Posts Tagged ‘corfu’

The Cold in Greece

Friday, January 9th, 2009


At Paleokastritsa beach on the saddest day of my life, the water is freezing and no one knows why. Old men shake their heads. The tour guide, a freckled Aussie with very white teeth, nudges his mirrored shades up his nose, and frowns.

The swimming cove is the same shade as the sky and the beach crawls with Dutch and Norwegian tourists, their bands of yellow hair in thick braids. Children splash out into the waveless expanse of water and scream, wave their hands, splash back to shore as fast as their tiny legs will carry them.

The Aussie offers something that masquerades as an explanation. Something about a storm, or a kind of current that comes sometimes. A drift of freezing water that pushes into the cove, even at the height of summer when the sky is jewel-toned and cloudless. When the sand—not really sand but a pale, white-gray infinity of pebbles the size of insects and pencil erasers—burns straight through the skin, through the soles of shoes.

I have braved the early summer ocean in New England, where the water is the color of steel and sludge and is choked with slimy black seaweed. In June—sometimes even in July—it’s cold enough to sting. This water is comfort, a pillow, compared with the water at Paleokastritsa beach on a burning summer day on an island, closer to the equator than I’m accustomed.

I wade out but stop when the water hits my knees. The cold cuts to the bone, crueler because of the color. The color of a bathwater dream, of a postcard, of something you dive into headfirst, or like little kids do—a grand charge from the shore.

The married couple in our group—just married, days before—stands apart from the rest of us, almost silent. They make polite conversation, smile only at each other. The other girls, shrieking things in terrycloth sarongs, newly graduated, ask eager questions of the Aussie. They sit next to him at lunch. They love the mix tape he’s made for the ride. (Even I can’t resist, though, when a Crowded House song comes on. An album I haven’t heard in ages because it’s packed away in a storage locker in New York and because my iPod has finally decided bid the cruel world its final farewell. I sink lower in my seat, try not to hum along, not even in my head. Or do I sing like a bird released.)

I buy a strong ginger-flavored drink in an Alice-in-Wonderland bottle with a green label. I knot a shawl around myself twice when I enter the monastery, walk soft, take no photos. I enjoy vast panoramas. I buy a wooden bracelet , painted red, off a table filled with cheap plastic earrings and hair accessories encrusted with fake jewels. I try to remember the Venetian architecture, close my eyes. Pretend, just for a moment, that I’m in Venice. On the water.

In the park in town, the cicadas buzz and hum so loudly in the trees that we need to shout above them to have a conversation over our awful, price-included ham sandwiches. Sitting on the low wall, empty sandwich wrapper crumpled in a heap on my lap, I listen to the Aussie and the girls talk about nothing and out of the corner of my eye, I see one of them. A cicada. The things in the trees that I’ve heard and haven’t seen. Just a cloud of noise. It’s dead on its back, winged, and so huge. The size of my thumb. Bigger. My index finger. Bigger than the biggest roach that ever crawled out from under any cabinet in New York City. Big enough to introduce itself and ask about your day. And that’s when it occurs to me that the trees above our heads are alive with them, that they could fall, topple off their leaves, and land. On a lap. Tangle in hair. That they could die like that one did, of old age. Of buggy disease. And plummet into sight. And there are thousands. And thousands. Loud enough to roar, to fill the summer air with a sound like birds, a throbbing.

And here’s the thing. I can deal as long as I can’t see it.

That’s when I walk away. The Aussie does not inquire after me. I go back to the van, a human-sized oven, and sit. I close the door.

At Paleokastritsa beach, near the monastery where I covered my shoulders and bowed my head and offered my backwards Catholic sign of the cross and learned about a revolution, I pull off my clothes. One beach after the next, the sight of my own body in a bathing suit—tanned dark, lean and scary-strong from journeys up cliffs and across coves, a body I hardly recognize—is a kind of jolt: This is me, it turns out.

Except that day. One day out of the whole summer. On Paleokastritsa beach where the water could have frozen into blocks of ice, a new polar cap, if not for the air, I felt enormous. Lumpy as a sack of flour. I thought, please don’t look. Or maybe I thought, wouldn’t it be horrible if you don’t look.

The honeymoon couple sat by the shore, close to each other. And I took a picture. In the picture, they’re staring out toward the cove, toward a bowl of empty water where no one could swim because no one could stand it. I don’t know their names, or where they live. That happens all the time when you travel. You say you’re going to exchange these things, to pass along pictures, and you never do. But I always think. If they knew about this photo, they would want it. Or maybe I just think. If the photo was of me, of me and someone, I would want it.

The Animal Kingdom

Friday, August 1st, 2008

The Walls Have Eyes

I eat alone on Corfu.

Correction. I eat alone all across Europe, in tavernas and trattorias and bistros and little canopied cafes and gelato stands and usually, I like it. Being Mysterious Girl Alone. Scribbling in a journal or reading a book. Glances at curious waiters.

But in Corfu, something changes. On this strange island full of teenagers that has a 24-hour bar and a weekly toga party. Being alone loses its mystery, changes shape, becomes something sinister. Like being the only woman at a nudist beach.

On a cinderblock wall in the cafeteria, someone tacks up a collage of photos — done on poster board and replete with magic-marker captions — of the last booze cruise. All the girls are topless, mouths open, arms around each other, reclining on sand, having a really great time. And while my second and third thoughts definitely involve questions of responsibility and self-respect, my first one focuses squarely on the fact that I have better breasts than all of these women.

I order a gyro and fries and it arrives oily and with veggies of suspicious quality. The fry cook, who gets flirty and inappropriate with every other girl in the line, says nothing to me. Maybe it’s my refusal to make eye contact or smile, to play the game. Or maybe.

