Andros Chicks Are Easy
We get off the ship in the hot breezeless port of Gavrio and head for the first cafe to get a frappe and make our plans. I like the town. It has a tourist-less feel to it mainly because there was no reason that any tourist would want to be here. It's ugly, almost industrial looking. As we walk down the large main street that borders the bay we are pursued by a man in a Mykonos fisherman cap yelling, "You want room?" He sits at a table close to ours. I ask if anyone in town rents cars and he takes me to his brother's agency. Then he takes me back to the cafe which belongs to another brother. He shows me the restaurant that still another brother owns. He has six brothers and I take that as a good omen. We arrive at an island and meet a man who is one of seven brothers. As ugly and un-charming as the port is, maybe we should stay. But Andrea won't hear of it.
"Go call Dorian and see what he says," She tells me. The man brings me to his brother who has the store with the telephone. Dorian tells us to go to Batsi, a fishing village down the coast.
"Unless you have a brother with a taxi this might be the end of our business relationship" I tell our host. It's the one job that isn't filled by someone in his immediate family so he reluctantly calls to his cousin who has a cab and we wave good-bye to our helpful friend and drive down the coast.
Batsi is a small fishing village, or was a small fishing village, or perhaps still is a small fishing village when it's not summertime. Whatever it was has been annexed into a medium sized tourist village full of Brits and Swedes on low-budget package holidays. We dump our bags in the main platia while Andrea walks off with a fat Greek woman on a wild goose-chase to see her rooms whose only redeeming value is that they are next to a supermarket. Amarandi sits on a little train that goes around in circles and plays Italian circus music for two minutes every time I fed it a hundred drachs. It's an expensive way to keep her occupied but after five or six trips she is bored with it. Andrea reappears drenched in sweat after climbing several mountains, and collapses.
I continue the search and find a small room in a beautiful enclosed garden, shaded by lemon trees and a grape arbor. It's in a house right across from the beach and our room has a small kitchen. There are two little children who belong to the son of our landlady. He is a violinist named Yannis, with the National Orchestra. His brother is the violist, his father the cellist and his grandfather the contrabassoist. "A family tradition" he tells me. He also tells me the best places to fish, eat, drink, and watch the Euro-basketball Championships, of which he is very interested in and watches every night.
Andrea, Amarandi and I take a nice swim on the town beach, which except for some tiny bits of plastic that look like they had been endlessly shredded by propellers, covering every inch of the sea, and a prophylactic that unfortunately is intact enough to be recognizable, is surprisingly clean. After, we shower and start to walk the few meters into town. We don't get ten feet when we see a free cocktail party complete with mixed drinks, retsina and ouzo, catered by the Oasis Taverna of which we have seen signs for all over the village. There are big plates of keftedes, sausage, sadziki, dolmades, olives, feta, potato keftedes, vegetable fritters and several salads. We enjoy the hospitality of the jewelry store that is putting on this nice little party.
We drink several ouzos and eat most of the food while discovering that many of our fellow partygoers are foreigners who live here.
I speak mostly to a man named Roger, who is the unofficial representative of the Oasis and acts as the host as well as a talking billboard that gives directions to the restaurant which is on the other side of town. Roger is a retired salesman who spent twenty years selling the giant staples that gave me so much trouble when I tear apart packing crates to make my traditional Byzantine Icons in America. I think of the many times I had cursed them in frustration while trying to pull them out of the wood that they had been so efficiently stapled into, or the time I had impaled my thumb on one while trying to pull out another. With Roger I have someone I can project my anger on, a face rather then a company name. But it is my holiday and the ouzo is flowing freely and Roger is a nice guy. Besides, when he first explained what he did, I misunderstood and thought he sold the metal detectors that lumber companies use to detect where Earth-First activists had spiked trees to keep them from being cut down. Finding out that he is not the enemy makes it easier to drink his wine and eat his food, as a sign of friendship rather then a sign of protest.
Finally Andrea drags me away. Amarandi has been laying on the floor pretending she's a dog and talking to the big old lab that has been coming from England every summer for fourteen years. I could stay for hours or at least until the food and ouzo is gone, but I agree to follow Andrea, knowing that I can ditch her at the first boutique and return for more.
The quiet little village has magically transformed itself into a tourist haven. There are cafes and clubs and restaurants everywhere. We walk to the end of the town and check out the rocks on the other side for fishing possibilities. On the way back Amarandi becomes interested in a group of children so we find a nice taverna called Stamatis, and have dinner. The food is exceptional and the servings are huge. It's by far the largest Greek Salad I have ever eaten. We order some homemade rose wine but I can't drink it and switch to beer which seems more compatible with the chicken and vegetables I have ordered. When we get back to the room Yannis and his wife are sitting in the garden watching the basketball game on television. I watch for awhile and we talk but the game is a hopeless slaughter and I want to read my Herald Tribune. Unfortunately Andrea has fallen asleep and Amarandi wants me to read her a story. We both fall asleep the second time through Little Red Riding Hood.
I sleep great here. I awake refreshed and feel even more so after two cups of coffee. For the first time in awhile Amarandi does not wake up crying and I think that maybe we are over the hump and she has become adapted to life here and will be happy from now until the end of August when we will have to go through the same adaptation process in America. As it turns out she was merely saving her sadness, and she whines and cries and screams until Andrea, who for some reason slept terribly, begins to unravel, and as it has been so often this vacation, I am caretaker of two unhappy, complaining Greek females.
We decide to walk through the town before it gets too hot. The wind is blowing cool and refreshing. Despite the complaining going on I feel very happy to be in Batsi. I don't care that there are tourists around and that signs everywhere shout "ENGLISH BREAKFAST SERVED HERE!" The sea is my favorite color of blue and I could stay here all summer. I also know that I better enjoy it while I can because Andrea does not share my feelings about Batsi and I will be lucky if she agrees to stay until tomorrow.
Amarandi wants to be held continuously. "Let's donate your feet to someone who needs them", I tell her. "You don't use them. We have to carry you everywhere." But she refuses to part with them, knowing in the back of her mind that someday she may be too big for us to hold. We wander over the hill on the road out of town and look down the cliff at the sea breaking on the rocks below. It looks great for snorkeling. A light turquoise along the shore that drops to a deep blue. There's got to be fish here. On the way back through town we stop for breakfast which cost a fortune, before coming back to our room which seems like one of the nicest spots on the island.
Again it's hot as hell, and humid too. If this is June, what will July and August be like? I had great dreams last night. I think Dorian's psychic energy has permeated this village because in my dream I realized I was in love with Gigi Nivison. I haven't seen her in 20 years, or even thought of her in all that time. Nor have I ever said more then ten words to her in my life. But she was the standard that Dorian measured all the girls in his life. She was his most beautiful girlfriend, though I don't know if she would have called herself his girlfriend. She was blonde, blue-eyed and seemed perfect in real life just as she was in my dream. Perhaps knowing what reality had in store for me I didn't want to wake up. I always thought that I deserved a Gigi Nivison, but when given the opportunity I have always thrown it away with my talent for self-sabotage. When girls were attracted to me for my sense of humor, I became serious and morose. I remember when Candy Tester, the most desirable girl in the school told Kirk Esco that she liked me and he set up a date for us, I trailed behind the two of them acting moody and distant. It was a defense mechanism I guess. In those days, If you wanted a girl you act cool until you attract them. Unfortunately I didn't know how to turn it off. Even after she made it clear she was interested I carried on the act because I was afraid to face her in person. Lack of confidence has destroyed many a potential romance for me.
The day takes forever to get to seven o’clock, the acceptable hour for me to have an ouzo. Yesterday Amarandi and I walked through the valley looking for goats. Our original intention was to go swimming but she stood on the shore and cried while I was able to cool off for about thirty seconds. We walked back towards our room along the beach and we found a big dead eel. As soon as we pulled it on to the beach for a closer look we attracted a crowd of people, each eager to tell us their life story. That's one of the things I like about Batsi. It's full of middle-class holiday package tourists who enjoy telling you about their simple lives in England. Actually they are desperate to talk to anyone but their partners, especially if that person speaks English. Last night I was given a complete tour of the Midlands by the couple at the next table during dinner. That was after Andrea had sent me to another table at the next restaurant to talk to a guy who promoted bands in New South Wales. Amarandi comes alive after sundown and attracts lots of comments. One guy said she looks like she is practicing to be a street-urchin. I thought he said "street-walker" and I said, "Good. I can retire". He looked at me uncomprehendingly and that's when I noticed the giant wooden cross around his neck.
We found a nice place on the dock for ouzo but a couple of the mezedes were pieces of spam on bread and not even Amarandi would try them. I had to run into town to buy some canned sardines and delicious Amfissa olives from the old fashioned grocery store. The sardines go great with ouzo, especially the spicy ones from Portugal.
Andrea went home to read. Amarandi and I stayed in town because she had found a small army of children playing around the little train that plays the Italian songs. The town was hopping, I guess because Friday is the day that the new tour groups arrive.
On the way home there was a guy with a guitar auditioning at one of the bars, stumbling through "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and "Blowin In The Wind" with the chords and lyrics spread out on the music stand in front of him. What is the matter with these young musicians? They couldn't remember the lyrics to their own national anthem I bet. I used to play almost 3 hours a night and never used a lyric sheet. In fact the only time I have ever used a lyric sheet in a performance was at my friend Parthenon Huxley’s wedding when he called me on stage to sing a song with him and surprised me with Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’ which I had no idea of the lyrics. But back in my youth I could spontaneously perform the entire Jesus Christ Superstar from beginning to end without looking at a lyric sheet even though I had never done anything except hear it a few times in high school. My feeling is that if you need a lyric sheet or a song chart then you are probably not ready to be playing that song live.
