GREECE IS THE WORLD
At least it will be this summer! I just realized today that the Olympics are coming, the Olympics are coming!! Yay!! I love the Olympics! During the Winter '02 Olympics I printed out the handy viewing guide and spent hours in front of the television watching the luge and ski-jumping and curling. The Summer Olympics brings the opportunity to watch diving and swimming and it's about the only time that I don't cringe at the sight of men in speedos - though this year I think they'll be wearing those aerodynamic full body fish skin suits, but still, clingy!
I am not by nature a competitive person, nor am I driven to athletic endeavors for the joy of flexing my muscles. In fact, I don't really like to get sweaty while exerting myself doing sporty things - not my idea of a good time. But I really love watching athletes do what they've been training their bodies to do. For years. To the exclusion of everything else in their lives. I love the little bios that NBC sports does on all the athletes with stories about how their dad just died but they bravely soldier on, or they had cancer when they were a kid and look at them now.
Indeed the stories are already starting. There's a guy in Orange County who is going to try to make the swim team and compete in the 800m. against the unbeaten Australians. And he's 30! That's ancient in Olympic years. I mean it does vary sport to sport because you could be 60 and compete in archery, but let's face it if you're a female gymnast it's all over when you hit your 20s. I mean you can only hold puberty off for so long and if you've got an ass it's going to be pretty hard to get it over those uneven bars. Track and field is for the 20 year olds, but as they near their 30s they better have their endorsements lined up or their Wide World of Sport commentating gig because there's going to be some new youngster sprinting up on your ass and you'll already be running as fast as you can.
When my family went to Europe when I was a kid we went to Greece and saw where the first Olympics were held. In fact we saw the flame being run toward Munich because we were really lost, driving along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere along the ocean somewhere in Greece. As we drove slowly to God Knows Where, up ahead on the road we saw a ball of dust reflected in the setting sun and out of that ball came a slowly moving vehicle. Actually it was a convoy of vehicles driving very very slowly. My dad pulled over to the side of the road to make way as what looked like a police car crawled past. There were several other vehicles including an ambulance, and sandwiched in between them was the lone runner carrying the lit torch as he slowly made his way along the coast, taking the flame to the 1972 Olympics.
Where the Israeli team was murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
I am sure that "precautions" are being taken for the 2004 Olympics in Greece, but the state of affairs in the world is definitely casting a pall of anxiety over my normal joyful anticipation of the Olympics. I've been to Greece a couple times now and while they have tanks at the airport and guys with machine guns standing around I don't feel particularly safe there. At least not in Athens.
The people in Athens hate Americans. I know that's a glaring generalization and it's not necessarily true of ALL the people in Athens, but a lot of them really don't like us. And I don't really blame them - Athens is a tourist center and American tourists annoy ME for the most part - looking for McDonalds and a Holiday Inn so they can have all the comforts of home. Expecting people to speak English and basically being completely ethnocentric - I mean why travel outside the U.S. if you want things to be "like they are at home"? But anyway, the last time I was there was during one of their big elections. This is an interesting process because in Greece you must vote in the city, town or village where you were born, and if you don't then they take your passport away. Or at least this is how it was explained to me when I was trying to get on a domestic flight that was all booked up because the competing parties buy up all the seats to make it hard for people to get where they need to go. At least that's what they told me - but I'm an American who knows if I was getting the straight poop.
When we arrived in Athens, Jeri, Christina and I went straight to our hotel which had been booked over the internet. The picture on the internet didn't show the building next door that was either falling down, or under construction - we never did figure it out. We were just really aware of the men who were peering and leering at us from the windows, and spaces where there were chunks missing from the walls. Our "suite" consisted of two bedrooms and a siting room that looked like the waiting room at a mental hospital with cracked and dirty linoleum and a naugahyde couch trimmed with duct tape, but hey, it was only for one night. On our arrival we were informed by the front desk that they had rented out the second bedroom of our "suite" to some people called Brown, so they'd put a cot in the one bedroom where we'd all be staying. Okay fine, maybe they'll be cute English boys.
Or not. We took our naps, during which time the Browns arrived. When we got up to take showers and get ready to go out the Brown's room was dark. We didn't meet the Browns until we were all ready to go and they were emerging from the bathroom after their showers, he in his shower cap with the towel barely making it around his proteberant abdomen and she in her turban with a what looked like the bedspread from the bed wrapped around her rectangular bulk. They looked to be about 50 and we greeted them enthusiastically, hello! fellow travelers from another country. Apparently though, their name was Braun and they didn't understand anything we were saying because they only spoke German and ran quickly to their room and slammed the door. Auf weidersein Herr and Frau Braun!
That night we went to dinner and got a little drunk on Ouzo or Retsina or one of those fire water beverages that would make three women think it was a good idea to go out partying with our waiter and his friends. But we wanted to have the "local" experience! So they took us to a nightclub where we had to pay a cover and then we had to pay for the wine and the fruit. WE PAID -not a good sign! Especially since we were drunk and hadn't figured out the money and they were "helping" us. The floorshow was reminiscent of those Latino variety shows you see on cable tv - bad singers over-emoting and dance troupes in leotards with spangles. These girls did some jazzy numbers to Beat It and Billy Jean is Not My Lover that involved splits and cheerleading moves. When the women in evening gowns came out and danced around the stage while a guy sang Barry Manilow well that was about the time that Jeri and Christina and I decided to get up on stage and dance too! Whee! Everybody dance! Her name was Lola! C'mon people make some noise, clap your hands! All the local folk just sat there looking really annoyed and okay we were being "drunk girl" annoying, but it was funny and the show was boring until we joined in.
