Kastellorizo, Greece

Kastellorizo, Greece
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"Kastellorizo," said Charlene, as the small tour boat crossed the bay towards the island. "It’s 36’8, ’33N.29′ 37’28E. Seventy two naval miles from Rhodes. At the closest point it’s less than a mile form the Turkish mainland."

The storm had stayed far out over the sea, but heavy waves still rolled into the bay and the boat tacked at cross angles through them, tossing like a cork, its prow dipping into the wide troughs and then cutting with dull slaps through each successive swell. The gang was crowded around a small table under the canopy that stretched over the back deck. The crossing had taken almost an hour from harbour to harbour, and they’d had to wait almost an hour before that because the passenger list had to be checked against their passports, a process carried out while they all stood around in the drab foyer of the civic building in Kas. Sean thought that the whole exercise, and the people who administered it, had been unnecessarily tedious. He complained that the two young Turks in charge of the boat were rude and his Irish temper flared. "They learn English from Germans," he said. "Bark, bark, bark. Well, I won’t stand for it. I won’t be herded around. I’m the one who’s paying money here. And they ought to be civil." He informed the young man at the wheel that he was going to report them to the tourist bureau.

"They don’t give a flying fuck about you," said Peter. "Settle down and enjoy the day."

"Really, man," said Albert. "Don’t make waves."

"Good one," Peter congratulated the Dutchman.

Albert had been waiting on the boat when the gang arrived. Everyone had been surprised to see him, but no one said anything. It was early for Albert, who usually didn’t rise before noon. Most days he sat on his balcony until after one in the afternoon, where Drucada served him breakfast and tea, then he’d drive to town. Albert never walked far. Peter was especially surprised to see him on the boat because, as far as Peter knew, foreigners with cars couldn’t leave Turkey without taking their cars with them, and Kas had no custom’s compound. As well, Albert hadn’t joined the rest of the group at the civic building. But, Peter noted, the Dutchman seemed especially chummy with the two Turkish crewmen.

"Kas means eyebrow in Turkish," said Charlene, continuing to read from her guidebook. "And Kastellorizo is obviously the eye."

"I like that," said Judy. "The eye and the eyebrow. Makes perfect sense."

"Earliest settlement was Neolithic" Charlene informed them.

"What’s that?" asked Jocko.

"Caveman days," said Peter.

Jokco jumped up from his chair and began pantomiming an ape.

"That’s enough," said Judy. "Sit down. A boat is no place to be jumping around."

Liam giggled and, Jocko, encouraged by his little friend, continued the performance.

"Sit down," said Peter. "Now."

Jocko sat, scowling.

"And wipe the scowl off your face," said Peter. "This is a boat, not a playground."

"Dorians, Phonecians, Myceaians, Lycians," said Charlene. "Sort of poetic, isn’t it?"

"Quite a history for such a tiny place," said Judy.

"That’s not all," said Charlene. "It was Byzantine. See the castle?" She pointed up to the crest of the hill, as the boat passed beneath it into the harbour. "Then the Knights of St. John took over. It was a pirate cove. The Venetians stayed for awhile. It was bombed by nearly everyone during the second world war."

"Popular place," said Cathy.

"Osman told me that the people here are all paid by the Greek government," said Peter. "Because if the population falls below a certain number then the island reverts to Turkey."

The boat bobbed slightly against the dock and the youngest of the two Turks jumped off to secure the rope to a large metal mooring ring, then the gang was led to the port office where their passports were once again checked against the passenger list. Cathy argued with the man behind the desk. She was informed that Kastellorizo wasn’t a port of entry, but she wanted her passport stamped anyways.

"There is no stamp," said the man.

"But this is Greece," Cathy complained. "And I want a damn stamp."

"Ah," said Peter. "The great white American adventurer wants to bag another stamp."

By the time they were finished with the formalities Jocko and Liam were already playing in a bombed-out building behind the port office.

"What do you want to do?" Judy asked Peter.

"I’m going to stroll around and take some shots," he answered, wondering if Albert wanted to have a beer at one of the dockside restaurants. It was then he realized that Albert hadn’t joined them for the passport check.

"I’ll take the kids for awhile," said Charlene.

"That would be nice," said Judy, and looked around for the boys. "Where are they?"

"Over there." Peter pointed to the ruined building.

"Liam," Sean called sternly. "Get out of there."

"Jocko," Peter hollered.

"Do you have to yell?" asked Judy.

"There’s no other way," said Peter, as Jocko scrambled out of the building, with Liam tagging along behind.

Charlene and the boys went up the hill to the museum. Sean and Cathy, and the two young English girls who’d joined the gang in order to make up the passenger quota, left along the dock towards the restaurants. Gordon had a friend on the island and stayed behind to use the office telephone. Judy and Peter stood by the boat.

