Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Moto Mama October 23, 2008

Groan all you want…but then thank me for deciding not to go with “Zen and the Art of Moto Maintenance”.

So all the Greek islands are a lot larger than I somehow realized – like 40 and 50 miles across. And in the off-season, the public transportation doesn’t run efficiently, if it runs at all. As a result, if you want to see something beyond your hotel and its immediate surroundings, you need to rent a 4-wheeler, a car, or a scooter. After three days on a scooter (moto), I have learned a few things:

  1. It gets cold on the Greek islands after the sun goes down. On a moto, it gets damn cold. Like, “Excuse me while I go into hypothermic shock” cold.

  2. The gas mileage is amazing. If it didn’t get so cold in Washington, I would seriously consider getting a Vespa. And if they’d throw in a sidecar for Dozer, we’d be quite the sight. Maybe I should write Vespa and pitch this as an ad idea along with some crude crayon renderings? My modeling services in exchange for a powder blue Vespa with all the trimmings. I suggest they’d be getting the long end of the stick on that trade.

  3. If you let your mouth relax in the wind, your lips flap all over the place and you look something like a large mouth bass.

  1. I like being outside. I like smelling pine forests and cow stink and wood fires burning. I like the air in my face and even freezing my @ss off. I think I may have a place in the Hell’s Angels yet.

Otherwise, I did a little exploring the last few days. The island of Kos is the home of Hippocrates. There’s a willow tree that they claimed he ‘learned beneath’, but considering that the tree would have to be 2500 years old and it ain’t really that big, it’s probably more colorful legend than fact. However, it is widely accepted that Hippocrates was probably trained at the asklepioion here in Kos, the ruins of which you can still visit today. What’s weirdly amazing about these copious Kos ruins is how there are pieces of sculptures and carvings and things that probably belong in museums lying around everywhere. I picked up an intricate carving of a lion’s head and wondered, “Is this REAL!? Is this really 2500 years old, and lying around like a discarded Coke bottle!?”

My dad tells me that Carl Sagan postulated that if the Greek civilization had continued to flourish, technologically we’d be 3000 years ahead of where we are today. So basically we’d all live underground and our days would be occupied with fighting The Machines and Skynet would rule the world. Anyway, case in point, when I was at the archaeological museum in Athens, they had an exhibit of Greek medical devices from thousands of years ago, and I’ll be damned if the antique speculum didn’t look exactly the same as the one my gynecologist uses (sorry about that graphic, Dad). And they were cauterizing and doing internal medicine and the whole nine yards back then, too. It was both impressive and kind of freaky. Like what will look barbaric to the people of the future that we take for granted right now? Certainly all the C-sections and open heart surgery scars for starters. And how about boob jobs? “Wow. ANOTHER skeleton with two silicon sacks buried with it. It’s how the people of the past prepared for a heaven full of water balloon fights!”

At any rate, as a result of the museum, being here in the old stomping grounds of Hippocrates has that much more meaning. What granted him his place in history was that he was the first the first physician to reject superstitions and beliefs that credited supernatural or divine forces with causing illness. He founded a school of thought that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods, but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle.

Admittedly, it wasn’t all advanced thinking. He was a fan of the four humours theory – sarcasm, irony, slapstick, and dark. Hardy har har. Not really. I’m just applying a little of my own attempt at humor there. They were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and (who can forget?) phlegm, and a person was healthy if all four were all in balance. For those that were ill, Hippocratic therapy was directed towards restoring the balance, with a focus on natural remedies.

I have this vague memory that I once got the results of a personality test, and in with some other things I was classified as “Yellow Bile”. I am familiar with yellow bile both from learning about Hippocrates and the Four Humours a billion years ago, and from a couple outrageously terrible bouts with food poisoning. I think I felt kind of offended, although it’s still better than Black Bile. I say you see Black Bile, and it’s time to get yourself to the hospital (and preferably one with a guy like ‘House’ on staff) immediatemente.

