Even if it was negative-15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), it was time to move on.
The air was so cold it was purple. The white snow on the ground was so cold it was shriveling up. I held my hitchhiking sign and watched my screaming breath, on a highway that was gray and dead because it was winter and because we were within a small Czech city.
I had a slow start this day. While in the next of the Czech Republic's beautiful cities - this one called Brno - I called to my smily-drunken-bear friend, Pavel. Blond, large-round-forehead Pavel studies automotive engineering there. And I would spend my last Czech day with him.
Of course, we drank a lot of beers this day. Smily drunken bears love beers. But, they don't speak much English. So, even though I'd known Pavel four months, I didn't know much about him except that he loved beer and smiling and falling asleep in nightclubs, and that he was really terrible at cards.
But, now, we could have a good talk in Czech. Pavel told me about his studies, and we offered psychological analyses of all our bar buddies back in Rymarov. Wow, Pavel was deep! He told me about the many-centuries-dead Czech teacher, "Komensky." This man said, "Uceni je hry." (Learning is games.)
This man also invented the "Esperanto" language; he envisioned that every nation would speak its own language plus Esperanto, so that everyone could communicate. I told Pavel I didn't like this idea. Speaking Esperanto would have to feel robotic, with no human beauty nor special quirks. Even though it took Pavel and me four months to have a good conversation together, I was glad we were having it in Czech.
(...but between you and me, I still didn't understand him all that much.)
I survived my hitchhiking trip south to warmer Europe. I was fairly sure I would. Italian trucker Antonio carried me, let me sleep across his seats at night, and cooked us two pounds of pasta. We drove through Austrian Alps with horizons skiing alongside us. Impossibly long pine trees squirmed and lurched up, up like vines, into clear sky.
... In Antonio's truck, I dreamt I was hitchhiking some small European mountain road. The car and I came to some mountaintop animal crossing. I got out and played with a panda and a brown panda, who nibbled on my fingers playfully ...
The next afternoon - like deja vu - I was on a boat from Italy to Greece. No pandas.
And now I'm in Greece.
Greece is a very interesting place. Of the places I've been, its culture might be the most enigmatic and remote. I watch the people, but I still haven't figured them out.
I'm near to Patras, on the large Pelopennisian peninsula in southwest Greece. The first Greek habit I perceived was how everyone is so made-up here. The girls wear in-style sun-glasses and work hard each day on their hair-do's. The dark guys have new sweaters and beard stubble and perfect, moussed hair. The guys appear so perfect and confident you'd think they wouldn't even talk to you.
The second thing I noticed was that there are a lot of small, pink-ish, Greek Orthodox memorials beside the roads. They're tributes to dead motorists, and there are usually pictures of young men inside. Cars drive terribly fast on the roads outside Patras, and races are common.
I've been hitchhiking a lot, and one of these young, confident, speeding guys gave me a ride.
His name was Kostas, and he was a bit paunchy. We spoke in Greek. He told me he likes every music, it doesn't matter what kind. But, then, he added casually, "Mono Elliniki" (Only Greek music), as if that was the only kind.
He only liked Greece, and especially hometown Kalamata where he was a bar-man. He was only leaving to see his "yinaika" (girl). He confidently called every car that turned in front of him - even though they weren't close to hitting him - a "malaka!" (a negative-meaning word used for friend or enemy) Sometimes, he sang to the pop music on his radio.
It felt comforting to be with someone so confident, and I smiled throughout the ride. We passed some strange, abandoned pod by the road, Kostas said, "UFO," and we laughed.
Other particularly Greek scenes include:
Fish eyes and wiggly squid bodies, which had been alive in the sea twenty-four hours earlier, stare at you from the "ixthiopoleia" (fish markets).
The older generation of men, including tiny old men on city streets, don't leave home unless in dark, sharp suits.
Small motor-scooters zoom around, sometimes with as many as three males riding them. One man I hitchhiked with switched from his car to his scooter once we reached Patras, and it was fun zooming with him to my destination.
The K.K.E. (Communist Party of Greece) is strong and active. It's nice to see their postings up around town, which offer different ways of thinking about things.
The local anti-war movement has also got a very nice collage posted around Patras. In one photo, protestors hold a "STOP BUSH" stop sign. Another photo shows a sixteen-year-old girl, who wears an intelligent and caring look, sitting on someone's shoulders and yelling emotionally and flashing the "peace" sign. One shows a small Iraqi boy with his arms out to the sides, standing in front of a tank advancing towards him. A fourth has a woman holding two shopping bags, also standing before a tank and prepared to die.
... Okay. So, now I'll tell you about MY Greek scene.
I'm living in an olive orchard in my tent. After my first night here, a tiny old couple was burning sticks in the yard in the morning. They immediately invited me to stay for as long as I want. "Filoksenia." (Hospitality.) The small woman has a smile as happy and big as her head.
I see and talk to the couple most mornings. The woman has brought me tiny bottles of some black, sugary, licorice-y homemade alcohol that tastes like a dream about playing with pandas. She brought me crumbly, powdery cookies, and vegetables wrapped in leaves. She gave me purple-hued homemade bread that was crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle like a Nerf football. She gave me olives and olive oil. The tiny, smoking man insists everything homemade is the best.
Last night, I ate the bread and olives by the sea, which is within view of the olive orchard.
The night before, I slept in Patras, pop. 250,000. Nineteen-year-old Dimitrios, who has soft shoulder-length hair and irises as black as his pupils and a uni-brow, is translating some of my stories into Greek. (I'm going to try to sell them door-to-door to support myself.) We went out to a club, and he had a spare bed for me afterwards.
Returning home to my tent, I spotted yesterday a girl who'd been in my and Dimitrios's company in the club. She and I hadn't spoken much, because Dimitrios speaks English with me and she only speaks Greek. But, she'd been the laughing type, and I liked that. I watched yesterday as she and a friend went into a cafe. I wanted to join them.
It was a big debate for me. If I invited myself to sit with them, things could go badly. But, things could also go very well.
I finally decided to go for it. And it was a success! They were interested in me, I in them, it was a lot of fun, the hot chocolate was creamy delicious, and I split before they got sick of our imperfect communication.
Hopefully, this - my third attempt at making a stay in Greece - will be just as successful.
Dimitrios told me I could stay with him in Patras as often as I want. "Filoksenia."
But, even though it's cold some nights and it's the rainy season, I'm beginning to like my olive orchard.
"Yia sas!" from Greece - Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Lubos Martinik; Michael; Marek; Mikky & Emil; Antonio; Demetrij; Stathis - twice; Kostas; Mixala; Iatros; Andreas; a sexually-interested, creepy guy; Yiannis; and Vasilis for the rides!
Much thanks to Albina, Igor, Niki, & Katka - again; Pavel, Marian, & Peter; and Dimitrios & Leonidas for the places to sleep!