Sunday, November 23, 2008

Greco-Roman Wrestling of the Heart


In 1987, I was twenty-one, freshly dropped out of college, rapidly growing disillusioned with my chosen failed avocation as a latter-day hippie, and, with substantial financial assistance from my folks, who I guess were hoping it might help me gain some perspective and possibly inspire me to come back ready to return to school—I flew to Europe, planning on meeting a friend at the Coliseum in Rome at three o’clock that afternoon—this is before cell-phones, kids: he’d spent a semester abroad in Germany, and I had a postcard with a date and time, and that was it...no real back-up plan if anything went wrong and one of us couldn’t make it—like, for instance, if I got bumped off my flight...ended up in Clipper Class on a later one—goblets of champagne, caviar on fine china and big, comfortable seats that stretched out for sleeping not quite balancing out the fear of being on my own so far from home, in another country, with another language...though I’d traveled by myself all over the U.S., somehow that sense of unfamiliarity...of being a foreigner in a foreign land...an actual alien rather than simply alienated...all on my own...was terrifying....

As it turned out, I was a few hours late, but Robert stuck around....we hitchhiked south, leaving backpacks with an ancient crone who might have shared bawdy stories from the days of Nero and Caligula to explore Pompeii...climbing over walls and through windows with broken bars in the city that slept for millennia...where Pink Floyd played for nobody in 1971....then catching a ride with some guys who, despite an almost complete language barrier, treated us to feasts in Rome and Venice before leaving us to swig down bottles of wine costing seventy cents a pop along the stately edges of St. Marks...then, joined by a girl whose name I never learned to spell, after the Neil Young and Crazy Horse show in Verona, to trek down through Yugoslavia...all one country, then, hammer-and-sickle flag so strangely above us at the train stations...this, the Reagan era, still, nuclear armaments poised...then down to Greece, and the Cyclades...more men hitting on us in the course of a week than in the entire three months I’d spent in San Francisco just before...finally camping out in a field on a chilly hot night above a blue and white monastery, apparently abandoned, a few miles outside of a tiny fishing town on the far side of Paros...the whole area inhabited apparently only by us and some goats, and not many of them, tempers long frayed, irritation blossoming in every available patch of psychic dirt....I climbed by myself to the top of the rocky peninsula alone, and, in the morning, back in the town, watched the two of them board a bus, heading for a boat to Crete...a final plea for me to join them and they were gone.....

Ended up sitting on some rocks by the harbor for a long, long time that morning and afternoon—probably eating the usual processed cheese and ripped off hunks of a loaf of bread bungi-corded to my backpack—there long enough to be sunburned so badly I had to turn the lights off to take off my shirt in the days that followed, in a tiny $3 cold water villa up among the hobbled goats in the hills above St. Stephen’s Beach where naked French girls came up from town for a quiet swim...but days to come didn’t matter right then, finding myself finally so truly all alone in a foreign country, willfully abandoned far from the tourist sights no less...exactly what I’d been so afraid of three weeks before, so far from the places I’d grown up, so far from anyone who’d known me, from all definitions imposed or claimed....here no one knew or cared about any of that...few, if any, I guessed, spoke my language...knew any of the words I’d been called...in the country of Odysseus, I was set free, adrift on the rocky shores of myself....

9 comments:

YogaDawg said...

Ah yes, the good old days of a gypsy life. My year in Greece painting was inspired by Miller's Colossus.

Mark said...

If you had headed north instead of south, you might have run into me in Germany. I wore a uniform during the week in Wertheim, but on many weekends I was hitchhiking to other places. I loved being in a place that was both exotic and more normal than I was used to at the same time.

And hey, I left school too, but I took a drastic step my parents didn't approve of: I joined the army to get the hell out of NH and back to Europe. The young are insane. I mentioned a few random facts about this when tagged, but maybe this would be food for blogging. Good to climb out of my present and think about the journey that got me here. Least that's what you seem to be doing. Just have to ignore how possibly unyogic such an enterprise is.

Seeing Eye Chick said...

sounds lovely. The only place I had that kind of freedom was Germany. I lived in the Med for a while and it didnt work out well to be alone as an American female. Its fun to hitch-hike, to sleep in little rooms in actual homes. And the food. Once someone shared with me a glass of wine from his family's cellar OMG---I have never tasted its equal ever again. It was lovely. Smoked Mussels in pasta, and the Pizzas are nothing like the Cheese Monsters we make in the U.S. I never made it to Greece. Wish I had.

I was not literate at all in Germany. It was interesting experiencing total illiteracy. I have never been unable to read anything. I have been reading since I was 5.

14theroad said...

Reading your brilliant blog (I'll give it an award once I figure out how), it occurred to me that maybe that line, "Where ever you go, there you are" isn't true. Maybe there are places to go where we are freed from the layers of stories, expectations and definitions that define us. And maybe that place isn't just in Greece but inside ourselves, found through practices like yoga...

Bird said...

Oh I remember those days of no mobile phones, no certainty, having to hang about for HOURS or even days because you had no way of communicating changes of plan...I was hitching on and off through various parts of Europe a couple of years later. Strange, intense times!

Pssst... I have some tinsel for your blog if you want it. I know you are already snowed under with awards but I felt I had to join in and pelt you with cute little graphics. Had intended to pelt you sooner in fact.

Lana Gramlich said...

Isn't that the way of it? We need to get out of our comfort zone, sometimes. To see ourselves from without, in a sense. Glad you enjoyed your trip. More people should try to get away. I'm always surprised at how many people just seem mired in their own hometowns, without any aspirations to ever see or do anything else!

Aggie said...

You seem to have spent a vast amount of your youth trying to find yourself? And now you are older, you are doing it again? I know the feeling ... we seem to spend our lives going round in circles. Still, anything to recreate the fun/growth times - that way we know we are still alive.

svasti said...

In 1987 I was still an innocent 16 year old - well, maybe not as innocent as I should've been still. But wondering, searching and inquiring already, yes...

When I was 21, having not lived up to the hopes and dreams my family pinned on my being their best bet to have a child go through university - and also not having parental financial support and therefore not able to afford an overseas trip (which I would have preferred) - I headed up to Sydney. The 'big smoke' in those days compared to Melbourne.

I left for various reasons, too long to go into in your comments section (this is already too long) and found myself with a handful of people I knew but otherwise alone in a much bigger place than home. But here, I was truly home. I loved the big bad city immediately...

My first place (if you can call a single room with a kitchenette at one end a 'place') was in a building habituated by drug addicts, dealers, hookers and transvestites. Just off the main drag of Darlinghurst, of the perpetual nightlife-party scene-drug land-homosexual haven... tucked away just outside the CBD.

I had nothing, certainly not a lot of money, no possessions and not a clue what my life was to become.

But I was home. Far away from the place of my birth and my blood kin, where as you say, labels, slings and arrows that were thrown... meant nothing there.

And where I could begin to ask myself what it is I really wanted and liked and felt...

Lydia said...

This post identified beautifully how life has changed since 1987. It ranks right up there with the best of the coming-of-age stories I've read. The light and shadows that come from your memory just amaze me.