International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Europa
on 25 Ouzos a day
John M. Edwards
your life!!!" the olive-skinned Greek hotel owner implored
me with evident passion.
He was not talking about my "crazy" plan to take a boat
over to Kusadasi, Turkey--Greeces empirical ex landlord and
reluctant NATO partner--in order to see the nearby ruins of the
Hellenic architectural wonder: Ephesus. No, he must have been referring
to the fact that my left leg bore a deep red gash, unbandaged
was my just desert for falling under my motorscooter on a long and
windy trunk road made up mostly of asphalt scar tissue and loose
Oddly enough, after seeing a local young doctor kildare who sent me
packing into town, limping on a gammy leg with a flap of flesh hanging
half-mast, to buy a syringe myself, before he injected me with a Tetanus
booster, he painted my leg with a thick orange paste resmbling Neosporin
. Or,, phlegmy expired Chiffon margarine. The wound magically
healed in a matter of days!
The pain had been something of an ordeal; my horrific balls felt as
heavy as the frigging Elgin marbles.
But actually my big fat frat wedding host, a kind of prideful cross
between an explicit Anthony Quinn and Telly Savalas, was referring to
something sensationalistic that he had just seen in the news: "There
are riots in Los Angeles! You must stay here. You cannot go home."
I dittoed his desire for yours truly to remain a permanent (paying)
houseguest at his unique "hospitality," literally cut like
a cave out of the stone, even though the toilet didnt flush and
his thick Greek syrupy coffee didnt look any better. You know,
the pagan ritual remains of the day and night. Once again, the usual:
grilled octopus, hanging out to dry like rubbery asterisks in every
available courtyard, and retsina, tasting like delicious lip-smacking
turpentine, but both cheap and good!
Glancing over at my (now ex-) girlfriend, wearing Tintinette khaki shorts
and a revealing halter top, with what I imagined was a slightly too-familiar
lustful stare, the holier-than-thou-art hotelier assured me, apropos
of nothing, "You know here in Samos, we do things differently.
We are all Orthodox Christians, a little different from your American
Im actually from a mostly Methodist Protestant family, but its
all the same to me anyway. He leaned in a little closer so I could share
a stultifying whiff of his aromatherapy vinotherapy, with a conspiratorial
wink. "If anyone messes with our women, we kill them!"
"Really, Im glad to hear that!" I didnt really
know what else to say.
"You two will be safe here. No one will bother you. If you stay
one or two months, I will lower the price for your room."
"Eferestow," I thanked, the only word in Greek I really know,
other than word-origin roots like "helio" (of the sun).
Alas, in private high school I had studied some Latin but no Greek.
Even though I grew up near Edison, New Jersey, with its sizable Greek
diaspora and its fair share of shipping millionaires, some of whose
families had once upon a time lived across the water in Asia Minor (under
Ataturk), before the notorious b-i-g "resettlement," rather
than the peninsular nation-states which gave us such inventions as phobic
theatrical comedy, tragedy, and democracyas well as simply irresistible
moussaka, feta cheese, and baklava.
While out wandering in a change of scene, I came across a tempting taverna
(tavern) offering up its metallic-looking catch of the day, when, out
of nowhere an ugly mutt straycat shrieked and landed on my feet. I booted
her black-and-white carcass to kingdom come like a soccer ballactually,
it was more of a light pass in case any animal-rights activists out
there would like to accuse me of just being downright mean sometimes--and
the frisky feline familiar scampered away, mewling piteously.
And then I looked up with a what the?
I had caught sight of a distant whitewashed church straining under a
shimmery blue dome, which to me resembled the psychedelic dyed yarmulke
(skullcap) of a NYU "Jews for Jesus" student jamming on acoustic
guitar at Central Parks "Imagine." (Which I guess is
sort of a strange allusion, eh?)exactly the same accursed color
as the awesome Mediterranean skies on a way sunny day.
But hey! Wasnt that Zeus rolled up in his toga and drifting in
the chthonic clouds, perhaps as a friendly warning, maybe as an auspicious
Everyone secretly believes in God, but what about the prehistoric gods
with a small g. From my investigative poring over the Classics (Pliny,
Plato, Strabo, Sophocles, Aristotle, Euripedes, you name it), I wildly
speculated sometimes: Now what if these mischief- and merry-making mythological
deities (often aping the fabley foibles of regular Dicks and Janes),
such as, say, Apollo or even Woden, who might after all really have
been real gods, came back to lord it over us again?
