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Report 1204: Zig and Georgia's Trip of Gifts

By zig from Kentucky, USA, Fall 2006

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Page 15 of 18: 10/4/06 The Cave of the Apocalypse

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Child Transport on Patmos

I handed Georgia the camera and said I was going to see if I could help them. After a few polite protestations the mother took one side of the tray in front of the sleeping baby and I took the other. The father lifted the handles and the three of us carried sleeping Melina down the path. We were having such a good time learning about them and their little town in Switzerland (!) near Zurich that we walked right past the turnoff to the Cave of the Apocalypse. We were about 50 yards downhill when we discovered the mistake. There was some debate about whether or not to go back but I couldn’t imagine coming this far (about half-way around the world!) to give up because of a 50 yard detour! But the mother, Yvonne, and I switched sides to relieve our arms.

I’m really glad we went back. The chapel was dark and mysterious, with only candles and two small windows to light the 20’ x 20’ room. It was absolutely packed with tourists, so packed, in fact, that it was difficult to move, but they really do come and go in waves. We had only to stand in a corner for a few minutes and they all cleared out. The crevice in the wall was round and at floor level, just big enough to put your head in while lying on your back. A solid silver filigreed corona had been attached to the stone arching over the hole and a smaller corona encircled a small niche 18” away that tradition says was used by the elderly beloved disciple as a handhold to help him stand again after a dictation session.

The whole scene gave me chill bumps. There were two orthodox nuns, dressed all in black, sitting on benches in the back of the holy gloom. I almost stepped on them as they prayed. The Greek pilgrims were exquisite as they moved from icon to icon. The low murmur of prayer, the slight sheen of perspiration from the heat, the bobbing and genuflecting. There was an open gospel displayed on an ornate lectern. It was covered with plastic because each and every pilgrim had to bend and kiss the book as they progressed around the room.

Very moving. However the Gospel of John or the Book of the Apocalypse came to be written, this very 20 x 20’ obscure Greek piece of rock, known only as a place of exile in the ancient world, became one of the centers of the world. I’ve always known and loved books and my belief in the power and importance of the written word has only been increased by my years in publishing. The fragility of books and many pitfalls in the writing process itself are often overlooked. We somehow imagine that books and writing should be everywhere. But it’s not always been like that. In early centuries little was written, and much was lost. Could there have been a book more influential than the Bible? And yet, had it ever fallen out of favor for a generation it too could have been easily lost. And here, in this very room, at the edge of the civilized world, somehow by the grace of God, two very important parts of that book were born. One man, trying to hear what God was saying, and trying manfully, to commit it to writing, wrote things so important that nearly two thousand years later we were here paying our respects.

Little Melina was awake now and what a captivating 18-month old she was! She’d had a great nap and was now everywhere at once and into everything. We sat outside the chapel on a wall and just visited for 20 or 30 minutes while she explored her world then we all started down the mountain again. This time it was easy for Dejan and me to carry the empty stroller while Yvonne carried Melina and visited with Georgia.

Both of them spoke English very well though not quite as well as Daniel and Sofia but I enjoyed hearing the story of Dejan’s family escaping to Switzerland as refugees from Croatia and how he now had a great job with a company making medical stents, catheters, and pacemakers. They asked if they could buy us a drink when we got back to Skala before they caught their ferry to Samos. I told them my theory about jokes that you can tell a lot about a culture by what makes them laugh and what makes them angry. Different cultures find different things infuriating and hilarious. We all had a good laugh at the fact that Daniel and Sofia hadn’t been able to think of even one weak joke. That seemed pretty illustrative of the Swedes.

I told them the joke I heard from a Chinese couple: A grandfather was disciplining his grandson by making him stand out in the hot sun. This made the boy’s father furious, so he decided to get even by punishing the old man’s son the same way; he went out and stood in the hot sun beside the boy! Hmmm? Interesting subject for a culture where family ties and respect for elders is so dominant. Dejan’s joke left us in stitches, as much because he was having such a difficult time with the translation as because of the joke itself. We all helped make sense of it through pantomime, German, English, and a sprinkling of French: “Three naked men are sitting in a sauna when they hear a phone ring. One of the three pulls back a flap of skin on his chest and removes his pacemaker. He talks into it to the surprise of his companions. He hangs up and explains that since he was going to have a pacemaker installed anyway he decided to combine features and have it double as a phone. Just then another phone rings and the second man lifts up his towel and pulls a phone out of a pouch on his hip. ‘I was having a hip-implant anyway and you know how hard it is to have a convenient place to keep a cell phone.’ Just then another phone rings and the third man drops his towel and walks into the bathroom. He comes back in a few minutes with paper trailing out from his bottom. ‘You have some toilet paper stuck to your ass’ the friends tell him. ‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘but that’s just a fax coming in.’” Evidently Switzerland is becoming the center of a European Silicon Valley and it both loves and fears the pace of change.

We sat in the largest outdoor bistro at the dock in Skala, enjoying our beer and moving our chairs periodically to avoid the sun, which was brutal, even in early October. Hard to imagine what it would be like in July and August. No wonder the old men have skin like fine leather. After exchanging email addresses we said good bye so they could do some shopping before catching their ferry. We wanted to explore the castle ruins at the top of a nearby mountain.

After our altercation over the hike up to the monastery I was surprised that Georgia was willing to scale another cliff but she was game and we took off. As in Santa Margherita climbing up mountains populated for millennia means that you quickly leave roads big enough for cars and quickly find yourself inside a warren of streets and semi-paved paths populated, it seems, by little schoolchildren and large cats. We saw cats of all colors and sizes between nests of tiny un-weaned kittens to solitary black hellcats the size (and character) of dwarf black panthers with eyes that glowed red in the dark recesses.

Soon the paving gave way to loose stone and we were picking our way up the mountain looking for a path of any kind over expanses of softball sized pieces of volcanic pumice and scrambling over and through walls made of large blocks. Another 100 yards of climb and Georgia sat down on a very large rock and said that she would wait here for me. The top was another couple hundred yards of hard climbing and as the mountain came to a point it also became steeper and rougher. Soon the only vegetation was some form of spider-lily that sent up no leaves at all—just a flower stalk covered with nickel-sized pale pink blossoms and that murderous nettle that only a donkey could love.

The mountain had several tops. Each was marked with a cairn of stones. I added two stones to one of them for Georgia and me and started slipping and sliding back down to where she was sitting on a boulder waiting. She didn’t hear me coming and I got a wonderful photo of her looking out over the town of Skala and the bay beyond. I could see water in three directions. Blue everywhere. No wonder that is the color for the Greek islands.

We made it back to town before it got too dark and decided on take-away at a little walkup pita stand. Wonderful yogurt sauce! We picnicked on our patio and watched the sun go down. I broke open my little bottle of ouzo, one sniff of the licorice flavored liquor and Georgia announced that I had the little bottle all to myself and that I’d better plan on sleeping facing away from her!

Another night of getting gently snockered while writing postcards. Washed some laundry and hung it on our clothes line then toddled off to bed. Tried to make sense of Italian television that was all we could pick up but I swear the game shows and soap operas are absolutely impenetrable. And American TV with Italian voices is just too peculiar for words. Must be similar for a Japanese couple watching “Godzilla” with dubbed in English. People’s mouths keep moving long after they’ve said “Oh dear, a big ugly monster!” Tonight we made a real effort to see the stars but the haze was just too dense and the village lights too bright.

October 5, Thursday.

We were supposed to catch our ferry back to the Airport on Cos about 1pm so we used the morning to pack and look for a place to go swimming. The rocks in our bay were just impossible to walk on. There was a public beach right in Skala but the huge cruise ships and innumerable fishing boats made me skeptical that the water would be clean enough for a swim. Wrong! It was clear and beautiful, full of minnows and small fish. We had our bathing suits on under our clothes. I’m just not ready for the German habit of changing into trunks under a towel wrapped around my waist. The beach was very hard to walk on barefoot. Pumice, even in pea-sized gravel will just tear your feet up. Hey, I have an idea! Pumice should be used as an abrasive! And flip flops help the bottoms of your feet but when some of the fine pumice gets between your toes and that little toe-strap. Wow! Quick way to sandpaper off a digit. But the water, oh the water. It was like cool silk and so buoyant you could float easily without moving a muscle. Nature’s first waterbed.

Two elderly ladies splashing sedately in the water loved my grabbing a squealing Georgia and dragging her bodily out into chest-deep water. I don’t know that she particularly enjoyed it, but at least I made sure she could legitimately say that she went “swimming” in the Aegean. As I recall, I had to do the same thing in Hawaii, as well as the Island of Elbe. For someone who loves the ocean she sure hates the water. But one trip off shore was plenty for her and she gratefully returned to the shallows to sit on a rock(?) and splash happily.

I returned to my meditative floating, peaceful beyond description. And quiet. Although it’s kind of amazing how sound travels in water. Even 25 yards away with my ears completely submerged I could easily hear Georgia screaming in terror as if she were standing right beside me.

(to be continued)

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