Marathon Man: 2003-11-25

I left Sophie's house in Tuscany one week ago. I woke up at 5am and successfully got on the road in 30 minutes, which is pretty quick for me, so I felt that the process of stopping and starting was becoming easier. The road to Ancona was not straightforward. As ever I would search for the interesting back roads. This is always a bit of a risk when you have to be somewhere at a precise time such as the embarkation of a ferry leaving for Greece and a chance to be reunited with an old flame. As always my route took me through breathtaking scenery and similarly the motorcycle never faltered. Between Gubbio and Ancona there is a wonderful rocky valley that forces me to drive slow as I wind effortlessly through its meandering road. Clouds formed in misty fingers that curled around their tips of the surrounding mountains. I felt I might bump into a few dwarves or a halfing as the location was much how I imagined Tolkien's descriptions of Misty Mountain. Typically I began to grow nervous about timing, as Ancona's ferry would not wait on a solitary motorcyclist to happen by on the off chance. Breaking the speed limit is not something I do likely, but if needs be, I couldn't think of a better reason not to anyway. The Triumph responds well to long periods of speed and acceleration, chewing up those kilometres for breakfast.

No words were wasted with the ferry's crew on the subject of games, but having said that the Greek ship hands all seemed very approachable. For me, this time, I wanted an input free crossing. All I could manage after my day on the road was to promenade a little on the deck, do a little drawing and watch a god awful Steven Segal movie before retiring to my shower and bed in my empty 4 star luxury cabin.

The road from Igoumenitsa to Athens is a very beautiful one. Although I started in pitch black at the docks, it wasn't long before the sun would spread a little warmth and light on the matter. The astonishing thing was that although I had always imagined the Greek mainland to be quite arid and barren, as I had found its islands, it was very much the opposite. I have never seen a land so green as I did on this day when I reached the south side of the mainland. The craggy mountains fall short of the sea to give way to a pungent green flat land of olive trees and cyprus trees. A fine mist helps to give the landscape a truly magical appearance. Here I could smell the strong scent of flora around me giving the overall impression of a miraculously fertile land where I presumed only good things could proper gate.

As the route was straightforward enough I felt there would be little to worry about in reaching Athens this day, but to my dismay my right hand began to grow very tired of pulling on the throttle. I began to take a stronger grip and put all my force into the manipulation of the handle, struggling to maintain a reasonable speed. I couldn't believe I was having such trouble on this comparatively short journey of 7-8 hours compared to the marathon 19 hours between Prague and Florence. I began to wish that I had taken the advice of Rama to manufacture a device that would transfer the strain from the wrist to the forearm. I made a stop at a coastal town, Nafpakbos. Whilst I ate and drank I attempted to stretch and massage my ailing hand strain. I didn't hold up much hope for enduring the remainder of my journey under this bizarre pressure. I sent a quick message to Eva who would be waiting for me, just to let her know we might have to wait till the next day for our reunion. To my positive surprise I returned to the bike to discover that the "heated" grips were the cause of my frustration. The electrical lead that supplies the grip with heat was taught such that it was a wonder I could turn the throttle at all. The position of the grip had rotated, over time, to a position that prevented almost any acceleration. A wave of relief and excitement flowered over me. I quickly readjusted the grip and took off with a new found rejuvenation.

It never ceases to amaze me ho generous some people can be with their time. Once I had reached Athens, so began the long and often aggravating process of locating my address with Eva. I didn't have the address or a map to help me there. Between the kindness of 2 Greek men, their map of Athens and Eva on the phone, we managed to pinpoint her location. Mobile phones definitely have their uses on these occasions. I met with Eva in a street not far from her home. There was too much baggage on my bike for her to take me there, so I followed her taxi there instead. It was also a matter of me being a stickler for safety. I couldn't bare the thought of Eva having an accident on the bike without a helmet, even though most people here don't bother wearing the things. Eva and I were met by her mother as I unloaded the bike at the front door. We hauled it all up 3 flights of steps before I could finally rest my soul. Bath, food and after a special pause alone with Eva, sleep.

I had met Exa in the summer of the previous year whilst I was on holiday with my friends, Adam and Mat, on the island of Patmos. Eva came into the Kasbar, on my last nights stay in Patmos, with a mutal friend Eleni. I was immediately struck by Eva's beauty, but more so by her manner and particularly her enigmatic style of conversation. That night was a drunken but romantic occasion that I shall never forget as we kissed under the moon surrounded by the quirky medieval and monastic labyrinth of Hora's ancient town. Sadly we parted the next evening as I took the ferry back to Athens and from there a flight to London. Eva watched from the port and I waved her goodbye, but knowing somehow I would find my way back to her mysterious dark eyes.

