Surf's Up!


Giant waves. I know it as soon as I wake up. We go to Katinas for breakfast, but I am so excited I can barely eat my tomato and feta cheese omelet. First Mitch shows up in full traveling regalia. We tell him it is unlikely the dolphin will come today. He is willing to accept that. We wait on the dock just in case, but we all know there is no way a hydrofoil is going to risk leaving the safety of Zea Marina on a day like today. Waves are breaking over the dock almost continuously and we stand for an hour admiring and avoiding them. Mitch still looks unsure and we tell him even if by some miracle the dolphin comes he'd be crazy to get on it. There is nothing worse than a Flying Dolphin in rough weather. Everyone gets sick. Sometimes it has to just sit floundering on the waves because it is the only stable position when the weather gets too rough. Besides, tonight is the ferry, a spectacle he cannot afford to miss. Mitch feels better and we go to the beach to attempt to body surf.

The waves are pounding the beach and the people on it. Joan laughs at the idea of bodysurfing saying that the waves only break about ten feet from shore. "I'll put my ten feet of Kalohori waves against your forty feet of Atlantic waves anytime," I scoff. She doesn't accept the challenge and Mitch and I brave the seas alone. It's exhausting and several times I am pulled under and churned around, swallowing great quantities of sea water and making myself nauseous. "This is great!" I yell to Andrea as a wave knocks the wind out of me setting off another episode of coughing and gasping for breath. Even Amarandi is laughing as another wave upends me and I try to smile and hide the gravel and seaweed I am spitting up. Andrea had complained that we were not doing anything as a family. Now she happily sits on the beach as I amuse them with my antics while fighting to survive. We are one happy family. The anger and hostility of the previous evening have been forgotten while they delight in my suffering.

When I recover enough to stand up again we decide to go to lunch. We find Mitch, who had gone to reclaim his hotel room, sitting by himself at the Trocedero. The Trocedero is like a Greek restaurant in the States that no Greek or Philhellene will go to because it is not authentic. But here in Kalohori it is packed with the Greek Canadians and Americans who live off pizza, hamburgers and cokes, since they get authentic Greek cooking from their moms. The Greek food is on the menu in case their parents want to join them. Mitch had ordered a pikilia, which is a variety of canned snacks that they serve with ouzo, including the frankfurters wrapped in bacon that have become a favorite among the ouzo crowd. Mitch had no idea what a pikilia was. He just ordered it. When I explain it's a snack for drinking ouzo he goes ahead and orders ouzo. Good old adaptable Mitch, becoming a true Greek and making his mistakes work for him. We supplement his meal by ordering a few more of the items contained in his pikilia, all of which are disappointing except for the sardines, which are actually anchovies, that Elaine unceremoniously throws into the salad. This sets off a lively debate and while Mitch listens, we gave him a taste of what the rest of the summer will be like after he is no longer around to soak up most of Elaine's attention and listen to her countless stories. Andrea wants to know why we are even eating here since the food is so lousy. Amarandi has an accident and needs emergency treatment in the bathroom. Elaine is lecturing one of us, I can't tell who, while Mitch is talking to himself while trying to decipher his pikilia. What does it matter where we eat? Even when the food is bad the entertainment is always great.

The arrival of the ferry is more exciting than usual with the waves now several meters in height. The THESEUS backs in and everyone on the dock is cleared away by Yorgos and his father who fear an extra large wave might deposit the ship on the dock, propellers slashing through the crowd. It might have been an ugly sight. As it is there's a sense of panic in the air as people rush to get off the boat which is rising up and down with the sea. Yannis, Yorgo and the Bulgarian are running in and out of the ship carrying boxes for the store and stacking them on the dock. A wave crashes over the edge and threatens to carry the goods away. Everyone rushes to help, grabbing boxes and bringing them to safety while the crew shouts to keep the flow of vehicles moving off the ship so they can get the hell out of there and back to the sea where they are safe. At last the Theseus is emptied, untied and steams away.