Here in the Greek islands, the pagans once practiced human sacrifice,
relying on oracles for sage advice and cryptic clues as to their own
damnable fates. "Take a boat on the River Styx, or the Lethe if
you so prefer, and cut off a writhing snake tail from the Medusas
hairdoo and bring it back to me, without, and I repeat, without looking
her in the eye, aye. . . ." an Adelphi pretender was once purported
to say to pretty Greek-American actress Jennifer Aniston, star of Leprechaun,
whom I think I met once on Long Beach Island, on the Atlantean Atlantic
shores of the Garden State long before she was famous, while she searched
for the perfect mate: me.
Indeed, as a writer I too have my own collection of inspirational muses
outside my window who advise me on almost every single line, except
when they are out partying like good-time charlies at their favorite
dive bars sporting the ubiquitous Guinness sign, which is apparently
the worlds most consumed brew and clearly evident here amid the
sere dreamscape of Dionysius-domained Samos island nightlife.
Yet not thrown off at all by the amount of tourists walking around in
tell-tale plaster casts, looking downright gloomy about their disappearing
drachmas and griping about how expensive spinach-and- cheese phylo pies
were becoming here, I finally decided to depart Greece, with its donkey
carts and satanic goats and topless sunbathers, and take a whirling-dervish
boat trip across the 33-rpm-vinyl-record-grooved retroactively warped
and wavy sea to the vaguely forbidding farther shore from whence came
Troy, as well as Ottoman delights. . . .
Thow away those Trojans and dive in!
(Note: This may be the only travelers tale on Greece which neglects
to mention "smashing plates" and bazouki music. I fear that
since the Athens Olympics, the Grecian isle of Samos may one day resemble
more Balearic Ibiza than a choice Ray Harryhausen flick.)
Onward to France
French countryside, a region called "The Gers", a depot riddled
with ancient fortified towns dating back to the Hundred Years War (note:
Gascons fought on the British side), when my partner-at-the-time suddenly
pulled the rented Renault time machine into the parking lot of a café
pasted over with Pastis posters. Mox and Jox got out and began bickering
about how they were running out of money. Hey, I had an idea! Even though
financing ones trip to Europe by selling Levis is now implausible
and cliché, I had a hunch here in this paysage, populated by
gullible farmers in mud-covered Wellingtons and jaunty beret-basques,
that a denim deal just might work here. So inside the café, Mox
offered up a pair of appallingly smelly dirty jeans for the equivalent
of $100 in Monopoly-style francophiles (note: now called "euros,."
the Hellenic pronunciation of gyros). The somewhat gruff waiter, Jules,a
piece-of-work Alladin without any lamp to rub, somewhat reluctantly
agreed, adding as subtly as Gerard Depardieu on waterskis,that they
werent exactement for him but for an "ami." But alas
when weeks later we made a returntrip to the café, there was
dear old Jules sporting Moxs old "Blue Danube"-colored
Strauss jeans (Levi not Ricard and that other Classical Music dude whose
first name escapes me) --several sizes too small and literally bursting
at the seams. Indeed, they looked painted on: Jules looked worse than
a fat djinni trying to squeeze back in to Aladdins lamp, perhaps
sensing Barbara Eden was reclining down there. Stick to the Magyver
reruns, big guy! We never laughed louder in our entire lives, except
for the next day when something even funnier happened.
© John M. Edwards June 2009
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus),
with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to being
stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines
as Amazon.com, CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour,
Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International
Living, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput
Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Big World,
Vagabondish, Glimpse, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond
Review, Borderlines, ForeWord, Go Nomad, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan
Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA
(North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions
Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Travel Writing Award,
and a Solas Award (sponsored by Travelers Tales). He lives in
New York Citys "Hells Kitchen," where you can
eat ethnic every night with soul survivors from Danté's Inferno.
His indie zine, "Unpleasant Vacations: The Magazine of Misadventure,"
went belly up. His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, remain
unpublished. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a
life moments in travel
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