06 June 2008

Death Drive

The title of this post refers to the Freudian concept by which the very pursuit of (and failure to obtain) something--a desire--becomes itself the basic function of life's continuance. For example, I travel, theoretically anyway, in order to reach destinations. And yet, as soon as I reach a destination, I am already looking forward to the next destination (or looking forward to remembering it? like sexual intercourse?). I never actually "arrive" anywhere (psychologically, anyway). There is no satisfaction. My drive to travel just continues to circulate, endlessly, around the unachievable goal. If I were to achieve it, I suppose I would cease to exist, since that would mean cancelling out the mode of my existence (that is, my personality). I think this must be the case, because there is no other explanation for what keeps propelling me forward on this ridiculous and ever more ridiculous adventure. To wit...

Umit bid me farewell two mornings ago at the Turgutreis port. A little over an hour later, I was stepping once again onto Grecian terra firma--the tiny "party island" of Kos. Having no intention to stay there any longer than necessary, I quickly purchased a ticket to Rhodes departing the same day at 4:30 pm. Unfortunately, only the high-speed option was available, so the ticket cost me (spit take) €30. Fortunately, I had enough time to check out this island. Much to my delight, there were ruins. I like ruins, you understand. They remind me of life's fragility. Ha ha, no they don't! That's stupid! I just can't get over the fact that entire societies existed in the same space we occupy before us and that things from them remain, things from which we try so hard to draw continuities to ourselves, however much they persist in being completely different in ways we cannot fathom. And they're picturesque. I was in luck on Kos, because, as I mentioned, it was the home of Hippocrates, father of medicine, and a few sites there were connected with him. First of all, there is a large plane tree (not looking so good, actually--seems to have been split in half by Zeus's lightning or something) that the Grecians claim is the exact same tree beneath which the old man used to teach his students. Believe it? I really, really don't. What is with people? Do they just *want* to believe stupid shit like that? I took a photo, of course, and even bought two Hippocrates statues from one of the ubiquitous souvenir vendors for my doctors back home (they've earned them). Being from the vicinity of the magic tree, I assume they will have some kind of supernatural palliative power. A 4 km walk from Kos town ("You can't walk!" they told me) are the ruins of the Asclepion, once an important temple sanctuary dedicated to the eponymous god of healing, where doctors would pray in their dreams to the god for healing and, presumably, healing powers (today, doctors just worship their medical equipment and computers). I managed to hitch a ride back to town with a nice German couple (the other option was the Disneyland-esque tourist tram, on which I WOULD NOT BE CAUGHT DEAD). You see, it's important when traveling, and makes life much easier, to learn the local language, which, in Greece, is German.

Having a bit of time left, I decided to try one of my old Grecian favorites at one of the rip-off tourist restaurants near the port: saganaki. Usually, this is a generous portion of cheese doused in liquor which is then set on fire at your table. I got a small slab of breaded cheese with no liquor that cost 6 verdant currency units (my new name for the once-almighty, now third-world American "dollar"). I frowned. I relaxed, because I had everything planned out and was quite pleased to have accomplished all that I set out to do. You see, my friends, I've been traveling for such a long time--and not just this trip--that I rather pride myself, humble person though I am, on being quite an expert at this business and on being diligent, thorough, punctual, and detail-oriented. Despite this, I STILL MISSED THE FUCKING FERRY!!! By about 5 minutes, I think. Why? Because I had set my clock slow when I should have set it fast. Ah, what could I do? At least get a refund, right? The woman at the travel agency was well amused by this suggestion. So instead, I had to settle for the slow (and cheaper) ferry departing the next morning at 5:30 am. My original option had been for one of these two boats, and I opted to save time rather than money. Little did I know that I'd end up buying both. Tip: buy your ticket at the port just before you leave, rather than in advance. Plans can change and idiocy often intervenes ("idiot" is a Grecian word, by the way).

Stuck on Kos for the night, I figured I should punish myself by sleeping outside. I considered this but also considered that I'd be eaten alive by mosquitoes. So I wandered, asking people where I could find a cheap room. On most Grecian islands, people rent rooms in their houses to travelers and line up to hawk them at the port whenever a ferry arrives. I found a good neighborhood for this and went into the first "Rooms available" place I passed. "How much?" I wondered. The affable lady in charge said €20. I frowned again and said I could pay €10 and no more. This excited her. Then she whispered to me that her mandatory German guests were paying €20, but if I didn't say anything, I could pay €15. I said no. She said, "OK, €14." I said, "I'll come back later." She got more excited. And then relented. Score! She has no idea what I've been through--forged in the fire of India, I am. But she made me swear I wouldn't tell the Germans. "I'm American, lady," I said, "I don't tell the Germans anything." The next morning, after an anxious, sleepless night, I made it to the ferry on time...