"I"m going to take some photographs," said Peter. "That’s what I want to do. Just wander around. There must be a cemetery on the island. Maybe I’ll look for that."

"Do you want company?" asked Judy.

"I guess."

"You guess? Well, if it’s a problem…"

"Look," said Peter, holding her by her shoulders and talking down at her. "I’m tired of the bickering. We have to stop. I quit."

"I don’t…"

"Wait," he said. "You just don’t get it. This time I’ll have my say." He paused to see how she’d respond, but she said nothing more. "You and Jocko are a self-contained unit. You don’t need me. That’s what it feels like. But he needs a firm hand. Every time you criticize me in front of him you drive he and I further apart. He’s been raised by women. An only child. He knows how to act cute and get what he wants. Well, I’m a man. And what might have been cute in a three year old is mostly annoying in a seven year old. The main point here is that I’m not going to let you de-ball me in front of him. And I’m not going to let a seven year old run my life." He waited for a reaction, but there was none, so he continued. "If this means I have to be alone. So be it. And, today, I intend to do some shooting. I’d love your company. But I won’t put up with any bickering."

*

Kastellorizo looked like a movie set, with colourful two-storey wood and plaster homes and shops fronting the cement dock that lay all around the harbour. The greens, yellows, and blues of the buildings were washed bright by a high, late morning sun. Fishing boats, equally as colourful as the buildings, pulled on their ropes and rocked gently on the blue-green water. A few Greek men sat talking at the dockside tables. An Orthodox priest sat at one table, a small child on his lap, and conversed with a young woman. A shopkeeper leaned in his doorway and a couple of fishermen had their nets spread out on the dock for repair.

The setting was too perfect to suit Peter’s photographic eye. He took a couple of shots, but his interest lay behind the idyllic facade of the town, in the hundreds of bombed-out structures that stood empty and broken in the maze of narrow streets and alleys that crowded up the mountainside. Judy and he walked the circuit from one side of the harbour to the other. They passed Sean and the two young English girls who were sitting together at a dockside bar having a beer. Cathy was at a table nearby chatting with a Greek man, who seemed mildly amused by his new acquaintance. "Wait up," Cathy called, waving her camera. Peter gave Judy a sidelong glance. Judy shrugged, as if to say, what can I do? Cathy caught up and the three of them turned down an alley to walk through the back streets. Peter spied a particularly interesting old house with a palm tree growing through the roof. "I’ll be right back," he said, and climbed up an embankment to photograph the relic.

Cathy and Judy continued to stroll along the path that wound up towards a large Orthodox church. Peter rejoined them, but he let the women walk together while he clambered over broken walls and crawled through partially boarded doorways. The walls were pockmarked by bullet holes and shellfire, and each of the homes had a number painted on it in large Greek numerals as if the places had been catalogued so some academic could make sense of all the destruction. Some of the more intact lower sections had been reoccupied and occasionally people peered out over sills lined with old tin cans that were planted with flowers and herbs. Goats and chickens passed freely through the rubble.

They reached the church, but it was locked, and they had to stand on tiptoes to peer at the icons that were hung salon style on the interior walls. They wandered further up the hill, with Peter taking short excursions to explore with his camera. Somewhere along the route Cathy adopted a scruffy, grey kitten, and she cradled it as they strolled through the ruins. They arrived finally at a square presided over by a large statue of the Lady of Ro. Nearby was a restaurant called the Mediterraneo, where a film of the same name had once been shot. "This is the place that Sean wanted to find," said Cathy.

Several local men sat around an outside table drinking beer or coffee. Cathy, with her usual impetuous manner, introduced herself, and then stood trying to talk to them while the kitten cradled in her arms mewed plaintively. None of the locals understood a word she said, but she did manage to get a saucer of milk for the kitten, and left the tiny animal under a table lapping to its heart’s content.

"You know," said Peter, after they continued on their way. "People must think you’re from Mars." Cathy just smiled and shrugged.

They came to a gravel road that stretched along the upper edge of town where they could see down over the ruins and out across the bay to the mainland. Three Greek soldiers trudged past. Cathy walked beside one of them, conversing in broken English until the soldiers turned down towards their barracks. Peter wondered what it felt like to be stationed on Kastellorizo, with the Turkish mainland stretching like pincers set wide to snatch up the small island? The three young soldiers kept glancing back over their shoulders. Cathy smiled and waved at them.

"You’re crazy," said Peter. "You know that?"

"No," said Cathy, with a sudden serious tone. "I know what crazy is. I figure if I can sit in a room with people who see demons coming out of my mouth and snakes crawling out of my ears, and still survive sane, then I can act a little crazy sometimes out here in the real world. I know the boundaries. I’ve had lots of practice."

Peter thought about the cook from Hasan’s who’d almost raped her. But he didn’t say anything.