Advertisements
 

Love – and a little well-timed hate – will keep us together October 22, 2008

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money on dog school. A LOT of money. My German Shepherd went to every class offered through the local trainer: Puppy school, intermediate classes, advanced theory and logic, you name it. We spent Saturday mornings at ‘Agility’, Tuesday nights at ‘Paw and Order’, and who can forget “Choose to Heel”? This was a class in which my disobedient mutt was allegedly going to learn to CHOOSE to heel by my side – with or without a leash. This would be achieved partly through dog-training magic and largely because I lured her on with a fistful of roast beef.

Putting a closed fist of roast beef in front of a German Shepherd (mix breed or not) is like sticking your hand into a piranha tank: STUPID. I renamed that class “Choose to Eat,” and I would drive home each time bleeding all over the steering wheel. They no longer offered ‘Choose to Heel’ by the time Dozer came around, and Pixie, God bless her, never heeled a day in her life.

And Pix was my SMART dog. A veritable genius next to the Malamute, who for all his heart and beauty is several bones short of a skeleton (a la ‘several sandwiches short of a picnic’ but more dog-esque). So despite dozens of hours, hundreds of dollars, and vast amounts of energy contributed toward training their hairy behinds, I was a little bummed to discover that mine are not as remotely well-trained as the average European hound.

Case in point: While walking down a busy Vienna street, I passed a large supermarket. Outside sat several dogs – large dogs, like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, and not tied to anything or physically restrained in any way – urgently awaiting their owner’s return. They sat there anxiously peering in every time the sliding doors would open, hoping to catch just a glimpse of their beloved human. If MY dogs were left unleashed outside a large urban grocery store? They’d be hailing the first cab, trying to make it to the county line before I got out of the produce section. Their only passing thought would be, “Holy crap, we’re free to do as we please! Let’s GO!!!!!!”

This is probably why I find the unwavering obedience of the dogs of Europe so amazing. What kind of spells are these people putting on these dogs!? What kind of Cesar Milan dog whispering mojo does everyone possess!? And it’s not just the dogs. The goats of Greece seem uniquely self-possessed. They all stay within a few yards of their appointed yogurt and honey shack or gyro shed, sans collar or rope or fence. It’s positively spell-binding in its own simple way.

Maybe it has something to do with the baffling love/hate spectacle I witnessed today?

This afternoon, I ran across what may be the ugliest cat in the whole country. If you are familiar with cat breeds, I’d describe him as a “Scottish Fold gone wrong.” I was trying to get a few photos of the spectacle, when an older woman came out with a giant pile of cat food and meat – like enough meat to make a couple decent schwarmas. She placed the plate on the floor in front of the cat, and then proceeded to beat him with a newspaper while screaming at him.

A face only a mother could love...

A face only a mother could love...

I found this pretty damn confusing, personally. Anyway, she left, and the ugly cat went and took a few nibbles off the heaping mound of food. Then he went back to where I’d first spotted him, and resumed his sour expression.

Not two minutes later, the woman came back out, yelled what I can only presume are Greek expletives at him, and yet again swatted at him with a newspaper. She seemed to be swatting him toward the food, but who really knows what the hell was happening here??? She carried on like this for a minute, then started down the street, threw the newspaper in a trash bin, and turned a corner.

The cat turned and made eye contact with me, and I could almost swear he shrugged his shoulders. “She hates me,” his look seemed to say, ‘but I’m ugly as sin, and still I find myself the best-fed cat in Greece.” It is indeed a crazy world.

In other news, I can officially confirm that the mosquitos of Kos, Greece do NOT carry malaria. Because if they did, I’d be in the local hospital. I’ve been on Kos three nights, and it’s pretty much been a bloodletting around here. I’ve got no less than 20 bites per limb, a giant bite on my cheek, and a full-blown ‘mosquito sound’ neurosis well underway. Thank god I spent so much time in the Egyptian section of the Athenian archaeological museum. I applied several of the mummification techniques in order to wrap myself in my bed sheet last night in vain hope of keeping the whining mosquitoes at bay. I even wrapped my head, which is not a particularly comfortable way to sleep.

