When I was 20 or 21, I set off to aimlessly traipse around Europe alone for a while. I’ve mentioned this trip before, when I wrote about learning to make cherry pie, but there were daily lessons and adventures, some of which will make my daughter’s toes curl if she stumbles upon them on these pages. (Yes, Celia, Mommy was something of a wild-child.) In any event, having made it through England, Ireland, France and Italy, I met an Australian girl, named Azba, in Italy and she was heading to Greece, so I decided to join her, seeing as I had no other plans.
We took the ferry from Brindisi to Corfu. Being broke, and young enough to believe we were invincible, we bought the tickets that allowed us barely enough space to huddle on the topmost outer deck, seated on the floor and leaning up against our backpacks with hundreds of other similarly situated youth. From above, I’m sure that we all looked like a bunch of unwanted books tossed in a box, some on top of each other, all leaning catawampus and splayed with disregard. As the endless journey wore on through the night, we were infinitely grateful for the body heat of strangers – and their disregard for the laws of the land, which allowed them to bring sufficient weed to get us all high enough to not care that we were freezing, uncomfortable, tired and hungry.
My memory is that it was a beautiful ride, and Azba and I snuggled up together, laughing. We had just left an idyllic Italian story – complete with 3 Italian boys and 2 Danish girls, in a country home – behind and were wondering if Greece could ante up.
When we got off the ferry, there were various busses there to gather up weary youth and bring them to one resort, campsite, hotel or another. For reasons that were utterly unknown to me, we chose a van that took us to a campsite. The place seemed great to me. There were tons of tents all set up, a great little cantina, and hundreds of youth from around the world. It was paradise, as far as I was concerned. Azba and I decided to share a tent, threw our packs in it and immediately set out to meet people.
Greece, if you’ve not been there, is a very assertive place. It almost assaults you, even when it is lazy and lascivious. Everything about it, from the intense natural beauty to the rapid lashings of a language spoken with imperative, brings your very pores to rigid attention, alert as if you are in training for some greater sensory assault to come. Something happens to people in Greece, and it is quite aside from pace or logic, it is as if the air itself washes your brain, leaving you only with an automated desire to consume and feel and explore.
On our first full day there, we took the shuttle down to the nude beach. We covered our bodies in the carrot oil that was native to the place, and slowly we became part of the sensory assault that had everyone constantly turned on. This was the first time that I ever saw an adult with no pubic hair. I noticed it on the women first, and thought it was quite strange. Ironically, the first time that I saw a man with no pubic hair, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I just stared and stared and stared at his penis, trying to figure out what was “wrong” with it. It looked normal, enough, there were two balls that looked of regulation size, shape and location. I just kept staring at it. When I finally pointed it out to Azba, and told her that I couldn’t figure out why it looked strange, she said, “Well, it’s got not a lick of fuzz, that’s all.” Right!
Anyway, that’s rather a digression. We spent that first day on the beach, found our way back, ate gyros, and got dressed to go out for the night. Having been backpacking for months, I had a very limited wardrobe. I opted for a pair of leather shorts that my “boyfriend” at the time had made from a deer that he shot himself, complete with the bullet hole in the right cheek. (Said “boyfriend” had already been dismissed, though he didn’t know it, when I had someone cut the bike chain off of my wrist and I threw it into a river in Galway.) These shorts, paired with a top that was little more than a black bra, and a pair of black sandals made a perfectly decent outfit for dancing the night away in Greece. I was young, fit, and at the time had a rather large tattoo on my chest.
Azba and I made it to town and popped into a taverna, ordered our requisite Ouzo and a beer, and could not have been happier. And then I saw him. And he saw me. Amidst this writhing mass of hormones and pheromones and the throbbing beat of 1990’s dance music, everything slowed to a blur, just like in the movies.
He looked just like Mick Jones (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, you know…) Well, a happy Mick Jones. (Though, probably even Mick Jones looked happy when he spotted a young thing in a bar who he had a reasonable likelihood of banging.) He walked up to me and grinned, held out his hand to shake mine. “Allo, I’m Steve.” Good gods! He had the most delicious cockney accent. I introduced myself. There was a moment of sparkling silence, positively pregnant with possibility, and then he said, in that perfect cockney accent (just as Mick Jones himself would have, I’m sure) “well, gee, I really like that tattoo on your tit, fancy going back for a fuck?”
Hell ya! Turned out, he was working at the campsite that Azba and I had decided to stay at. As a result, Azba pretty much had the tent to herself, and Steve and I had a blast. I was in heaven. This boy was sweet, cute and could play me every bit as well as ol’ Mick could play a guitar. I think we spent about two weeks there before I had enough of Corfu and wanted to go see Athens, other Islands and maybe make it over to Turkey. But I didn’t want to give up my yummy boy – we were amazing together in every way and he’d be a blast to travel with. But he still had another month or so left before he was done working.