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The next few days fell very quickly into a natural rhythm; waking very late in the day, followed by much drinking and smoking, eating from Eva's mother's table and her wonderful cooking, followed by more late nights and late waking. After a few days of this routine, Eva suggested that me might go to see her friends, Mohamed and Sophia in a town called Loutsa on the east coast. This was both an opportunity to visit a new place and people as well as break the routine in Athens. Eva has a reputation among family and friends for poor orientation skills. However, we didn't become lost in Marathonas because of Eva's vague sense of direction, this time it was down to the Olympics and new roads being constructed to replace the tired infrastructure, which meant that all road signs to anywhere along the road had been dismantled. Luckily Eva is very good at asking for directions and managed to get us back on track, not before an interesting comment from a police officer. Eva had wanted on several occasions to ride pillion, but I had refused until she had procured a helmet from a friend. I later discovered, and not without some expectation, that I had scored points with members of her family and numerous friends for insisting that she should wear a helmet. Although a law exists requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet, many don't and often carry one on an arm, but don't use it unless requested to do so. So when I pulled up at a kiosk for Eva to ask directions, a police officer, who was buying a paper, turned to see us and said "you must both be criminals to come up to me both wearing helmets!" laughed and went on his way. Marathonas is the famous location of the battle between the Greeks and Persians. It is here that one man began to run to Athens to warn of the oncoming invasion. It is 26 miles from here to Athens and an uncommonly long way for anyone to run without training, as a consequence our hero died on his arrival in Athens. From this event was born the Marathon race as we know it today.

Once in Loutsa we were greeted by Mohamed, Thanaous and Sophia. Eva had met Mohamed in Egypt when she was living there with her mother for 5 years. Mohamed was high on the weekend, consuming copious quantities of alcohol and "mary jane". On route to Mohamed's house we stopped by Thanaous' place were he hid his supply in some bricks. Thanaous was now providing Mohamed with the fuel to stoke his insatiable appetite to burn his bucket bong. I had not practiced such fiendish abuse of marijuana for more than a decade, but it would have been rude to completely refuse, in any case I needed a change. Many hours of heated discussion came to pass and Mohamed being the loudest and unwavering of us all, began to dominate the conversation. He became particularly avid and then livid with rage at Eva's and Sophia's perspective of life in Egypt. Mohamed felt a duty to defend his people from the accusations he thought were being made against their treatment of women and would not allow a single opposing utterance to break his rhythm. His raving and ranting was certainly interesting to listen to and was probably the most culturally diverse point of view I had yet come across, "giving me a taste of things to come" I thought. Even though I'm sure Mohamed must now be conditioned to Eurocentric thoughts after 5 years in Greece, he is still very much a man from Egypt, or was it Morocco, of perhaps China, he refused to be placed in the category of one particular nation. After sometime I began to feel nauseous, not from consumption of wine or weed, but more from the relentless intoxication of Mohamed's verbal battering ram. I couldn't bare sitting in a one voice room any longer, gave warning that I would leave if he didn't calm down, but in the end I just left the house for a quiet smoke. That little tranquillity didn't last long either. The others had been offended by my leaving and were worried about my happiness. Mohamed felt is was up to him to apologise and came out after me. I sooner wished he would stay away from me for a few minutes of peace, but Mohamed had transformed back into a more caring and softly spoken character. We had a one to one where two voices could be heard and this was somewhat of a relief. I had been reminded of how I tend to clam up when voices ring high volume in anger. I think my reluctance to join in an escalation of tense shouting harks back to when I was around the age of 5, when my father left my mother after a particularly vicious argument. I have always withdrawn from aggressive discussion ever since and that's another funny thing, I remember that what I thought was an argument was only a 'discussion' according to my father. It may be true that I'm over sensitive to this form of verbal abuse and would probably have to get used to it if I was to meet many more like Mohamed, but you are who you are and some things are just too hard to change in yourself. Mohamed had already, on many occasions during our initial meeting, mentioned how much he respected my attitude, point of view and air of wisdom and was now reinstating these beliefs he had of me as he consoled me and walked me back to the house. From there on apologies or not I felt quite drained, exhausted by listening to Mohamed's monologue. From there on and into the next day I was in a subdued state. Perhaps it was just me, but a low level depression seemed to have caught hold of Eva and the others as we spent the next evening passing time in a bar. I found an easy way out of conversation by doing a drawing. Like a therapy this calmed my senses and allowed my mind to breath again. It was getting late and I wanted to get away from the situation even though it was now much improved. Mohamed apologised further on our leaving. I began to feel like a spoilt child who had demanded to be at the centre of attention. I just accepted and said something like "these things happen, and it doesn't matter too much, so lets not worry about it." Thanaous had been a very sensitive kindhearted addition to the team. He had recognised the stress symptoms of my ailments as and when they took place. He wanted to show us a place of natural beauty before leaving and so I accepted, as it was the kind of thing that I could do with engaging at this time, not only for the view but also the comradery. Thanaous is much more my type of person, able to hold a two-way conversation, be perceptive of others and take action rather than use more words when the time requires it. Thanaous showed this ability on several occasions. The place of natural beauty was a view of the nearby airport and indeed it was a sight to behold. One of the worst things about an overly dominant person in a group is that you don't get a chance to talk to the others. Sophia was one such person. She is one of those beautiful people who defies their environment no matter how bad it is and makes the best out of a bad lot. I'm not insinuating that her surrounding circumstances were awful, but they were less than desirable. Sophia and I managed to engage in some conversation for a little while and even play a game of 5 stones. I wish we had had more time together.