Thank God for Euro-Basketball. From 9:30 in the morning until midnight there are games. So far I have only seen the Greek team. I haven't watched very diligently, just bits and pieces. I'm waiting for the stakes to be higher but with Greece on the brink of elimination, I may be waiting for next years Olympics, though should they lose another game Greece won't be a part of it.
Tonight we go to dinner with Jim and Helena, along with their two kids Petros and Christos and Jim's mother who for some reason is introduced to us only as 'Jim's mother' or 'Yaya', meaning Grandmother. I had called Jim's father in Athens and he gave me their number in Andros. It was right down the road from Batsi and we arranged to meet. They show up around nine, just as we are getting ready for round two of ouzo and meze in the courtyard. We had gone to the mini-supermarket next door and bought tins of sardines, some oil-cured olives to go with our Amfissa olives, feta and a big bottle of Ouzo Mini. Jim's entourage walks into the yard with the Yaya trailing behind. I wasn't sure if she was part of their group or just some curious old woman using the confusion of their entrance as an opportunity to sneak in and look around. When we all sit around the table and she joins us, I realize that she is part of our "parea" or group and I offer her some ouzo which she refuses. She immediately lights up a cigarette and smokes continuously throughout the evening. Jim says we should speak in Greek so she won't feel left out but after awhile it's obvious that by including Yaya in the conversation, we are excluding nearly everyone else and Yaya isn't even interested in anything we have to say. She just keeps smoking and blowing smoke in our faces until she stands up and announces in Greek, "I have to urinate". No polite query as to the whereabouts of the bathroom, just that proclamation. Andrea takes her away. When she returns we all jump up to go to Jim's favorite restaurant in Gavrio. Everything seems a bit hysterical and confused so I just follow our friends as they squeeze us all into Jim's father's BMW, and with Helena driving, we speed up the windy mountain road to the port.
When we get to the restaurant we are pleasantly surprised. The port is as desolate as a village can be at 10pm but the restaurant, which is in a small platia on a back street, is jumping. We sit down at a big table while Andrea and Amarandi run off to find a phone and call Amarandi’s grandmother. The waiter recites the menu for us but does it entirely in hyper-speed-Greek so nobody really understands it except Jim and his mother, and she isn't really listening. Helena asks what they have and I try to recite it back but all I can remember is the bacalaro. Jim snaps at Helena and she snaps back and they continue that mode of communication for the rest of the evening. Yaya just smokes until the food comes. I had ordered the bacalaro but the waiter places it in front of Yaya and I watch in disbelief as she devours the whole thing without looking up to see what has become of the stuffed tomatoes she had ordered. I reorder, and Petros, Amarandi and I walk over to the television to watch Greece beat Sweden in basketball. Eleven year old Petros tells me how to make bombs out of the different chemicals in common fireworks. In the meantime Jim's mother, tired of all the English being spoken calls us all a bunch of donkeys and moves to the next table where she complains about us to a middle-aged couple while enveloping their table in a cloud of smoke. They don't seem to mind. They shake their heads in sympathy, glaring at each of us individually every time she tells them something new.
The owner of the restaurant is dressed provocatively enough to be a hooker and even young Petros expresses an interest in her but before he can formulate a plan Jim runs out of steam and sends us home with Helena. We stop at the newspaper store where there is another woman who looks like a hooker but she may be a man. What is it with this town? No bars or clubs, just one lousy restaurant and every woman I've seen is either a prostitute, a transvestite, or both. Maybe Gavrio is the Siberia for women of ill repute. What could they have done that is so terrible that they would be sent to this God-forsaken outpost. "It is a port", Andrea had pointed out in reference to the possible coming and goings of horny sailors. But the only ship that comes here is the ferry stopping for only five minutes. Not really enough time for any meaningful action or sexual satisfaction. It must be a frustrating life for the hookers of Gavrio.
The next morning we are barely awake when Petros and Jim show up to take us swimming as we had apparently planned, though I don’t remember being part of the committee. They drop us off at a crowded beach while they go up to their hotel to pick-up Helena, Christos and of course Yaya. I dread the thought of seeing Yaya in some stylish bikini so I put on my mask, snorkel and flippers, and swim for the rocky peninsula at the end of the beach. I expect Petros and Jim to follow me out there, but I spend two and a half hours swimming alone. When I return, only Petros is still there. He had come after me but never caught up. There's a note on Amarandi's stroller saying they will pick us up at three so while we hang out, Petros shows me his idea for an air-bag that you can take underwater with you to give yourself an extra breath and an added advantage over the fish. Finally I hear a beep and we gather our stuff and put it in the car. Jim drives back to Batsi like a maniac. I had considered suggesting we go to one of the cheap tavernas in the mountains tonight but after Jim's gutsy display of driving home from the beach, I reconsider. When we get back to our room Andrea tells me with a horrified expression how after lunch they had gone back to the hotel and Yaya had stripped off her clothes in the living room and then paraded around in a see-through chiffon nighty. Thank God I wasn't there.