Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hitting a Wall in Karpathos

Thursday, July 07, 2011—Pigadia, Karpathos, Greece

I don’t want no ruins

I want a beer and the Boston Bruins

                    —Martin Mull: Rome and Bored

Heading out of Karpathos in about an hour or so; right now I’m sitting in a little café next to the docks waiting for the boat to come. It’s eleven-thirty in the and already really hot out. It looks like a good day for traveling: there’s only a moderate breeze and the water in the harbor is just slightly textured (when I arrived here the wind was really blowing and waves were slapping up against the cement dock). Feeling good—calm. This is interesting, as yesterday I was in a supremely foul mood. Over what? Nothing and everything …

Ok—here begins a long explanation.

I’ve discovered over the years that, for me at least (and most other people, I’d say), there are two underlying phases to any long trip: the phase where I in some sense fight my surroundings and the phase where those battles get put aside.

It’s a fiction, I believe, a conceit, to believe that anyone ever truly understands the cultural groups met when traveling: any real understanding needs to be based in a deep knowledge of the language first off, and second years of experience with the cultural group speaking it. What happens when a person travels is that cultural matrices rub up against each other; it’s a bit like the social equivalent of tectonic plates meeting. And of course when this happens there is friction, which varies in intensity depending on the time and the place.

I’ve noticed that people tend to deal with this friction in a couple of ways. Some people immediately retreat, complain and in some sense try make the people their visiting behave in the ways they believe that should be behaving—this I think is a mode of behavior quite typical for Americans. The other way is to suppress feelings. I suppose I go against the grain of most of my fellow Americans, as my nature is to follow this second course (there’s a third way to handle all this, which I will discuss later). The trouble with suppression is that this of course eventually catches up with you and you hit a crisis point—and that’s what finally happened to me yesterday.

What triggered this was an event that in itself was quite small and meaningless. (It’s usually this way—as my sister says “One doesn’t trip over a boulder.”) As I mentioned in my previous entry, it’s turned out that Karpathos has little going on that interests me; in retrospect I probably should have skipped this island and headed straight for Rhodes. Still, I did have a free day yesterday to get out of Pigadia and see a little of the island. So, having so little time here, I decided to pick a single destination that sounded interesting, a little beach area called Lefkos, and made a plan to catch the eleven-thirty bus there that morning. The details are boring, so I’ll skip them. But thru a mix up that was at best only partially my fault, I ended up missing the bus, which was the last bus heading to Lefkos that day. Again, minor stuff, not worth getting too bothered about. But it was kind of a last straw for me, I guess, and inwardly mostly I completely went off the rails.

Everything that's been bugging me about this place, about Europeans (as a broad group, as opposed to Greeks specifically), moved front and center in me in one huge wave. I don’t want to go into the details really, as they seem sort of silly when recounted outside the context of my then state of mind—endless cigarette smoking, icy German stares invading my personal space, arrogant idiot drivers, lame-ass electronic/house music everywhere (it’s like they can’t find of way out of the worst aspects of mid-nineties here), and just about all European men between the ages of sixteen and forty something: feminized nightmare fashions victims that aren’t really even men to my American soul, and the beautiful European women who actually find these guys attractive, etc. etc. (see—silly)—but suffice to say I found myself wallowing in petulant hatred.

But like any other wave, once it broke it was gone—the only evidence it ever existed is now found in my memory and these "pages." I now feel clean, much freer than I have during this entire trip—because I have passed into the third way of dealing with this journey’s cultural tectonics: I’m accepting.

Now a lot of people claim they’re in this state when they’re traveling. But if you look just a bit beneath the surface you’ll find that they’re usually full of shit, in denial of big chunks of their feelings. To really hit this place you have to go thru personal dramas that take some time—part of which is, on some level, to be honest enough to admit that you’re going thru this process. Now if there’s one thing I’ve learned about human beings is that dishonesty is practically all of our middle names (there are a few people who seem to be born Buddha souls or to be a reincarnation of Lau Tzu, but they’re so rare that they are almost not worth mentioning).

All of this is a long way of saying that I’ve finally hit the place where I can just let this trip be what it is, instead of fighting it because it’s not what I thought/wished it would be (it is in this battle that dreams become fascist states of being). I’m now in a quite cool frame of mind (of soul?) of course. It’s also an unusual state, in that I don’t think all that many people really reach it (I’ve never made it to this state on any other trip I have taken). Now the fun part begins: I get to find out where this new visions takes me.

OK, enough of the heavy stuff (it’s wearing me out too)—moving on, moving on …

Next stop—Rhodes Town. A huge city by Dodecanese standards (over 50,000 people). I’m finding myself looking more and more forward to the place. After dealing with all the Minoan stuff on Crete I’m itching to see all the Nights of St. John Castle and the general medievalness of the place. I’m also stoked about making a pilgrimage to Lawrence Durrell’s, where he lived in Rhodes just after WW II. It’s an old mosque (or was) and it’s where he wrote Reflections on a Marine Venus, which is still probably the most famous book ever written about Rhodes.

Realizing that I really do need to finish this trip off with a decent block of time on Crete. For this journey it’s the center of my Greek universe, and, as I’ve mentioned multiple times in this diary, the center of any book on Greece I might write. Plus, I just want to go back there. I’m beginning to realize that I’ve fallen pretty hard for the place—and there’s a lot of it still for me to experience. Also Gavdos is really calling me back. I really love that dilapidated backwater of an island …


Realizing that I now have the wrong books with me, which is a serious problem. What I mean is that I’ve already read and discarded the “for sure” books I brought with me, books that I knew would mesh well with the (this) road, with Greece, and am now left with the “maybes”—and they’re failing quite miserably. English language books, beyond the Stephen King-type crap, are not all that easy to find here. However, I’ve heard that in Rhodes Town there are plenty of places that stock them. I’m also sure that in Rhodes I can get a hold of Lawrence Durrell’s books. Constance, the one book of his I’ve read here went beautifully with the surroundings—and it isn’t even one of his better books! Durrell is the English-language writer of the Mediterranean. I’ll probably have to lay out quite a few euros for new copies of his stuff, but it will be worth it, I’m sure …

What I’m currently dealing with book-wise:

Juniper Time: A supposedly “classic” bit of SciFi from the late seventies. It sucks: Space opera meets really bad, stereotype Billy Jack-vibe Native American mysticism, as the earth falls into environmental ruin. Three threads that never quite mesh and individually are not particularly well done. Dreaming of Durrell … Prospero’s Cell, a reread of Mountolive and/or Clea, more of the Avignon Quintet, the Revolt of Aphrodite … warm bath literature … exquisite … yummy …

Greece: another late piece of transport. The boat was supposed to leave here by 12:20. It’s not 1:25. No ferry in sight …

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