Back in Athens both Eva and I licked clean her mother's offering at the table with glee. I had somehow forgotten about my stomach during our visit to Loutsa, but Eva had not and we must have been running on empty for sometime. I didn't like troubling Mohamed and Sophia for food, perhaps for the seeming lack of it in their house, of offering, or just the multitude of flies that dominated their bathroom.

During the next few days I found myself fixing another computer, Eva's mothers machine, together with Eva's brother and his electrical knowledge we solved the problem in her keyboard of all places. Eva's cousins from her hometown were also round to visit and were very animated about games from Greece, but for some reason I didn't feel compelled to join in. I had now fixed my mind on researching the Olympics and a potential meeting with a Greek athlete who the family could provide a connection with. Eva's help at a library had also brought a marvellous university publication to light and promised some credible knowledge for my attention. That night we went out to celebrate the 'name day' of Katarina with Irena, Vangelis and others at a jazz bar. I had met Vangelis and Irena at a latin club some nights before. Vangelis was a doctor and classical music composer, who was very welcoming and gave me a cd of his music. Irena is a student actress and a very beautiful girl indeed. Her classical long dark hair, eyebrows, eyes, voluptuous lips and figure was more than a sight to behold as her singing voice was also rather dreamy too and reminded me a little of Elen from Berlin. Vangelis had stated to me on a previous occasion that Eva was indeed a brilliant writer and the book that she had just written was a work of genius, coupled with Eva's striking beauty I had "happened on one of the best women of Greece". That night Eva was dressed in a pair of close fitting neon blue flared trousers, black blouse and black hat with her flat blond hair falling delicately down behind her. She suited the jazz environment to a T. I thought her a beatnik jazz poet dressed suitably dark but with a bright and bold colour of 60s optimism.

Prior to my journey I had read 2 books about motorcycle journeys, 'Triumph Around The World' and 'Jupiter's Travels' I had also started reading Che Guevara's 'Motorcycle Diaries' as I left. There is barely enough room in my mind to contemplate my own journey let alone consider the fortunes and findings of a third party, but somehow I'm inextricably drawn to these writings as if they may help me to solve some of my own questions. I strongly believe these books have put me in good stead for dealing with all manner of emotions and situations educating my mind for a particular mode of living and working. My current reading book is 'Travels With Charlie' by John Steinbeck, who journeyed across the U.S. in a trailer of sorts with his French poodle, Charlie. Steinbeck is a highly respected writer of his age and remains formidable evermore, however doesn't manage to grasp the imagination for travel in the same way that others do – or perhaps my own journey has now finally begun to overshadow the scribblings of other travel writers. Yet there are still lessons to be learned from Steinbeck's travels as there are from others. It struck me that Steinbeck was deeply concerned with language and dialect which he felt was being inevitably eroded away through the culture of radio and T.V. Similarly I find that the culture of games is also struggling to remain indifferent to the power of Playstation and other consoles that bridge the world with a common denominator culture that tends to be US orientated.

