Tuesday, April 3, 2012

on the overnight boat to Athens

On the island of Crete, during that first Greek Easter, I had met Laurens, a young Swedish fellow who was hitch-hiking through Europe.
    The first thing I  --  and probably anyone else  --  would notice about Laurens is that he looked like a comic book hero. He was blond, square-jawed and well-built.  I am usually not immediately well-disposed toward those so unfairly blessed by nature, but Laurens was open-hearted and utterly likable.  His female traveling companion, whose name I am pleased to forget, was unfortunately a flibbertigibbet.  Pleasant enough when she kept her mouth shut, even Laurens seemed relieved when she disappeared at Iraklio and the two of us caught the overnight boat to Athens.
    As was the custom on inter-island boats, we went directly to the rear deck to stake out a sheltered sleeping space.  And it was there that we saw her.
    Actually, the first thing I saw was her backpack, which hove into view almost a minute before her head appeared over the side of the boat as she climbed aboard.  It was the tallest backpack I had ever seen and was all the more remarkable for belonging to a mere slip of a blond, suntanned young woman.

The Greeks were relatively nice about young women traveling alone, who were able to do so without  --  most of the time  --  becoming the object of unwanted attention.  But this young woman instantly became the focus of a veritable court of young males, both foreign and domestic, whom she commanded with practiced authority.  Laurens, one moment carrying on a perfectly intelligent conversation at my side, was the next moment at her feet in rapt attention.  It was an amazing sight to see.
    Later, during an intermission of court, Laurens wandered back, his eyes glazed, and smiling dopily.  “She writes for a magazine,” he explained.  “She has just come from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and being inducted into some tribal society, and she’s on her way to London to talk to Prince Charles about the Whaling Convention, or something.”  I told him that if he could put that in a bottle he’d have something, but his mind was elsewhere.  Later, Laurens and the young lady moved their sleeping bags close together  --  though, chastely, not quite touching  --  and I saw no more of him until breakfast.

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