Already Iʼve lapsed into the insanity of someone whoʼs gone from a too-social existence to almost-total solitude
The truth is I am terrified at all times, and to pretend that all I notice is the sunshine and beer and new friends is the only answer I know.
(Although maybe thatʼs exactly whatʼs at the root of such annoying manners at their most manifest, a vain effort to keep the demons of consciousness at bay?)
I slept so badly last night, mostly because of anxiety about getting up in time to do everything necessary in the apartment and be packed and make it to my bus on time, but also I think because Iʼve been on a cocktail of melatonin and some kind of over-the-counter antihistamine to get on this time zone but skipped them last night because I was afraid of oversleeping HOWEVER in the one good, tranquil, unworried hour of sleep I got, I was dreaming about us hiking in the Old World, and it was great.
What I want to tell you about is yesterday, when the two hot Italians I met in my dar invited me to go with them to Akchour, where there is the only real water near Chefchaouen, if I could just find a helmet, for they and their motos had taken a boat for 56 hours from I-don’t-know-which Italian port to Tangiers and are now motoring their way back up through Morocco and Spain and home to Milan and Verona, and I could ride on the back. So we got up early and they went to breakfast and I went to the square and started asking people, trying to have them want to help me but not think they might marry me, which is a fine-eyed needle to thread, and eventually one guy without teeth or anything else to do took me to his barrio, where we started knocking on doors, waking people up, going from house to house as directed by whoever. (I fell behind at one point because I stopped to photograph a puppy that was eating the head of another animal. At first I thought it was the head of another puppy — that makes a better caption, for sure — but now I think it was probably the head of a goat. I’m going to try to think of a zoologist to e-mail about the orthodonture, and then we’ll know.)
A guy weaving a rug on a loom in a half-subterranean chamber with doors open to the street gave a long answer in Arabic, and José (…Youssef) took me to some blue stairs and said, Wait here, so I sat down and waited and after a while he came back and said — I think — my Spanish is still pretty crap, as was his — something about how there was a helmet to be had but also a problem with the guy who had it, a problem 200 dirham would fix, and I was like, Yo that’s too much, whatever this problem is, and José shrugged and walked me up the hill that’s outside of town, toward Hotel Atlas, like, more up the side of the mountain, really, and there was some kind of construction crew doing something with a truck, and he said something to one of the guys (SO cute, by the way, that guy was) who said something back and then grinned and ran away, farther up the mountain still, until he disappeared, somehow, among the scrubby trees, and then after a while he came back with a motorcycle helmet and handed it to me and I tried to thank him in Spanish, and French, and English, and he just looked at me blankly, smiling, so cute. By then it was an hour since I’d left Erico and Mauro, who were in a hurry because they wanted to do our outing and then get on the road to Fes, and José understood and took us on a shortcut back that probably white women don’t usually think to take and at the fountain where we’d met I gave him 100 dirham and told him it was to share with the guy who lent the helmet, and he pretended not to understand, and I ran back to the dar where gli Italiani were packing their bike bags, and off we went.
Hiking in cannabis fields with a shirtless guide who said I could be shirtless, too, and what a luxury I have forgotten to remember this is, an entitlement to bare my skin without persecution. Swimming, orange juice. My guys had a definite partnership dynamic — one shared wallet, it seemed, fine-tuned motorcycle communication — but separate beds, and I remember they apologized to each other in a moment when their feet touched while we were all sprawled together on whatever you call the Moroccan furniture in the dar, smoking hash, the day before. Italians are hard to read.
Most amazing, though, god, was being on the back of those motorcycles. I rode with Mauro to the falls—a bigger bike, a bigger man—and I had the feeling that he either was a good, cautious driver or was taking extra care with me at his back, and it was just exhilarating enough, and the winding mountain highway and the sun, and sitting astride the rumbling of this huge machine as he accelerated, was just…wow. And then on the way back they said I would change to ride with Erico, and I was secretly disappointed because I had liked how Mauro had touched me on the hike, and Erico had ridden behind on the way there and must thus—I reasoned—be slower on his smaller, dorkier bike… But then he told me, unequivocally, to keep my arms tight around him rather than hold on to the handles at my hips, and while we sat in traffic behind a Coca Cola truck he rested his elbows on my bare thighs and moved real good, just a little, to the music carrying from the speakers on the dune buggy-type thing idling in line behind us, and when finally we got out from behind the truck and the rest of the cascade jam, oh my god, Cedar, he went so fast. The littler bike goes so fast, and I had the feeling that he was showing off, hot-dogging it, or maybe he was mad that the shirtless guide had lollygagged and in a hurry to drop me off and get on to Fes, or maybe that’s just how he rides always or what he felt like doing just then, and it was scary, tilting so close to the ground, taking those curves, getting to a straightaway with no cars coming in the other lane for many meters and just pulling past everything previously ahead of us, dodging back in line at the last second before impact. It actually felt a little like skydiving: I’d adjusted the chin strap on my borrowed helmet a lot at the outset but realized then, at a real probably-terminal-for-me velocity, that it wasn’t quite enough, that actually the whole helmet might get whooshed off my head; the eye shield wasn’t really adequate and I thought a little that my eyeballs might get whooshed out of my skull, the same as when I was free-falling out of that plane…moreover though, I think it was that I felt the real possibility of dying in a second and had to just trust in this stranger’s valuation of his own life and tandem care for mine in taking it to this tandem extreme. At one point I loosed an arm to reach up and try to cram my helmet back down in a same second Erico accelerated and we surged ahead, and the various properties of physics pulled on me in way that was a little too close to coming off the bike, and he reached back and yanked me in, and after that I held on tight and let the helmet do what it wanted, stayed close and low and just turned my head to watch a blur of the landscape, so colorful, sideways, and I thought that to die in this moment would be earlier than I want — I have a lot to do — and would make some people I love really sad but in other respects would be just fine.
Yesterday I arrived on Naxos and was driven from the main port to nearly the northernmost part of the island, a homestead-I-guess-you’d-call-it in the hills where I’m scraping paint in exchange for my keep. The maybe-craziest-for-me thing is what a commodity electricity is — I went ahead and bought a Greek SIM card with a generous data allowance during my ~28 hours in Athens, anticipating that I’d have no internet in the hills but never imagining that the real challenge would be keeping my phone charged in the first place. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as my father a.k.a. your brother likes to say. So I am rationing, BIG time — I spent the morning working to an audiobook with the machine in airplane mode and the screen dimmed, and then I hiked the ~4km down the mountain to the village of Apollonas for a swim in the Aegean — the beaches are all rocky but the rocks are big and smooth, like huge pebbles, so it’s manageable — and now I am treating myself to a supper out, which is partly because I’m hungry and partly because I need to ask the proprietor to charge my phone for me. Just as soon as I send this. Later I think I’ll go hang around Nikos’ Jewelry & Souvenirs because Rupert, my host, tells me that Nikos is the smartest guy in town and the most likely to talk with me in any critically evaluative way about conflict and resolution on this island, and then I’ll begin the ~7km walk-via-paved road back to the homestead, hoping to hitch a ride from someone who speaks enough English to understand when I say to stop so that I don’t end up, an hour later, back at the port. Once there, I don’t know what I’ll do. Probably cut my toenails by candlelight and look at the stars.
p.s. While I was writing this, my food and beer arrived. This is may be the best olive oil I’ve ever had.
Today I followed the footpath down the mountain from Rupert’s place to Apollonas. The dogs scare me and I don’t trust their chains, the sound of which attends their barking but which are otherwise not in evidence.
At one point I tried to take a shortcut, snipping out one of the switchbacks by picking my way through the prickly Aegean bushes, but in the end I think there was no time saved.
The waves pulling back on the jumbo pebbles of that first beach at the foot of the hill make a sound that is distinctly like something else I know but can’t quite call up to write down. I keep thinking of something rushing to fill a vacuum. But what?
A third, taunting sound, after dark, on my walk back via the paved road, hoping to hitch: the wind through the olive trees sounds perpetually like a car coming, when really there is nothing more viable to ride than the breeze. Finally I caught a ride in a rattly red van — the driver and I could barely communicate but he mustered a “Where you go?” and opened the back to me and I knelt beside some tools, gripping the metal window onto the cab with my hands and not putting my head quite through, lest he take a turn too quickly and I be decapitated. I said “HERE GOOD” in advance of my stop, such as it is, and he seemed to understand that I meant the hairpin left up ahead, which I would walk to Rupert’s, and took me a bit farther.
Trudging up the last leg the house from the pavement I encountered a small Greek snake, which spooked me in particular in the dark. Rupert, who hadn’t gone out for the evening after all, professed to have worried and my skin crawled some more at his unwelcome interest and proprietary scolding. Perhaps working with him and his gentle lechery and his indignation at what White Anglo Saxon Protestant males can’t acceptably say anymore is my real opportunity for growth and writing.