The shellacked layer over my life choices has worn. 2019 and an itch must be scratched to sparrow away along the curve of the Earth to seek something beautiful and less flat. Flat like an untuned piano, I craved diamond waters, unadulterated sunshine, and white-washed walls. Winter is a tall and dark season in the North-East. Greece was a fantasy since reading PG romantic novels set in the glittering countryside, and (though a terrible rendering of the musical) the setting in Mama Mia, the movie, was a dream I could slumber forever within.
The city is full of specters. Ruins are perched above like ragged vultures over the slowly dying modern world. I could imagine a life there in Athens. Nausea. A backseat ride and small plane flight lead to a hug for an airport rubbish bin. The island is bathed in light and ocean breath. The nutritional label lists dust and rock as the main ingredients. Water is scarce. The bathroom rules are disconcerting. This is a tourism oasis in a desert of saline. The locals will tell you that their wine and agriculture are also important. Skip the raisin wine if you are offered some, but I highly recommend the fried tomato balls.
Somewhere on the Agios Athanasios, a road that runs parallel with the city of Thera/ Thira/ Fira (pronounced the latter but the spelling varies depending on the source you are looking at), on the island of Santorini, sometimes called Thira, is an odd concrete block of a bar behind a metal door amid a line of stores. An excess of alcohol or a lack of advertising cheats my story from the name of this place. There is no way on earth my friend and I could have found it on our own.
The night started in an extremely dim club with deafening techno music and a crowd that was averaging at least 10 years younger than the two of us. In an effort to save what cochlear function I had left, we drank and bailed. Outside, we inexplicably became chummy with a tall, preppy, young man who struck me as loud, cocky, and less than sharp. He seemed to know everyone, or maybe just postured so. He promised to take us to a much better spot, via his motorbike. A precarious, overcrowded balancing act down winding narrow streets later, we arrived at the metal door.
A large windowless room lay beyond with shadowed booths in the corners, and a long bar on the right, backlit with neon refracting through the bottles. The otherwise grey walls were splashed with arched, generic mural scenes of grapevines and pastoral views. The speakers were thumping with some unrecognizable, pop, Greek song. As far as I could tell, there were few other tourists present, and the men far outnumber the women. Most of those men were fixated on the bartender.
She sparkled with sex. Hair extensions and cat claw nails added to the slender figure and spangled tight clothing. Heavy makeup worked for her in a way that would make some of us look like cross-dressers. She must have spent hours at one of the many hair and nail salons in the area, probably one with a vat of silver minnows that will remove the dead skin from your little piggies. I wonder if they feed them real fish food, or would that diminish their exfoliating capabilities? Gross. It seemed sensible to make friends with this goddess, especially since she had the attention of everyone else. She proved a good addition to the dance floor (basically unused space in the center of the room).
Unlikely as it was, I also recognized a familiar face in this hidey hole den of indignity. Earlier that day, or maybe it was the day before, my friend and I had gone out on a sunset cruise. Our vessel was a rather small yacht that appeared to be someone’s private home away from home, piloted by a rag tag young crew. Before embarking, we were given a very confusing speech to avoid, under any circumstances, going #2 in the toilet and flushing it while the boat was underway. Apparently, this act would somehow cause catastrophic results in the engine, and we would end up stranded at sea. If anyone needed to go, then a crew member would need to be notified. I suppressed the rapidly rising mistrust in these sea-folk and stayed the course.
To avoid further motion-sick garbage-can embracing, we sat up in the helm, next to our intrepid captain. Captain George was not the first or the last George that we had met on this island. In fact, one in three men on the island was named George or Nick (this is a totally made-up statistic, but experience deems it accurate). George was not tall, probably in his late 20s or early 30s, tanned, olive, and bearded. He probably was handsome, I suppose, though I prefer the underdogs to the overlords. Captain George was grumpy, and we snickered to ourselves when he would bark at the tourists as they crawled like ants over his “ship”. The views were lovely on the water. The homey feeling of the ocean speaks to our evolution from sea creatures or maybe our cousins are plants, as nothing feeds the soul like sun, water, and air.
The cruise ended up back where it started, so I assume no one lost control of their bowels.
Captain George was in this strange, hidden bar, hunched over a beer, mumbling to a taller, lighter, male Greek companion. I don’t remember if it was a dare or if I decided getting this brooding man’s attention was a challenge I would like to take on. Whether he remembers us or not, he played along with the social engagement. Time and forgotten conversations slipped away. Someone put on some traditional Greek “dimotiki” music. A circle formed around the men as they clutched each other and moved with ease to a tune they had probably heard since childhood. Funny how such macho men can embrace in the name of culture. Time to leave and we ask George for a ride back to our hotel. My friend climbs in George’s backseat and I take shotgun. We could have walked the distance easily, but why not get in another stranger’s vehicle… George stops, but then says we should go back to the boat instead. My friend’s fingers are tracing the length of his arm, so I agree, rather than disappoint. The drive gives me time to sober up a bit and I start to see the errors in my decision making all evening. The yacht sits in the quiet harbor, with the faint hint of sunrise just starting to bloom. I guzzle 2 bottles of water and lay down on the galley breakfast nook bench, while my friend goes below with George. I shut my eyes to the sounds they are making. Her marriage was crumbling anyways.
I wake to a shift in weight on the boat. The crew has arrived with supplies for that day’s cruise schedule. Sheepishly I slink down and wake the lovers. George is eager to go quick, and we need a ride back. I need to use the bathroom before we leave. An unfortunate urge overtakes me, effects of beer and good Greek food the day before. If I flush will the boat sink? Terrified and irrational, I leave it and run. I jump from the boat deck and jog to the waiting car. “I think I broke the boat.”, I say to my friend, out of earshot of Captain George.
I flew out a ghost and returned a WWII torpedo, sinker of ships, sailor’s bane. Now on to keeping my life afloat.
Penny Rainmaker hales from the region of New York commonly referenced as “upstate”. A healthcare professional aspiring to enter literally any other field, she can memorize song lyrics from the radio after a single listen. This auditory memory is most present in a moving vehicle and thereby inconvenient as she identifies as a visual learner.
I’d love to see her business card…
Health Care Professional (for now)
Sinker of Ships
Penny leaves a good ending for her readers. 😂