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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Europa

Samos on 25 Ouzos a day
John M. Edwards

-"Guard 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--Greece’s 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
This 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 stones.

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 didn’t flush and his thick Greek syrupy coffee didn’t 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 Catholicism."
I’m actually from a mostly Methodist Protestant family, but it’s 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, I’m glad to hear that!" I didn’t 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 democracy—as 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 ball—actually, 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 Park’s "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! Wasn’t that Zeus rolled up in his toga and drifting in the chthonic clouds, perhaps as a friendly warning, maybe as an auspicious sign.

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 Medusa’s 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 world’s 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 traveler’s 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 one’s trip to Europe by selling Levi’s 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 weren’t 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 Mox’s 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 Aladdin’s 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, CNN Traveller, Missouri Review,, 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 City’s "Hell’s 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 time traveler.

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