In the days before we’d inherited a mortgage, the hubby and I enjoyed traveling overseas. Our first foray, buoyed on the pages of Tom Fowler’s The Magus, was to Greece.
Our arrival in the Athens airport was not auspicious; two weeks earlier, terrorists had targeted that airport. Too late to secure a refund, we assumed that lightning would not strike twice in the same place. But as the metal detector shrieked at us like the Sirens of mythology, we were politely pulled aside by airport security. My husband had packed a tiny mustache scissors and these, apparently, constituted a potential threat. In typical New York fashion, I snatched up the scissors, brandishing them angrily in the security guard’s face, demanding if he were kidding. God rescues the idiots among us, so we were free to go, with the scissors in tow.
The lovely hotel room had a private bath that included a bidette. I stumbled upon it, and nearly into it, with all the wonder of Stanley beholding Dr. Livingston for the first time. Clueless as to its use, I made a transatlantic call to my grandmother, who’d been born in Italy and who knew about these things. She revealed the most basic of directions and told me I’d love that bidette. The ensuing scene, replete with a frenzied call to the concierge, resembled the Three Stooges film when the clueless trio assumed the job of plumbers and proceeded to flood their client’s home. My first and last time with a bidette!
After three days in Athens, we sailed the blue Aegean. As the sun blossomed in the sky each morn, we toured various islands, including Crete, the home of the legendary Minotaur, and Santorini, the rumored resting place of the lost civilization of Atlantis. But when we debarked from the skiff in an emerald cove to see the empty funicular upon the shores of Rhodos (“Rhodes”), my heart sank. We were ordered to either board the funicular or take a donkey ride up the mountain … provided the donkeys didn’t decide to mate on the way up (a popular spectator sport in Greece, apparently). Allergic to equines, not keen to watch Dominic and Doris do the horizontal, er, vertical mambo, and deathly afraid of heights, I crept into the funicular and hugged the floor. Literally.
From that position, as the car creaked slowly up the side of the mountain, as I was certain that the cable would snap any moment, plunging us down to a horrific death, I confessed every sin I’d ever committed — and what I’d planned to do to make up for each one. Unfortunately, I had an audience … dang pesky American tourists along for the ride! … who so enjoyed the impromptu entertainment that they begged me step up to the mic for Amateur Comics Night on board the ship that night.
Fearing the funicular on the return trip like most people fear a root canal without anesthesia, we were told that we could simply walk down to the beach! Going, the dreaded funicular was optional! Good thing the Greeks were unschooled in Italian curses, or I’d have set American-Greek relations back a few hundred years.
That night, we set sail for the island of Lesbos, where we were unable to debark due to extremely rough waters. An unexpected storm tore through our path, rocking the cruise ship a helluva lot worse than any runaway train down the New York City subway tracks. The dining room was only one-third full when we arrived, with my husband already green at the gills. One look at the bread basket and he nearly lost it. A minute later, he was high-tailing it back to our cabin, with a lot of other passengers, just as green, hot on his heels.
Me? I ate and loved the entire, delicious meal. The waiter eyed me as if I’d suddenly sprouted another head upon my shoulders, sort of like a child of Zeus. “What’s for dessert?” I quipped, wiping my lips daintily as other passengers tossed their cookies ’round the dining room … and not the kind of cookies that came on a dessert tray. I was enjoying the pleasant swaying motion of the ship, whose deck was now positioned skyward, at a 45-degree angle. As glasses, dinnerware, and wine bottles slid off tables, as passengers slid beneath them, I asked the waiter, “Can you please make up a tray for my husband? He missed his dinner; I’ll take it to him.” Again, I got that odd look; I knew not why.
I negotiated the roiling deck uphill, balancing the tray like a pro and taking perverse pleasure in the obstacle course of scattered silverware, spilled wine, and doubled-over passengers. I should probably insert here that I excelled at gymnastics in high school, due to my petite frame and height. As my center of gravity is lower than most humans’, I never get seasick and very much enjoy a rocking ocean when I’m sailing upon one.
It took a few tries to steady the key in the lock of our cabin, as the door shifted along with the sea. Once successful, I proffered the sumptuous tray to my husband, who was hanging out of our berth like a parched man off a camel in the desert. “Look what I brought you!” I chirped. “The entire dinner!” He barely made it to the head intact and to this day, calls me a sadist for my innocent act of kindness. To the sound of his upchucking, I fell into a blissful sleep, rocked as if in the cradle. I still swear that that was the best night’s sleep of my entire life!
Our last day was spent on the beautiful, laid back isle of Mykonos … which the guides had failed to warn us boasted a topless beach. “Cool!” I breathed, untying the top of my bikini under the hot sun. “What the hell are you doing!?!” my husband thundered. “No one on this beach knows us,” I pointed out reasonably. “If I’m ever going to go topless, now’s the time.” He gave me so much grief that I abandoned the idea, even as the eyes roll around in his head like errant pinballs at the sight of all the nubile, unbounded flesh. “I’m sorry, I’m oblivious, I swear, I won’t look any more!” he promised. But when we patronized a small food stand on the beach, the words that rolled off his tongue like butter were, “I’ll take two burgers, two Cokes, and two tits!” In revenge, I managed to go topless for not quite 60 seconds before he tossed his towel over me like Sir Walter Raleigh throwing his cape over a noxious puddle.
En route back home, we got stopped again in the Athens airport. This time, it was my box of Borghese® eye shadows that set off the alarms. The very same guard eyed me with deep trepidation, easing the cover off the makeup case as he would the top of Pandora’s Box. Nothing inimical in there but twenty gorgeous shades of sparking eye shadow (hey, this was the late ’80’s!). “I don’t understand,” he admitted in his thick accent. “Me either,” I shrugged, and then, it dawned on us both. The metals in the eye makeup had set off the alarms; they’d been overlooked the first time, in light of the tiny moustache scissors! “Lady,” the guard muttered, closing the box with a shudder and handing it back to me, “You’re dangerous!”
“You don’t know the half of it,” my husband muttered under his breath.