Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My mate George

"When you will arrive in Santorini Airport you will see the driver," went the email from George, the owner of the hotel we planned to stay at, "he will keep a sign with your name and hotels name." Not only did the driver do no such thing, he didn't arrive in the first place. We had to make our own way to town by bus as Jin looked out the window and stopped talking to me.

George and I had been communicating via email in the lead up to the trip. I had been building him up for weeks as our hero of Santorini, given that our relationship had progressed quickly via the web all the way from strangers to old friends. "Don't worry about Santorini, baby," I said, "George is gonna fix everything up for us." I got a hold of George via email once we made it to town and asked him what the hell happened. You just don't let old friends down in that way. "Give me a call from town," he said without apology, "and I'll come get you."

Greece had dished out small disappointments like that one. Not huge tourist rip offs, or anything like a deal breaker that would make you say, "never again." No. I'd return in a heartbeat. But just tiny infractions.

We had made it to within 200 meters of the last hotel in Athens but couldn't find it. It was like a stray sock you knew was in your room somewhere nearby and yet you just couldn't locate it and get it on your foot. I asked 4 locals and got 4 different answers. One vendor, an older man who must have been an old neighbor of the hotel, listened intently to my query from the entrance of his store. I handed him my hotel reservation, which had the address on it in plain Greek. He looked at it long and thoughtfully in a way that brought Socrates and Plato to life much more than any exhibit would. He took a big puff on a cheap cigarette whose smoke had already filled the space between us. 'Hurry up,' I thought. Before long I would no longer be able to see him. He eventually nodded to himself, as though a light bulb had gone off in his head, and looked up, exhaling all the cigarette smoke he had idling in his lungs in my face. "It's a this way," he said, pointing with the hand that still held the cigarette, which only brought it inches from my face. If I was a smoker I would have only had to lean forward a bit and I'd have had a puff, hands free. "Little bit up on right," he said waving the hand slightly, teasing me.

Normally I'd reply with an insult of my own, or derision, or at least a look of disdain, but on this day I just nodded in complacency. 'No trouble at all sir, I don't mind a bit. Do whatever you need to do.' Being stranded, i realised, is a lot like being guilty of something. You become much more accommodating of things and willing to turn the other cheek. And in this case I was glad to turn the other cheek so that I could get some fresh air. I wish I had known at the time that his directions lead in the exact opposite direction to the hotel. Then I would have turned my cheek his way and opened my mouth real wide.

We followed the line of his cigarette ash and ended up at a museum we didn't know was even there and went in since we were already there. It turned out to be the best thing in Athens, more interesting than the Acropolis.

We took stock of things in Santorini, my friendship with George was now in tatters, and I tried to shift the focus to the good things. "Look how nice it is here, Honey," i said valiantly, "i mean, who needs a hotel right away when you're in a paradise like this." We walked in an uncomfortable silence in the direction of the famed Santorini caldera, in search of somewhere to stay, where the view is sublime but probably beyond our means. Most of the villas were closed, their owners probably at the baccarat tables in Vegas for winter. And then we came upon an open one with a name that pretty much summed up our situation - anti-thesis. They took us in like long lost friends and surprise surprise charged much less than George.

George had been all planned, and secured to perfection. His lodgings were very modern, albeit inland without a view. He came recommended. Trusted. The antithesis was a walk-in, it was unplanned, like many a good TV pregnancy. It was unknown. An 18th century cave. And we went with it.

We found out to our surprise that the anti thesis is much better than the thesis. Misadventure had put us onto the scent of something new and much more wondrous. As I ponder this from the deck of the anti thesis I look out at the Aegean sea from the heart of the caldera, with a stunning view, a cup of wine and many thanks to George for letting us down.

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