I am in high school again.

I sit with my gyro on the porch and within seconds, something is nudging at my ankles, lured by the smell. A dog — a rust-colored mutt with stubby little legs — wants my lunch.

Greece is overrun with stray dogs. You see them everywhere — lounging under benches in public parks, splayed across the ruins at the Acropolis. In some places, signs warn against feeding them, but mostly no one bothers. Upon arrival at the hostel, I vow not to give any of the local dogs — a mangy pack of regulars who doze around the hostel grounds — any of my food.

Why be part of the problem.

But this dog. Her coat is dull and filthy and her teats are rubbery and low-hanging under her ribs from the dozens of puppies she’s nursed, but her eyes flash with life. Her ears perk into perfect little triangles when I speak to her.

Feeling lost, sadder than I ever thought possible in such a beautiful place, I sense a kindred. I do only what I can. One by one, I feed her every single one of my fries.

Things to Do; People to See

Monday, July 14th, 2008


As soon as I arrive, I realize that I need to leave.

They serve ouzu to us as a welcome in little plastic cups that are designed for shots. The liquid has been tinted a neon, vaguely toxic pink. It’s 9 in the morning.

Just drink it. This is what I tell myself. But after 12 hours on a ferry, four of them spent crunched in half across two pullman seats — one hand on my luggage the entire time — I cannot do it. I just cannot.

I think of the pastis that J____ and I drank on a patio in Marseille, its beautiful color — pearly, almost peach in the light — and how we drank it with water and ice in narrow little glasses under rolling storm clouds, taking our time, the air around us heavy and shifting. Even though we knew that we’d get caught in the rain.

When you’ve had the really, really good, the really, really bad shows its cards quickly and with gaudy flair. There is no mistaking it. There is no moving backwards, no erasing what you’ve seen. This is what it means to grow up.

I nudge the cup to a boy beside me at the table. He is no older than 16. He shakes his head no with a weary smile. He’s already had seconds.


In the doubles, they always pair men with women for maximum hookup potential. Just to keep things exciting.

I try to deduce my roommate’s personally — the exact amount of hookup potential present — by the piles of his stuff that are amassed in the corners of our room. Baseball cap. Khaki shorts. Name-brand sneakers. Tevas. Dirty towel. Black duffel bag. John Grisham novel. Only two items strike me as odd and basically reduce our hookup chances by half, even before I’ve seen the guy’s face: A pair of boxers printed in the logo of a sports team I do not recognize and a yellow bullhorn.

The boxers are a red flag for their shear lack of irony alone, but let put it this way: Imagine if I owned (and traveled with!) a pair of panties with the Miss Saigon logo printed on them. I rest my case. As for the bullhorn.

Really? A bullhorn?

When I think I’ve got this guy basically figured out, he abruptly puts an end to my little game by showing up. And I guess I need to say it. He’s kinda gorgeous. Supertall, blond, lean-muscular, deeply tanned. My dream boy. Ten years ago.

He introduces himself as Woodrow and smiles unabashedly, a little dopey. For the next two days, I will continually screw up and call him Wilson.

At the absolute oldest — and I’m being generous here — he’s 19.

Hookup potential is null.


He sits down next to us at breakfast. He is youngish, handsome, with a mouth full of gleaming, obsessively straight teeth and mirrored sunglasses that wink at us in rainbows when he turns his head.

Then he goes in for the sell.

He starts to talk to us, stilted, a little awkward, about all the amazing hostel activities in which we can partake for a nominal fee. Kayak trips, bus tours, booze cruises, toga parties. We’re being upsold. At breakfast.

I sense what he’s doing and become totally dismissive, focusing squarely on spreading Nutella on my toast. He likewise dismisses me and concentrates on my younger, more awestruck companions.

Silently, I get angry. I am trying. To eat breakfast. Or maybe I am angry because I’ve been written off. Cynical. The girl who won’t bite.


It’s Cross Dressing Night in the club except I don’t. Whenever someone comes up to me and asks why I’m not dressed up, I look at them, bewildered, and say, “But I am in drag.”

I have made friends, a crowd of genial Canadians, the youngest of whom have just graduated… from high school. One of them, a skater type named Vincenzo, has two Italian-born parents and speaks a garbled mélange of their Calabrese and Tuscan dialects, meaning that he gets around Italy in the same way I do: Understanding every word but being unable to speak a single one. Because of this, and his palpable enthusiasm over pasta preparation methods, Team Italia soccer, and custom-made D&G suits, I find a kindred. His friends are cool too, and at Cross Dressing night, I find myself inclined to dance.

The boys sport their girlfriends’ sundresses and the girls have borrowed boxers and tanks and have penciled on goatees. I have done none of the above, moving to Beyonce and bad hip hop. I feel almost human.

At one point, Woodrow, wearing a seafoam green ruffled bikini and a purple sarong, dances into our circle and lifts me up off my feet and nearly out of my outfit.

“So are we going to hook up later, roomie?” he shouts into my ear. He puts me down before I can answer and he gives his hips a mock-effeminate shake and shimmies away, as though this will do something to assist in my decision.


On the stairs under the moonlight, he says hello to me, chummy and sweet, and when he introduces himself — name and city — I realize that I’ve met him already, but where?

He stops to chat under a street lamp and I remember: It’s the guy who tried to sell us on the booze cruise at breakfast. For a moment, I’m totally thrown. Smiling, all the awkward pauses gone, without his sunglasses, he seems wonderful. Open. Human. There is no sign of his dismissal earlier in the day. He speaks passionately about the island, its natural beauty. He tells me to give the booze cruise a try.

“Seriously,” he says with a smile. “It’s really fun.”

And for an instant, I almost believe him.