...only to be stopped by the police on arrival at Rhodes. I must look suspicious, with my beard, sunglasses, giant backpack, traveling alone. A plainclothes detective pulled me aside and made me wait with a group of miscellanious Europeans while they checked my passport. I reckoned that the other guys were Albanians or something. When I saw one of them emerge from around the corner of the police station with the detective, the latter removing from his hand a rubber glove, I grew a little bit tense. But they let me go without violating my privacy after their cute drug sniffer failed to find the dope. I left my backpack at the port and strategically did NOT buy a ticket for Athens, that ferry leaving at 6 pm. Instead, I hopped on a bus to the south of island. Two hours later, I was standing at the turn-off to the tiny village of Askleipieo, birthplace of my friend Alex Pappas's father. I figured I would visit for kicks, and I hoped something "ethnic" might happen to me. Sadly, Alex's relatives are all either dead, gone to Athens, or (like him) gone to America. Only one woman, a cousin, was left in the emigration-depleted village, and she wasn't home. The old guys at the cafe who helped me find her house offered to buy me coffee (ethnic experience here I come!), but, as usual, I was in a rush to get back to Rhodes town so I could catch the ferry to Athens, which, naturally, I missed. So once again I was off in search of a cheap room. When I finally found some rooms, the lady's starting price was €30. The first room she showed me was not bad: it only had two used condoms and a full ashtray on the nightstand, but was otherwise clean and comfortable. Registering my trauma, the lady quickly ushered me into another room, this one with an attached bathroom. "How much?" I queried. "How much do you want to pay?" she fired back. "€10," I answered truthfully. And she became even more upset than the Kos lady, telling me how it's impossible to find a room for such a low price. Uh huh. I've got two words for you, lady: off season. She offered €20. I said €10. She suggested €15. I thought about this and told her I'd think about it and come back later (works every time, my friends). She got a little panicky and said, OK, I could have the condom room for €10. Although I was disgusted, I figured this counted as a reasonable settlement, and I agreed. BUT. I slept in the single bed, not the double (ewww). This ruthlessness tactic seems to work best in the evening, when people are desperate to have anyone stay. The poor old lady kept her sweet demeanor, but I could tell she was quite vexed, and her negotiating certainly had its share of complaints and pleas. I am, however, homeless, jobless, and almost broke. Do you see the red halo around my pupils, growing thicker every day since I landed in Beijing? I have no mercy. When I saw the posted price for my crappy little room on the door (€50!), I felt even the opposite of pity. What goes around comes around, my friends, especially on this exploitative ball of shit and grief we call the Earth.

On day two at Rhodes, today, I explored the old town, which has the finest surviving medieval fortifications in the world and also the most tourist shops and restaurants per square foot. But I was glad I stuck around, because they really are spectacular fortifications. I started my day at the Castle of the Knights, restored by Mussolini but never used as his holiday home. Inside there was nothing to see, but I enjoyed the chance to wander around spacious medieval Halls that were once the principal stomping ground of the fabled Knights of St. John (oh wait, they aren't fabled, they're still a nation-state, remember?). I got there early enough to avoid the tourist groups, too, which made me happy. After that, I checked out the medieval buildings on the nearby Odos Hippoton, or Street of the Knights, and then walked out of the old city to visit the alleged site of the Colossus of Rhodes (not to be confused with my friend Alex Pappas), which could not possibly have stood astride the harbor, but did grant the island a +1 bonus to trade. And I spent the rest of the day as I always do in such places: gawking, walking at the pace of a dead march, and avoiding touts. My student card got me mega discounts everywhere, so I even got to see some sites (in addition to the castle, the archaeological museum), which would otherwise have cost me 15VCU each. One nice thing you can do is walk along the bottom of the old moat (it's dry and grassy now so you don't drown). I did this.

And now I must go again. My ship sails for Piraeus at 3 pm, and it's now 2:20. I don't want to push my luck again. The journey to the mainland takes 17 hours, during which time I will probably find repose only by squeezing myself onto the floor between the seats or sleeping with the motley herd of other backpackers on the deck. Truly, though, my way is the only way to travel.

1 comment:

Jhenn said...

I think this is my favorite post yet!

Laughing at the fragility of humankind was the best.