It turned out, he didn’t want to lose his little American girl either, so he decided to ask his boss if he could cancel his deal early and travel a bit. The man who owned the campsite scared me, but most Greek people scared me, so I had sort of dismissed my fear as some sort of benign cultural confusion – surely they weren’t always angry and threatening. Steve asked permission to quit early, and the guy seemed fine with it. We were thrilled. We were going to have one last night and then take the van to the ferry terminal and go check out some other islands.
We were having a particularly celebratory fuck in his tent an hour or so later when, suddenly, two very large and very angry Greek men burst into the tent yelling. We were quite naked and absolutely mid-thrust when they began yelling and throwing all of our belongings out into the campgrounds while hundreds of other people looked on. This time, there was no cultural confusion, these people were pissed. Apparently, going back on a deal in Greece is a very bad idea.
We explained that we were catching a ferry in the morning, but that wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted us out, NOW. Once all of our stuff had been thrown out of the tent, other workers came and threw it out of the campgrounds altogether, as we chased after them and our stuff, buck naked and crying, trying to at least not leave any of our precious few belongings behind. Each step we took towards any of our belongings resulted in a man grabbing it and throwing it further away, like a piece of paper in the breeze as we frantically chased it down.
Finally, outside of the gates, we were able to find things and get at least cursorily clothed. But they still yelled at us, insisting we get further away, faster. I hadn’t found shoes. None. I was barefoot and was sure as hell not going to go back in and look for my shoes. We walked for about half an hour, until we found a nice patch of grass and a tree to stay under for the night.
I was sobbing. I was terrified. Steve explained to me that he was pretty sure that his former boss was a member of the Greek Mafia. This did nothing to comfort me. I had finally stopped crying when another angry Greek man, whose tree we were apparently leaning against, came running at us, yelling and waving a shotgun at us. We assumed he was telling us to leave, which we did. Promptly.
We were on the main road that bisected the island, and the only one that lead to the ferry terminal, so it was well traveled. We figured that we’d at least be able to hitchhike, or hail a cab or something. But every single car that drove by simply yelled at us. Some of them sped up and veered towards us, peeling away and honking at the last minute.
To this day, this is the most scared I’ve been in my life.
We finally came across a nice hotel. We agreed that no matter how much it cost, we would get a room. The long driveway was surrounded by orchards, and olive trees arched over our heads as if to comfort us, hushing our fears like a mother’s great grasp. We opened the door of the hotel, and it may as well have been heaven. Until, as soon as the door closed behind us, the people at the desk started yelling at us. We asked if we could get a room, they yelled. We asked if we could use the phone, they yelled. We asked if they would call us a cab, they yelled.
By this time, we finally understood that through some evil game of telephone, everyone on the island had been informed that we were persona-non-grata. We were not to be talked to, helped, comforted or cavorted with in any way. Apparently, we could be harmed, if necessary.
We left the hotel, and the olive trees that had been so welcoming now seemed like great meat hooks from which we may hang, if snared by the shadows and whispers that defined our dilemma. We walked as quickly as I could – me still barefoot, having been walking for hours, crying and in a state of panic. A jeep followed us, slowly, down the whole driveway.
That same jeep followed us for a mile or so. When it peeled off, another one took its place. And through the night, walking many many miles, one vehicle after another stalked us. Some silently, some with people yelling at us, others with people just talking to each other and the smell of their cigarettes reaching us just enough to remind us that we were no more than an arm’s length away from being killed by someone who had nothing better to do in the middle of the night.
We made it to the ferry terminal right when the ferry was supposed to leave. We were sure we would miss it, and be stuck on the island for another day, which was a horrifying prospect. When we got there – me with bleeding feet – Steve’s former boss was standing there with arms crossed and a small army of equally angry looking men stacked at his flanks like toy soldiers. He saw us and nodded, the nod then going down the line of all the other men. He whistled. We paid our fare as everyone watched us. We were ushered onto the ferry as if this was the last, and most important, mission of everyone there.
The moment we were on, they pulled the lines and the boat took off. They had, clearly, been waiting for us.
As Corfu got smaller and smaller in the distance, I just cried and cried. Until suddenly I was laughing. I looked into Steve’s dreamy blue eyes (which, although it’s trite to say, were exactly the color of those crystalline Greek waters) and said, “were we just run off an Island by the Greek mafia?” “Quite right there, love.”
We did spend another 3 weeks traveling through the Islands, and exploring Athens. We fed stray cats, fucked in a grotto beneath the acropolis, drank orange fanta and took gorgeous photos on one nude beach after another. It was truly fantastic. We are still in touch, 20 years later, and I have been to England several times to visit him. As far as summer flings go, this was one of my most far-flung, and most treasured!
Bloody feet and all.