Communing with goats

Communing with goats

But I think in the end it was worth it. I’m not sure how to prove it, but I’m fairly confident that I’m at least one quart of blood richer for my efforts, and that can only be a good thing as I draw ever closer to the big race on Sunday. More blood = less chance of dropping dead during a Turkish half-marathon. Right??????

 

Tourist killed by angry mob of peacocks. October 21, 2008

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

This is the headline I envisioned as no less than 50 of them inched closer and closer and closer to me at the ‘Hidden Forest’ in Plaka here on Kos island. For such a pretty bird, they have mean faces. Menacing. And did that one just give me the evil eye? Lest you think a bird is a bird is a bird, follow me in this logic: Parakeets, and finches have cute faces. Owls look smart. And vultures? Enough said.

Anyway, on paper it sounded really cool, if not a wee bit complicated. Go about 30 kilometers out of town, just past the airport and shortly after the road bends to the left, take a right by the small blue and white church (they’re ALL small blue and white churches, but that’s just details), follow the road, cross the bridge and you’re there. A magical forest in the middle of the island.

At first, I sat on an empty bench near a couple with a German Shepherd puppy. A happy, exuberant little four-month old puppy that kept tearing after the peacocks like they were littermates, sending the birds – terrified – up into the trees. Then she would run over to me, and jump up waiting to be praised while her owners called for her by a name she was too young to recognize as her own. I wasn’t able to explain in Greek that I LOVED the attention from their dog and she was no bother whatsoever, so soon they put her on a leash, and walked away.

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

Shortly thereafter a female peacock (peahen? Is that right?) arrived to fill the lonely space left by the puppy. And then another and another and another, until there was no loneliness, but a fair amount of anxiety. Why are they getting so CLOSE? Is this normal?

A picnic table opened up, and I moved over there…and all the birds came. And it started to seem like a scene from an M. Night Shamalyan movie. And those so rarely end well.

It was at this point that a car full of Australians pulled up, and for a good long while they had to settle for pictures of the birds with me in the midst. One of the guy commented that it was “very Jurassic park”. Another series of movies that don’t always end so well.

I guess I felt nervous because I don’t really know anything about peacocks. I don’t know how to read their body language, and I don’t know if they’re dangerous or placid or bite or peck or get an inch from your ear and let out a shrill call just to see if you’ll drop dead. And I suppose all these ideas got in my head when it became clear that the three resident cats were afraid of the peacocks. This didn’t require anthropomorphizing on my part: The cats would try to slink by the peacocks, the peacocks would notice, get pissed, and start lunging, and the cats would run 15 up a tree to get away from them.

Your own private beach oasis in Ag. Stefanos

Your own private beach oasis on Ag. Stefanos

If you’d asked me yesterday: Peacock versus island cat, my money would have been on the cat. No questions asked. Thus, watching a lone female peacock threaten a cat…and the cat back down was a little intimidating to me. Vanessa versus peacock? I say put your money on me. Vanessa versus 50 peacocks plus however many are still in the trees waiting to swoop down and peck out my eyes? Well, let’s just say it might end up being a closed-coffin funeral. To paraphrase Julius Caesar: I came, I saw, I cowered.  And when a big one jumped up onto the picnic bench next to me, I left!

In other news, it’s only been about 48 hours, but my stomach is revolting against the buffets. I don’t know if it’s the quality or the repetition, but either way, I’ve spent some time on the gastrointestinal equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. At the same time, not only does the buffet menu repeat regularly, so does the music. Every day it’s the exact same rotation of 20 songs. Its kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. Hey, wasn’t I eating greasy pork and listening to Endless Love last night? WAS that last night? What day is this!? Wasn’t Tom Jones Delilah playing the last time I had oily chocolate cake with clove-flavored ‘Coca Cold’? However, I will admit that I enjoy that part of “Let’s Dance” where she transitions from a slow ballad about “last chance for romance” into the thumping disco groove. Almost makes you want to get up, dance to the keg, and pour yourself another glass of carbonated red wine. Opa!

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece