July, 1995. I am sitting on the marble floor of my departure gate in the Athens Airport with many impatient Hungarians. We are all waiting for our plane to Budapest to arrive.
Frankly, I am just glad to be at the gate at all, considering I had just ridden on a ferry and a bus, run several blocks while being chased by feral dogs and then hailed a $1,000 drachma cab to take me to about .9 kilometers to the International Terminal.
Worse, I had begged, pleaded and gone both Ugly American and Damsel-in-Distress at the ticket counter. The result was a scolding about checking in late and getting a personal escort to the Malev Airlines gate where the friggin’ flight is now delayed due to mechanical problems. Hence, my current situation, which is a far cry from yesterday.
Upon arrival, it’s easy to believe you have money in Mykonos in 1995 — especially when you’ve just found a gorgeous whitewashed pension with cobalt blue trim for $13 a night. It’s got a view of the Aegean Sea, a pool and a toilet. Goats even roam the hills in the background for a quaint, rustic feel.
Where is Robin Leach? “I’m ready to be interviewed about my champagne and caviar lifestyle!” In reality, for my friend Indira and me, it was more of an airline size bottle of Ouzo and a street side gyro lifestyle.
“What do you want?” a small voice asked from somewhere near the deli counter where I was standing in a 7-11esque convenience store in Naxos, Greece. The question was definitely more a demand for information than an exercise in customer service.
I peered over the counter and spotted a skinny eight-year-old Greek boy in neon board shorts and a faded tank top with “I’d Rather Be Surfing – Greek Isles” peeling off the front. He emerged from behind the counter because a shelf topped with various sausages and soft cheeses obscured his view.
I looked around for an adult proprietor. An older woman with a tight bun, dressed in a loose-fitting floral sundress, sitting by the cash register seemed to fit the bill. A young girl wearing the same patterned sundress counted change next to her. Meanwhile, the proprietor read what appeared to be a Greek tabloid.
The boy, however, moved directly in front of me. Despite the fact that I could have placed my beach bag on the top of his head, he was an intimidating presence with his arms crossed against his chest. Tapping his fingers along his tiny bicep, he waited for my response. It didn’t take body language fluency to figure out that this kid was irritated. Indeed, it was evident — he would rather be surfing.
Having just spent a week driving a motorscooter around Italy’s beautiful but treacherous Imalfi coast, justifiably, my friend Indira had picked up either bravado or a deathwish. Consequently, she was fearless driving a motorscooter on the empty roads crossing the barren landscape of the Greek island of Naxos.
Afraid of wrecking on my moped and scraping off all my skin, I proceeded slowly. And despite wearing the most massive helmet that the island of Naxos had to offer, one that looked like it would withstand even intergalactic travel to the Death Star, I still puttered well behind Indira and Katherine, a friend we had met on the ferry from Athens.
It didn’t take long before I became separated from Indira and Kari. Basically, I was lost. On the interior of this island, the immediate surroundings all looked the same: lots of scrub brush and an occasional windmill, goat or donkey. I stopped and tried to get my bearings. I sure seemed to be in the middle of Naxos’s nowhere.
In many countries around the world, displaying bare legs or wearing shorts when you’re a woman in a sacred place is a definite foreign faux pas. However, it is easy to forget this while traveling during a scorching hot summer in Greece.
On one particularly blistering day, on the island of Paros, my friend Indira and I arrived straight from the beach — in shorts — to visit a beautiful Orthodox church.
Fortunately, a practical employee had provided a basket full of Orthodox sanctioned itchy, unflattering burlap looking sacks that passed for skirts.