enough, although I worried about the male:female ratio. We started playing a card game, which I was very bad at, so I excused myself to make our ouzo drinks. Then we had a round of kings. Anthony started drinking ouzo straight. A Japanese guy named Kazu came in and sat with us. We were having fun; when we left we were going to find the riots.
Anthony had taken the Aussie upstairs to make out. He said she was a terrible kisser. I couldn’t believe it! With her soft matronly smile? Terrible, he reassured me. He showed disgust when she tried to put her arm in his. I blamed it on his idiosyncrasies with women (for example, he met a Slovenian girl in Munich, pretty hot, very intellectual, and they found themselves walking under a bridge on Valentine’s Day when she turned to him and said, “I’m asking for it.” “Asking for what,” he replied, playing dumb. It was over after that. He confessed that there was no attraction between them; he only liked her as an intellectual. It’s hard to tell whether this is just an excuse or the honest truth…Anthony’s pretty weird).
The German girl stayed behind, which we were happy about. Can’t do anything with the herp. We bought Fix beer on the way to the riot and walked past Syntagma Square. But there was no riot. Onwards I led the crew to the bars neighborhood. I couldn’t wait to finish my beer and throw the bottle into a building to start a riot. So as we passed another square, I threw my bottle and all the girls got kind of scared and the guys told me to to chill out. Anthony had been seriously advocating finding/starting a riot, but when it came time for him to smash his bottle he placed it delicately in an overflowing trash can. Luckily, it fell to the floor so I could pick it up and throw it across the street to watch it bounce and shatter near a scared Greek couple. A cab came up from behind and I gave it a sideways kick as it passed me. The driver rolled down his window and said something like, “Hey,” but I ignored him as I crossed the street. My friends were calling me crazy, thinking I was out of control the entire time but I knew my boundaries. All I was trying to do was act on all the talk. Riots had been the theme of the night, and if we couldn’t find a riot, I was at least going to shatter some glass. I hate people who say they’re going to do something and fail to act–no matter whether their actions are good or bad.
Once the cabby had turned and I’d pretended enough, I reassured my friends that I wasn’t nearly as drunk as I seemed, that I was actually just messing around, for the riot’s sake. I took out my map and showed them that we were very close to the good party neighborhood, where Anthony and I had explored our first night in Greece. Finally we arrived at what looked to be a cool area. I walked with Chris and Kazu straight into a crowded bar with loud music. Yeah. Soon the girls came in, wondering where we had gone. The Aussie shared a chair with me. Anthony came in, slurring and raging drunk. We started taking pictures. A couple of tables left. I don’t know if it was because we were tourists in their bar or it was one-thirty. Whatever it was, Anthony had disappeared. The Aussie said, “Let’s go somewhere else so I can get a spirit,” which in two o clock Friday night language means, “I need an excuse to take off my panties.” So we walked across the street and I bought her a vodka cherry, because they didn’t have cranberry. Greeks.
Yan, already drunk on beer and ouzo, foolishly ordered one too. After a few sips his head bobbed. He looked pretty bad. I went to the bathroom and when I came back he was outside, facing away from us. I could see him talking to himself. Then he slapped himself. Came back in. He walked downstairs. Even I was pretty drunk; my beer seemed pretty gross. When he came up, he announced that he felt sick. We decided to go. We stepped outside. Yan vomited more. The girls flocked to him. They held him, coddled him, asked him if he was all right. We started walking. I led. By the end of the twenty minute walk, all of the sexual tension that had been building through the night was released in maternal care, lavished on poor Yan. But I had hope.
The Aussie said she’d help him into his room, which was my room too. So as he stood at the sink, cleaning himself, the door was open and I walked into the hallway with her. I kissed her. It was terrible. Her motionless cold thin lips gave guppy kisses, open, close, open close. I held her head. She didn’t respond. I should have felt her breasts, perhaps that would have incited her to feel some sort of passion. I tried closing the door to my room, to be away from the sound of Yan running the sink, but she held the door open and went back in to finish tending to him. I had had enough. I said I was going to sleep, took off my shirt and wished her goodnight.
The next morning I woke to see Yan, heavy purple bags under his conjunctivized eyes saying that it was eight o clock and he had a flight at nine. And I momentarily wondered in my semi-lucid state whether he would make it. Then I laughed and thanked god I wasn’t in his shoes before I went back to sleep for an hour. I woke at 920, with ten minutes to eat breakfast. Anthony and I took the elevator. We made coffee, took toast and Anthony joked that he was still drunk. I had a confession to make. I felt like a tool. I had kissed the Aussie too. “Wasn’t it terrible?” he asked. “Yes!” I laughed, relieved he didn’t think any less of me for taking his sloppy seconds. We giggled maniacally. He guffawed, stinking of ouzo. “God it was like she had bones in her lips!” And we ate our fill and laughed and talked about art and literature, as we usually do over breakfast.
I asked about the bus to Delphi and we left, saying goodbye to the herpetic German girl as she drank tea, glad to be rid of her. We walked to the subway and just missed the train, giving us time to talk out the computer and play “On the Road Again.”