Written in 2002 on Tuesday the 8th of October, two months into my three-month stint in Europe
Upon stepping out of the Pelopennese train station and inhaling my first breath of Athenian air, the pretty young lady with the funky hair that my perving eye had instinctively caught sight of was returning my glance and had raised the wager with a cheeky smile. My travel-induced lethargy was soon forgotten as quickly as a Steven Seagal film and a chat quickly ensued. I smiled a lot, I impressed her with my knowledge of the Greek language and I made her laugh with my incomparable wit. In short, I laid on the charm and I was looking good.
Then she handed me the pamphlet for the Hostel Aphrodite.
With that, my sudden confidence was found to be nothing more than empty braggadoccio, for I had failed to see that she was the charmer and I the snake. It hurts me to admit it, but she had won me over, because if it wasn’t for my uncle’s apartment down the road, I would have most certainly stayed the night at the hostel fittingly named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.
Things improved the next day though when I had an impromptu chat with a Greek man on the street. The conversation was not thrilling, just the usual discourse related to my travelling and Greek roots. But the conversation took on a, some would say, Ancient Greek hue, for just as I was wrapping up our chat, this seemingly pleasant Greek man offered to take me to a hotel. I initially thought of the happenings of yesterday at the train station and I figured I was once again the dumb tourist that was fresh meat for the wares of a salesman, so I politely declined the invitation stating that I was staying at my uncle’s house. And that was when he offered to pay for the hotel. I realised then that my new Greek friend had ideas for the fresh meat that stood before him that were slightly different to those of the lady from the train station. My negative response was reiterated, although somewhat whimsically, for I knew I was avoiding an opportunity to really get in touch with my Greek roots, but relatives were coming over for dinner and I did not wish to be rude.
In the moon-like landscape of Meteora, where monasteries were built on the top of these giant oddly-shaped rocks in the 14th century some say so that the monks could avoid persecution by the Venetians, I came to meet the one-eyed priest named Pandelis. He was a friendly chap, offering me loukoumia (Greek sweets that are like Turkish delights) and plenty of water, so much so that he consistently poured far too much water into the glass he had provided me each time he refilled it, causing some exceptionally humorous spillage in light of his missing eye and excessively thick spectacles. Nevertheless, we had a good chat and he seemed genuinely interested in my personal history, having taken hold of my hands and looking attentively at me whilst I was speaking to him, although that could have been just because he was practically blind.
But soon my friend, Pandelis the priest, decided to rant in a kindly manner about the need for me to find a good Greek wife whilst I was in Greece. This was so that I could pass the Greek language and religion down to my children, and, most importantly, because a good Greek wife is less likely to want a divorce, which is most definitely a sin. He continued offering me his priestly wisdom by proceeding to advise me that upon travelling outside of Greece, I should most definitely not mix with the foreigners who will only lead me down the path of sin and misfortune. His solemn instructions for me when travelling to foreign lands, for he considered me a god-fearing Greek man, were to merely look at the sights each day and return to the hotel without mixing at all with the perfidious locals.
Upon deciding soon after that it was time for me to leave the monastery and say my farewell, my friend, the cyclopean priest named Pandelis, blessed me with kisses and odd gesticulations, informing me most sincerely that God was always by my side, protecting me from evil. I was most grateful after I left the monastery that I was in fact living in the 21st century, but only time will tell if this almost-blind priest has cursed my future travelling with his blessings and has somehow arranged for circumstance to greet me with a Spain and Italy of nothing more than lifeless buildings and hotels. Those who are supposed to know these things say the priests built the monasteries on these out of reach giant rocks to avoid persecution by the Venetians, but has anyone investigated the possibility that the Venetians built the monasteries on the rocks of Meteora to avoid their being persecution by the priests?
Many of you would know of my hatred for the colour white when worn, and knowing that most of you come from Melbourne where black always is this season’s black, I am assuming it is a shared distaste. Yet here in Greece, you can see whole families of people draped in white. I have been momentarily blinded on many occasions when the ever-present Greek sun has reflected from people’s completely white shirts, shoes, socks, jumpers, jackets, pants, scarves and knits into unsuspecting eyes. And that is not the only fashion crime the people of Greece have committed. I remember a maths teacher from my high school, Mr Richardon, who used to be ridiculed by the student populace quite appropriately for his love of bum bags. Yet he would feel completely at home here in Greece, for the bum bag is a much loved accessory in the land of backgammon and Socrates. The humble bum bag has won over the hearts and rear ends of the young and old here in Greece, and I have decided that my first million will be made manufacturing white bum bags for the people of Greece so that they will match the shade of cloth they love to wear so much.
And in other news:
- I decided to shave off the moustache I had been cultivating for about a week after seeing the rather tragic photo of Daniel Johns from Silverchair sporting an embarrassing strand of facial hair on his upper lip and realising I must have looked much stupider than how stupid I already thought I looked.
- Why has 23 years of my life passed without my having appreciated the vinegar-like flavours of the ultra-dry white wine of Greece, Retsina?
- I broke a bed in Hania, Crete; I broke a bed on the island of Naxos; and I broke my uncle’s bed upon returning to Athens.
- On the radio, I heard a song sung to the tune of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice, thus providing ample proof that even in Greece one cannot escape Whispering Jack.
- My cousin played for me some bouzouki-laced traditional Greek music with a reggae rhythm, which most surprisingly, was kinda cool.
- Nick Giannopoulos is starring in a television serial spoken in Greek and set in Melbourne that tells the story of a group of migrants in Australia and which has been a huge hit in Greece.
- I saw an episode of the modern version of Skippy The Bush Kangaroo on Greek television, which has kids running around the outback speaking in overdubbed Greek, as one would naturally expect when travelling through Australia.
- I rode on the back of a motorbike for the first time helmetless as my cousin took me on a journey around Athens, dodging and weaving fearlessly through the traffic whilst often turning his head to speak to a face that was trying ever-so-desperately not to betray the fear of its owner.