Oh, I know: party town, playground of the rich, and so on, but if you’re not partying, or rich, or want to dip into the mad nightlife and leave town with a headache, memories, and herpes, I don’t see the attraction. Granted, we didn’t get into the town with the twisty little streets, but a) we had just been in one with much better views, and b) Corfu had them as well, but with much more continental flavor. Here we headed for the beach. The bus swerved through scraggly terrain littered with rocks that were either strewn on barren fields, or heaped into endless innumerable walls that seemed to serve no purpose. Villas with poor views; villas with nice views; empty half-completed villas that baked in the sun, rebars sticking out like stalks of some deadly plant.
The tour bus guide said not a word. Other buses apparently got a verbal tour, with descriptions of the colorful local names for the islands. (Aphrodite’s Boobies, according to one overheard conversation.)
So the ancients were 14-year-old boys, then. The beach is noted in legend as the Source of the Mediterranean, and the old stories tell the tale of a god who came to earth with a washer, so the spout didn’t leak so much and he could fill up the basin of the world quicker. Indeed, here are the remains of the pipe and hose some say filled up the oceans.
As soon as we found a spot and settled in for the morn were immediately beset by Asian women wandering around with menus for massages.
“No thank you,” my wife smiled the first time.
“No, thank you,” my wife said the second time.
“No,” my wife said the third time.
“Please leave us alone,” she said the fourth time.
The fifth time she waved them away. The sixth time she ignored them.
When she went to the water they came back in case I might want a massage. I said no. One of them took this to mean "I do not wish to have a stranger handle my feet," and asked if I wanted a head massage. I did not. When the next one came over I feigned sleep; she just said "massage? Massage? Massage? until it was apparent I was not going to leap up and throw Euros at her to knead my calves.
Then came the sellers of Quality Merchandise - authentic Gucci bags, real Beats headphones! - trudging back and forth across the sand. All African. You wonder about the course of their lives, what it took to get them here, doing this, and how remunerative it could be, and whether or not they have to give their earnings to the Boss at the end of the day, then sup on a sponge dampened with gruel.
Still: perfect day. Almost didn't happen. I'd packed everything the night before, right down to water and battery pack and tickets and books, and laid out my clothes, all so I could get up / eat / go, and of course I was whipping the womenfolk out of the cabin one minute before the tour was supposed to leave. We made it to the departure area on deck six just as they made the last call for our excursion. I got out the tickets.
AUUUGGGGHHH wrong ticket for wife. An evil spirit had entered the stateroom and shuffled up the tickets. The right ticket was back in the room, five decks up and the length of the ship away.
Made it. But let me tell you. Running up five decks with a full pack and a full stomach and sprinting the length of this Leviathan the day after we walked up Santorini's thigh-cramping trail of pain was no easy task, and I forgot to close my backpack zipper: out bounces the Kindle! Out bounces the 1.5 liter jug of water! Jammed the key in the door, got the tickets from the safe - where I'd put them in case anyone broke into our stateroom and did something mean like, oh, mixing up the tickets - and ran back. Last ones on the bus. Red-faced with shame.
The tour guide collected everyone at 12:55 by walking up and down holding the bus number, and I said “we leave at one, right?”
“One,” she said emphatically. Of course, wife is off to the pavilion. Everyone else has packed up and gone. I sent daughter ahead: do not let them leave. Wail if you must. Cry “mama! Papi!” Daughter said they wouldn’t leave without doing a head count, and I said I did not trust the tour guide. There is a hardness to her.
Wife returns. Back to the bus. Sure enough: no head count. ONE O’CLOCK! and out we go. Some poor fellow in the restroom was probably wandering the beach without any Euros, wondering what the hell he’s supposed to do now.
Back through the hills and fields of stone. I have to say, if stone is their major crop, this year’s a bounty harvest. Here's a short video. They're usually short. I get bored easily too.
Back to the ship; daughter wants to play the “Silent Quiz” at the Library, whatever that is.
LATER It was a silent quiz. Also known as a “test.” If you played, you got a prize. There were 14 questions. I got 10 out of 14. I thought the first McDonald’s hamburgers were five cents, not 15. There was some dispute about #4: Before it was called Constantinople, what was the name of the city? Byzantium, I put down. The answer key said the answer was Istanbul.
“That’s wrong,” I said. I turned to the British couple waiting in line for their prize, and said “Constantinople. The answer is Istanbul. That’s wrong.”
“That’s completely wrong,” said the English lady. “It’s Byzantium.”
“Absolutely,” said her husband. The fellow manning the library desk, who had previous run a game of Pictionary in which my wife and the Meat Hoarders were the players, faced a rebellion: In accordance with the power vested in him by the ancient Law of the Sea, he marked our answers correct. And we all got keychains that shone a blue light when you pressed a button. We now have seven.
For dinner: the French restaurant. Really, the Ultimate Dinner Package is such a deal; that was a $200 meal. I had small portions of scallops in a sauce as rich as Crassus, and duck for the main course. I know it was incredible and authentic and oh-so-very-Fronsh, because I didn’t like it much. Oh, it was delicious, but there were about sixteen atoms of duck. Also, it took forever to arrive: we sat, and sat, and sat, and when I finally snagged the waiter’s eye to inquire after the delay, he said, haltingly, “this is something I am investigate. With the chef. In the kitchen,” he added, in case I thought he was taking it up with the chef in bathroom. When the maitre d’ swanned over to see how we were doing, I noted that half an hour had elapsed ‘twixt appetizer and main course. Perhaps there had been difficulty subduing the duck. He apologized and headed off, and shortly afterwards two glasses of the Finest Champagne materialized.
“From France,” he later explained. “Not on the menu.”
Yes, you'd want to leave your best stuff off the menu, just for moments like this. How many times have you glared at the wine menu and said "where's the stuff you give to customers to pacify them? I don't see it."
I praised it lavishly and on the way out said I would give them the highest possible marks on the survey form, which was what that was all about. He clasped my hand in friendship, a sacred bond having been formed. We wandered out, fizzy, collected Daughter, and went to the main atrium where they were handing out flutes of free bubbly as part of the ship’s “White Hot Night” celebration. A while later Wife and Daughter were doing a line dance on the pool deck.
Really the most fun we’ve had together since, oh, ever.