Amarandi had heard the horn of the approaching ferry from Katina's where Andrea and Elaine had gone to eat earlier. She demanded to be taken to the boat and arrived just as it started to back in. We went out to the end of the dock to watch the excitement but she obviously had another accident and smelled so bad that I couldn't hold her, and she couldn't see from the ground. Andrea had to take her home and clean her up. She didn't return until we had started dinner and both she and Amarandi were in terrible moods. After five minutes Andrea went home leaving a screaming Amarandi with her grandmother. Elaine put her in the stroller and took a short walk. Within two minutes Amarandi was asleep. It turned out to be an enjoyable evening, eating, drinking and wondering when Mitch was going to be able to get out of here.

July 22nd

I didn't think the waves could get any bigger but they do. Mitch and I try body surfing but after every wave we have to get out of the water to recuperate. Instead, we spent the day at the bar where waves are going over the dock, hitting the wall in front of the bar with such force that water shoots a hundred feet up in the air and falls straight down like a waterfall. We sit underneath and get drenched. All the Greek-Canadian/Americans are there too. It's great fun. Sometimes the dock disappears as a wave races down the length of it. One particularly large wave drenches Elaine as she is putting on her suntan lotion sitting at a table behind the bar, thirty feet from the sea.

It's hard to tear myself away from the sea but I am cold and wet and everyone else had left the dock long before. The waves are slightly smaller though they still hit the bar fairly frequently. I assume they will die down by evening and tomorrow we will begin to see calm seas. Maybe I can spear fish again. I had been looking forward to fishing with Mitch and we haven't gone out once. The only day we could have gone I was so disturbed from my terrifying beach encounter with Maria the previous evening that I didn't trust myself with a speargun; fearing that in a fit of guilt and anguish I would turn it on myself, to the horror of Mitch and the amusement of the fish. But when Andrea and I get up the strength for an early evening swim the waves are still pounding the shore, slightly less violent, in fact nearly perfect for riding. The beating of the waves have taken away all the stones and now instead of a pebble we have a sand beach. Andrea takes a swim, I have a few rides and we go home. It's amazing how sore you can get from bodysurfing and even just standing in the surf. It must be the constant pushing and pulling and the muscles resisting the waves and currents.

While Andrea and Elaine get ready for dinner I walk down to the bar. All the chairs have been pushed way back from the sea as an occasional wave will break over the front wall. I go inside and have an ouzo with Chrisanthos, the old man who had taught me the skaros song, which he again makes me recite to make sure I have not forgotten it. He tells me he is a retired seaman and about all the ports he'd been to in America. Talk at the bar turns to the Junior Basketball Championships being hosted by Greece. The Greeks had beaten the Americans by twenty points and had run through the tournament winning all their games easily. Tonight they are playing Australia for the championship. I ask Chrisanthos what the weather would be tomorrow. More of the same, he says.

Mount Pendeli has been burning for two days. The strong winds make it a losing battle for the firemen and the army. There is a press conference on TV with the chief of the fire corps, the police, and a few ministers. The mood is glum. It's obvious they are admitting failure. The fire is out of control, entire neighborhoods are burning. A monastery and several small churches have gone up in flames and from the air you can see miles of charred ground where forests once stood. Greece is having a rough summer. There was the earthquake at Egeion, the thirty percent drop in tourism, the June heat wave and now this fire. On the other hand they had come in fourth in the European Basketball championships and will be going to the Olympics in Atlanta. Who cares if the economy collapses, the last remaining forests destroyed and killer earthquakes ravage the cities? The Greek basketball team is going to Atlanta, and tonight the Junior team will play for the championship.

Greek forest fires are an interesting phenomenon. Most of them are started by arsonists. In fact, arson is so popular among the Greeks that a friend of mine got a job with the arson division of the Chicago police department because she was Greek. But these fires are started by unhappy landowners. Because Greece has so few forests left, those that remain are classified as protected areas. That means if you own land in a forest you can't build on it. But if the forest should burn down, it is no longer protected and overnight, houses spring up even while the ground is still smoldering. Occasionally the government will crack down on these illegal dwellings, bring in a bulldozer and flatten the shacks while being careful not to destroy the villas which are just as illegal. Every summer another part of Greece is in flames and every summer editorials demand they change the law.

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