I stopped having fun when I started to get the spins - all that sweet wine and not enough food combined with jet lag. Jeri had met a Greek sailor and I could tell she was going to start Part II of her evening and Christina is a stewardess so she can hang with the best of'em. I got my new waiter friend to drive me back to the hotel where I planned on passing out right after I threw up. He wanted to stop for a little date rape in the car but I dislocated his middle finger, thanked him for the ride and staggered into the lobby. Around me the sounds of gunshots rang out - because this is how the Greeks get ready to vote. They shoot guns in the air! Kind of like how Americans celebrate the 4th of July.
The next day we went to the Acropolis which you can no longer walk upon because the air pollution and tourist traffic is making it erode really fast. Twenty five years prior you could walk into the Parthenon and all over the Acropolis and it was so cool to walk where the Ancient Greeks had walked. Now you can walk on the dirt paths around where they walked, though they probably had to walk on the same paths to get to the temples so it's kind of the same. Oh well.
We also went down to Piraeus and booked a cabin on a late ferry to take us on the 8 hour cruise to Santorini where we planned to spend the bulk of our trip. We returned to the hotel and packed. We went outside to try to get a cab and not one would stop, which had been our experience from the second we stepped off the plane. We had taken buses and walked because no cabs would pick us up. After trying for a bit we went in and asked the desk clerk what was up. He said that they could see we were American and that's why they didn't stop. He called a cab for us and when the driver arrived, took one look at us and became surly and mean, and yelled at the desk clerk for tricking him.
He muttered under his breath in a threatening manner as he drove, though we tried to flirt and joke with him. We were really trying to win him over until he stopped 1 mile away from where our boat was leaving and then tried to charge us $150 for the ride. At this point we stopped being charming. Jeri is almost 6 feet tall and I am 5'9" and we were pissed. We had figured out how the money worked in the last 24 hours and we didn't appreciate him trying to bully us and steal from us so we grabbed our bags from the trunk and stood there screaming in his face, "agamisu malaka" which although I'm sure I haven't spelled it correctly, roughly means "fuck you pussyface" - Jer's sailor had given her some useful words for a fight. He was swearing right back at us, but he got in his cab and left with the money we gave him which was short because after all, he hadn't taken us to the boat - which we had to walk to through the port at midnight!
Things got loads better when we arrived on Santorini after a good night's sleep in our first class cabin, although I ended up leaving after 2 days to go with this guy I met to check out Crete. I couldn't keep up with the amount of booze being consumed by my friends and their new friends - I throw up when I drink too much and that's no fun. I loved Crete, a truly awesome place that I will go back and visit again, but I ended up getting stuck there when I tried to get home! The election travel conspiracy messed me up so bad I had to take a ferry from Crete back to Piraeus (12 hours), turn around and jump back on a ferry to Santorini (8 hours), run up the hill grab my luggage at the hotel and get immediately on another ferry back to Piraeus (another 8 hours and they weren't letting the cabins - it was seats only) so I could go catch my plane. That's 28 hours on the ferries with people who smoke and eat at the same time in low ceilinged rooms wreaking of deisel fuel.
By the third leg of that marathon I was in tears. I hadn't slept, I was exhausted, hungry and my feet were dirty which really drives me nuts. As I was sitting there crying into my gyro a diminutive man sitting across from me engaged me in conversation. I told him my story and he introduced himself. His name was Anthony and he was on his way back to Athens so that he could vote in the election. He worked in the steamship business and, in fact, his father owned a steamship company. He knew people on the boat and offered to take me to the VIP lounge. He was so nice and so polite and he spoke very good english because he'd gone to school in London, so I trailed him like a grateful lost dog. I would've followed him anywhere.
The VIP lounge was downstairs and was made up of upholstered booths. Anthony bought me a beer and I laid down to try to nap. I didn't want to be rude, but I was so tired I couldn't talk. The next thing I knew he was shaking me awake and he had arranged for the purser to open a cabin for us. It had 2 bunk beds on either side of the little room. I immediately took a shower and crawled in bed and passed out while he laid on the bunk opposite mine and smoked. It never occurred to me to feel distrustful or uncomfortable. I have never been so grateful to anyone in my life and he was a perfect gentleman.
The boat docked at 4am and the purser woke us. My plan was to pretend to be British so a cab would take me to the airport where I would wait for my flight which was going to leave at 11am that morning. Anthony took me instead to his father's house where he put me to bed in his old room and made me breakfast before driving me to the airport at 9:30, getting me there right on time. And now I know where the really wealthy people of Athens live and I will never forget Anthony as long as I live. The last time I heard from him was about 6 years ago - he called me about 5 in the morning, time difference you know. He asked if I remembered him and even having just been awakened from a dead sleep I said, "Are you kidding I'll never forget you! Are you in town? Do you need a place to say?" He was sorry for waking me and said he'd call again, but he never has, though I wish he would.
He told me when he dropped me off at the airport that he didn't want me to leave Greece thinking badly about Greek people, and I don't - but I think the world of Anthony.
And I hope that the Olympics are stupendous this year, not just because I really love them and I don't want anything to mar them, but because it would be great if Greece looked good in the eyes of the world. That would make Anthony happy I think.