Greek Face

Unlike the continuous, enduring contentment that we anticipate [from travel], our actual happiness with, and in, a place must be a brief and, at least to the conscious mind, apparently haphazard phenomenon…The condition rarely endures for longer than ten minutes. New patterns of anxiety inevitably form on the horizon of consciousness.” ~Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

As if a 5-week, 5-country journey weren’t enough to satiate me, I’ve been prolonging a somewhat lazy fascination with travel by reading about it. I almost bought an Alain de Botton book in Romania, but it was like 8,000 lira (lei? leva? I don’t even remember the currency anymore), and it was all about working, which seemed like a really masochistic thing to be reading about while on vacation, so I bought Neil Gaiman instead and for the rest of the trip thought there were demons in the bus terminals. But at least I wasn’t thinking about work. Except I was, still, despite being sometimes surrounded by six-thousand year old ruins, beaches as white as cane sugar and water so clear I could see the hundreds of tiny fish swimming around what would have been my ankles had the sight of them not propelled me out of the water immediately because I don’t want fish touching me. Gross.

But as I’m reading about travel now, in my mostly furnished new home, the quote above seems apt: we’re happy with the idea of place, but the reality of it never aligns with our physical discomforts, mental anguish, and the litany of worries we bring with us everywhere we go. The carefree me I thought I would be in Greece was in actuality the same me that has become rather miserly and easily annoyed by things like never knowing where the next bathroom was going to be or if the next guy fidgeting with his pants was going to flash me (as happened in Paris and almost happened in Hania) or if we were going to be able to find a cheap hotel before it got dark and the demons came out of the bus terminal. As much as I tried to take a Scarlett O’Hara approach to each difficult situation, I couldn’t stop myself from being me, which as you can imagine, annoyed me even further. Suddenly, everything seemed ridiculous. We moved to a new city without jobs and then flitted off to Greece, making our lives the epitome of transience, which seems really freeing until the thought arises, “Well, okay, but what now?” And yes, that’s a lovely temple, but what am I doing with my life?

Now that I’m home, in the sense that I now have like 37 pairs of socks to choose from, as opposed to 7, and I can pretty much order pizza without getting sympathetic looks from people about my pronunciation, I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life, but I feel much more at ease about it. There’s something about having drawers for things that’s really comforting.

Aside from the constant worrying about my 5-year plan though, the biggest barrier to the enjoyment of our travels was not knowing the language(s). Even the most basic gestures, nodding for yes, shaking your head for no, weren’t applicable and in some countries, the gestures were the complete opposite of what I expected them to be. To say No in Greek, you make this face:

You tilt your head back and lift your eyebrows and quiver your lip as if you’ve been stuck in the Himalayas for days and have just realized that your best companion dog, whom you thought loved you, is going to eat you alive in the next ten seconds. Okay, that last part’s probably not true, except how would you know, unless you’ve been in that exact situation and lived to tell about it? That’s what I thought. Anyhoodle, in Northern Greece, we had the most trouble getting around, prompted mostly by communication barriers. Greece has a pretty good long-distance bus company, KTEL, that doesn’t post their schedules ANYWHERE. You just have to show up at one of the stops and hope that you don’t have to wait for hours. If you call trying the main bus station, they will tell you that the buses only go to Athens. If you try going there in person, they will answer all of your questions with this face:

I think sometimes this face meant, “I don’t know what you said but I am too proud/lazy/bored to ask you to repeat yourself, so I will just shrug and hope you will please go away now.”

In Litochoro, which is at the foot of Mt. Olympus, in a four-star hotel called Olympus Mediterranean, I asked the concierge, Where is Mt. Olympus?

What street is this hotel on?

Do you even work here?

Nobody in Litochoro knew how to get to Delphi, and I don’t mean like people we asked on the street, I mean ticket sellers at the train station, information booths, and multiple bus terminals, so we ended up in Larissa, where I immediately lost the mittens I just bought, then we realized we forgot our camera cord in Romania, then we found out that the bus to Delphi didn’t leave until nightfall. At this point, we almost gave up and went back to Athens, but we didn’t come 8,000 miles only to cry on a bus to Athens over a pair of admittedly expensive glove-mitten hybrids with thinsulate lining. We came to see the world! And the mittens would really only have obscured my vision of the world anyway. So we stayed all day in Larissa, taking pictures of ourselves making Greek Face, and we caught our bus, then we caught another bus and made it into Delphi around 10pm. Was it worth it?

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7 Responses

  1. this is great. thank you for writing this…

  2. ha.
    yes, drawers…though in my experience, old beer boxes under a board have the same nest-like effect.

  3. LOL to these pictures! Just LOL

  4. You’re really hitting your travel writer stride with this! And it’s hilarious. And yes, I totally understand the sudden realization that one’s decisions MAY have been totally ridiculous, even backwards, but what the hell we’re here, we might as well make Greek face and laugh about it.

    p.s. I put all 40 pairs of my socks in a drawer yesterday. It made me immensely happy. So long “socks box.”

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