"There," said Judy, pointing to a spit of land that jutted into the bay. "Down there. It’s the cemetery."

"Good sighting," said Peter, giving her hand a squeeze.

Judy smiled wide.

"God, I love it when you show your teeth," he said. And kissed her lightly.

Cathy produced a couple of cans of beers from her daypack. "What a life," she said.

"Yeah," said Peter. "Sure is tough."

They all laughed and continued down the tree-lined lane to the cemetery.

The gate was bolted but not locked, and couple of men were whitewashing a nearby chapel, but they didn’t seem concerned, so Peter opened the ornate iron gate. It creaked loud on its hinges.

"Cemeteries make me nervous," said Cathy, and took a swig from her can of beer.

"I love them," said Peter. He performed his imitation of a game show host, palm out, inviting. "Enter, ladies."

Cathy and Judy walked together to the far end of the cemetery while Peter sauntered from row to row photographing the crude, handmade markers. He knelt before a small shrine that had a tiny, hinged door and peered inside. It contained a small bottle with a gold-coloured liquid — probably olive oil — a matchbook with an illustration of an Egyptian scene — possibly representing Cleopatra’s court — a silver locket spread open to reveal a miniature photograph of a young girl, an upright, half-burned candle, and several sticks of incense. Peter attached the macro lens to his camera and lay across the slab to compose his shot. He breathed deep and held it, then clicked the shutter.

He found two more shrines, each unique and each containing both symbolic and private objects of devotion. He felt separate and alone and sensed that he was touching the pure heart of something, that he was being a witness to some mystery that would never wholly reveal itself. How odd and curious, he thought, the peace of mind that can be found in cemeteries. He became entirely entranced, disengaged from the world around him, and when he was done he sat down against the bulbous trunk of a spreading beech tree. He rested there for a few minutes and watched as the two women walked through the cemetery, passing in and out of dappled sunlight. He imagined that the light was like life, golden and warm, and that the shadows were deathly dark and cold. He closed his eyes and thought about the Doric tomb. He could still smell the urine. When he opened his eyes Judy was standing a few feet away, watching him, and Cathy was waiting on the other side of the cemetery gate.

They walked back to town where they found Sean sitting on a stool pulled up to a high, wooden table placed outside the doorway of a dockside taverna. He had no shirt. "I gave them the shirt off my back," he said, spreading his arms wide. "The shirt off my back." Peter noted that Sean’s torso was a continuous mat of thick grey hair that extended over his shoulders.

"But did they want it?" asked Charlene, who was seated at another table. Liam was on her lap.

"We wolfed down four plates of calamari," said Sean, counting them out on his fingers. "One, two, three, and four."

"And twice as many ouzo," Charlene added.

Judy and Cathy joined Charlene at the table near the edge of the water. Jocko and Liam ran off down an alley to rummage in the rubble. Peter leaned in the tavern doorway and had a beer. He listened to Sean as the man lectured the two young English girls on the patriarchal nature of Turkish men. Peter chuckled low, thinking that Sean seemed entirely patriarchal himself, sitting there bare-chested and waving his finger in the girl’s faces.

"You know, Sean," said Cathy. "I don’t understand how the Irish never managed to take over the world."

"Ah, sister," said Sean. "That’s the thing. We never had to. We own it already. Sheer force of personality."

Liam ran out from the alley, crying for his mother. He’d fallen and scraped his knee. He became hysterical and couldn’t be calmed, so it was decided that the kids needed some time away from each other. Peter and Judy took Jocko on a walk along the stone path that led below the fortress on the northern tip of the island. Jocko dashed ahead of them, climbing up to rock ledges and snooping into crevices. He found part of a snake’s skin and the remains of a wild boar. The visit to the cemetery had made Peter thoughtful and content, so Judy and he walked quietly hand in hand to where the path ended at a small Orthodox church, and then they returned by the same route back to the dock. It was 4:30. The boat was leaving for the mainland in half an hour.

The rest of the gang straggled along the dock from town, joining together and then breaking apart as each of them tried to grab one last memory of the island. Sean sat with the priest for a few moments, and Cathy stopped at a table to talk with a couple of Greek men. Charlene and the two girls from England looked through some embroidery hanging on a rack outside a grocery store. Gordon and his friend walked together talking in low voices. Albert was nowhere to be seen.

The return to the mainland took about half as long as the morning’s crossing. The two Turkish crew members seemed quite concerned that it was getting late and that the Turkish harbour office might be closed, and then they’d have to pay overtime for an officer to check the passports. There was no mention of Albert. Although the Dutchman hadn’t been present that morning in the civic building, Peter had assumed that at least his passport had been inspected. Did the Dutchman have some special status? Or did he not want the authorities to know that he’d gone to the Greek island? Had Albert stayed on the island?

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