2003-12-05

When I finally realised that the Olympic games were the focus of my research in Greece, I decided that I must find a Greek athlete to interview and hopefully record during his/her training. I did the usual and asked all the people I knew in Greece if they might know an athlete. It sounds ridiculous perhaps, that this approach might, but if you follow the rule that there are only 6 or 7 degrees of separation between one person and the person they want to meet, it then becomes highly plausible. However, when I asked Vangelis if he might have any patients at his medical practice that might be athletes, I was amazed to strike gold once more and so quickly. Not only was Vangelis treating such a patient, it turned out to be none other than Ioannis, a Greek gymnast who had won a gold medal in the last Olympic games. A meeting was arranged at the Latin dance club and we had the chance to talk. Ioannis is most definitely gay, or very effected if not, which is not a problem except that I couldn't be sure if Ioannis was interested in my research or me. He turned out to be a very interesting character indeed. He had studied much about the history and philosophy of the Olympics and was able to give me a very authoritative understanding of its meaning to the ancient Greeks. We exchanged telephone numbers and made arrangements for a meeting to agree about a format for an interview. The meeting was missed and several attempts later the idea had obviously worn thin in his mind or he was too busy with preparations for the oncoming Olympics. I had fantasies about the beautiful images I would capture with Ioannis training with accompanying classical music from Vangelis and tons of historical reference material in ancient buildings scattered across Athens. Alas it was not to be and I had to give in. Eva and the others tried to convince me to stay for Christmas, but I feared staying in one place too long in the hope of meeting Ioannis again. I decided to cut my losses and leave my Greek game research for my return to Europe on the way back. Eva agreed to do some research for me and help prepare interviews for my return. I warned it would be a long time from now. I happened to be watching a television programme that took an interview with Ioannis. I was amazed by his unashamedly full blown television camp. He was head to toe in flared white trousers, shirt and shoes. Lapels flapping in tandem with his wrists, hair-flicking back more often than his female interviewer, was comedy in the extreme, especially when he attempts to portray himself as a heterosexual waiting for the right woman to come along. The interview showed Ioannis to be something of a snobbish character completely obsessed with his image. This only dug a wound deeper into my aspirations of a classic piece of film with this obtuse character, an opportunity that I sorely wanted but had missed.

The days now passed much more quickly as I prepared for my inevitable departure. Eva and I went once more to visit Sophia to celebrate her birthday. Mohamed was much calmer and we were all able to engage in a more civilised conversation.

It was when we returned to Athens that I realised it was time to go. <censored> I also found the compliments toward me were running frighteningly thick. Eva, her mother and friends were all calling me beautiful, intelligent, gentle, kind, wise and not just on one occasion. It seemed as if there must be some conspiracy going on in the background to keep me in Greece. In the end my desire to get back on the road and with my mission was more important, besides Eva was beginning to bother me a little with her continuous touching, caressing and eyes that followed me everywhere.

My departure was early one morning, around 6 am, far too early for the likes of Eva, but she managed it for a while to see me off. She looked so pretty in the twig light and as we kissed goodbye I felt we were much happier with this parting that the one of the year before. It was great to be back on the road again and the feel of freedom gush through me once more. How could I find a way to perpetuate this experience, I never want to go back to the other life. On route to Igoumenitsa I thought of my time together with Eva as the breathtaking scenery flowed past and took me through to Delphi, a place of outstanding natural beauty. I stopped to take a look at the valley of olive trees below and peered into the distance where the valley met the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea, I was beside myself with joy. The olive trees blew back and forth in the wind creating waves of silvery shimmering across the valley floor. It was really the first time I had a strong desire to take photographs of landscape on my journey, and so I started to take many.

I reached the port of Igoumenitsa well before the expected time of arrival, but this gave me time to eat and drink properly after another day of skimping while driving. The boat was late and I must have endured 7 hours waiting. The effort of getting my bike stowed and lugging my baggage up to reception was more than I could bear at this late point in the day. The receptionist took pity on me and upgraded me to a cabin with window all to myself. This type of extra consideration makes a huge difference to a traveller like me, the last thing I wanted to deal with were other people's idiosyncrasies in a 4-bunk cabin that should really be designed for 1. I was too tired to write, but after a shower I suddenly felt alive enough to put on all white linen trousers, target t-shirt and white trainers, to go to the casino club lounge. I must have looked as gay or as alien as Ioannis did, but I didn't care. The club was full of young Greek girls, very sexy ones too, all dancing in a semi drunk state of celebration. There were no seats to be had next to their party so I had to sit out on the sidelines. One girl had noticed me and just in case I hadn't noticed her, she made many passes by me so I could see the perfect line of her body hugged in tartan hipsters and tight mid-riff revealing top. As often as not, it was too difficult for me to strike up a conversation with any of them as they were in full flow, <censored> Instead I sat to drink my JD and look on from afar and smoke too many cigarettes.

After almost 4 years of not smoking, the road and meeting many new friends had demanded that I take up this foolish and warming habit again. Greece in particular has a very strong smoking culture that must start from a very early age in life. The classroom in fact, where teachers and pupils all smoke without reproach. "We only smoke in exams" proclaimed Eva to her friends, Mohamed and I found this impossible to fathom, but in Greece there are no smoke free zones, and even where there are, the local enforcement is nothing but a chimney of tobacco fumes in uniform. I hope I find a way to stop smoking again as it really bothers me.