Wednesday, July 27, 2011
My not-very adventurous spirit.
“I’m not a ‘Big Traveller,” I used to say to my friend to try and persuade her against dragging me off on another one of her adventures. Beautiful, with long dark hair and a mysterious, captivating manner Gai’s hunger for exploration and adventure made her the worst possible person for me to leave the country with. I like to be in control, have a plan, be punctual and guard myself against the unknown. Gai likes to wake up each day and see where it leads her – especially when she is on holiday. She is notoriously unsettled, often moving from one Greek island to the next following the good weather. There is always a more comfortable place to stay around the corner, a more authentic restaurant that we have yet to find, a hidden-away hammam, a camel ride into desert, a bar on the 80th floor of a skyscraper, an unexplored island. I, on the other hand, like to stay in one place – even if it’s a kip – we’re here now lets just hunker down and get on with it. I’ll eat when I am hungry – and I don’t care if we are “abroad” – if I pass a McDonald’s and it’s gone my dinner time – I’m in. I am not prepared to go the extra hour in a taxi in search of legendary paella in an obscure mountain-top restaurant. Somehow Gai always persuaded me into situations that filled me with a mixture of exhaustion and terror. Her desire for excitement and drama was greater than my need for safe, dull routine – even on holiday.
The first time I remember feeling genuine terror on holiday with her was when she persuaded me to go to a deserted beach on the small island of Skyros. We were on a Writers Workshop week – perfect for both of us as, although it was on a remote, hard-to-access authentic Greek Island - good for her, it was a routine based week with workshops and set mealtimes, which we had already paid for. This, I comforted myself, would put pay to any off-schedule activities on the part of Gai and keep us out of trouble. When she begged me to find this secluded beach some locals had told her about, I felt it was the least I could do. Needless to say, it was accessed by a treacherous vertical slope “path” made of loose rocks and sand and I suffer from a terrible fear of heights, and dodgy feet and knees which means that unsteady “cliff walks” leave me petrified. While Gai basked blissfully in the sun, swimming and enjoying the extraordinary view, solitude and privacy, I sat crossed legged in my large swimsuit afraid of strange insects interfering with my unmentionables gazing in blind terror at the path back up which we had to climb. Gai was very kind when she saw how genuinely petrified I was, and assured me that she would go back herself and organize a helicopter rescue for me, if needs be. She wasn’t being sarcastic, but deadly serious. Me being airlifted by the Greek Coast Guard was just about the perfect holiday anecdote to bring home.
The Italian Brothel was my idea. After spending a week stuck inside the apartment of the non-touristy Italian seaside village recovering from an allergic reaction to three horrific mosquito bites on my first day – one of which was on my face – while Gai tripped solo down to the local Italian family beach, I suggested that before we left, we should have a night out. On the end of the holiday promenade there was a building, separate from the restaurants and small bars that confidently announced “Discoteque”. “Come on,” I said with uncharacteristic verve, “lets go dancing tonight!”
We got all dressed up, and wandered down there after dinner, at about ten o’clock. We walked in through a dark front bar which was empty except for a few girls sitting on a row of stools, and into the quieter back bar. The back wall was painted with a huge, ecstatic female nude. Gai went to the bar and ordered two drinks, where the bar tender, strangely, refused her money. When she came back, we sat for a few moments before I said; “I think we’re in a brothel.” She laughed; “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Look,” I whispered. “Women sitting in a line – check out the tarty clothes – the mad shoes!” “They’re Italian,” she said, “Italian women are sexy. Relax. Don’t be so stiff.” The bar tender and his older female colleague were looking over at us and pointing. The girls in the front bar were also checking us out.
“I don’t like this,” I said. “Look at the painting….and there’s no music?” “Oh for Gods sake,” she argued, “Finish your drink – the music has just probably not started yet.”
Just then, an older man came in through the door, picked a girl out from the line of women on stools, nodded to the couple behind the bar and disappeared with her through a door in the middle of the wall with the nudie painting.
“Now!” I said.
Gai, of course, thought this was hilarious and wanted to stay and see what happened next. She looked so thoroughly delighted with herself I thought, for sure we be lynched by mob men for muscling in on their territory or as my grandmother used to say in hushed tones, “worse” and we all knew what that meant.
I stood up assertively, and, with my best Miss Marple “come along young lady” face marched out – throwing some money at the barman, who seemed most anxious to have a conversation with us.
Marriage and children have put and end to my annual “single girl” travels and holidays are now rather benign affairs that happen in hotels with set mealtimes and kiddie’s pools. We spoke again this week and she reminded me that some ten years ago I had “promised to go to Seville” with her. She might have to wait another ten years, but I can’t help quite looking forward to it.