Thursday, July 5, 2012

Greek Baseball

I spent a week in Greece with three friends. While there, we rented bikes so we could get around to the different hot spots on the tiny island. Since we were very clever world travelers, we decided to rent 3 regular bikes, and one tricycle with a large basket in the back so we could transport groceries and day bags and cameras and the like. A novel idea indeed.

The trike was red. Bright red. The basket was white, and there was a horn. The big brass horn with a black bubble to honk it with. It sounded like a horn you would expect to hear if you tweaked a clown's nose. It was a beast to get up hills. Sometimes I thought the pedals were working against me just to have a laugh at my expense. I would work and push and grunt and finally get to the crest of the hill thinking my salvation would be there, and the chain would fall off. By the time I got back on the bike after fixing the chain and coasted down the hill, the sweet reward for my work had already passed.

On our small island of Tinos, there was a big beautiful Greek Orthodox church. White-washed with bright blue trim. The grounds were like a maze and each nook had a different aura of holiness to it. There were prayer rooms which looked like no more than closets carved into the wall with a curtain hanging for privacy and an icon for the devotee to focus on. There was a corner away from the sanctuary that held the cemetary. It was a small plot, and the bodies were only allowed anywhere from 20-50 years to rest, at which point the bones would be stored in a box in a warehouse to make room for fresh bodies to lay for a while.

There was also a path that we noticed while biking to the church. It was carpeted and it led from the harbor to the church. We were unsure what it was for until we stood on the roof of the church surveying the city. From that point we could see the entire path running from the church to where a ferry recently dropped off a group of pilgrims. They were slowly making their way to the church on their hands and knees, praying with their rosaries. The demographics were startling.

There was a man in his mid-thirties who looked as if he was at the end of his rope. If this pilgrimage didn't bring him to God, nothing else would. He had searched for so long the path leading to God. If he couldn't find God at the end of this road, there must not be a God for any road to lead to.

There was an elderly lady. She took a lot of breaks on her way up the hill. She rubbed knots out of her knees and prayed continuously while she worked through the pain of crawling through a city. Her face glowed. She loved her God and this journey was her last gift she could offer him before her body wouldn't allow anything else. Perhaps she didn't realise that her whole life was a reflection of devotion and discipline that she was demonstrating on the meager path.

There were about fifteen other people in the group. They didn't speak to one another. They kept their heads down. Their rosaries running through their fingers with a new fervor as they approached their destination. My band of rugged travelers were on a bit of a pilgrimage ourselves, but none of us dreamt of crawling through a city to a church.

As we wandered through the grounds, we found the sanctuary. It was a large room with walls of plaster. Through the doors we could see the wooden pews and flaming candles everywhere there was a ledge large enough to support the wick. The benches were filled with the faithful, praying to the saints. Everyone was dressed so well that we decided it would be disrespectful to enter in our shorts and t-shirts. We went back to our bicycles.

When we first rented the bikes, we decided that we would ride on a first-come-first-serve basis which meant, "the slow poke gets the trike, sucker." After an afternoon of strolling through a lovely church and seeing the pilgrims making their way up the path, I was lost in thought and taking my time getting to the bikes. I looked up to see my three friends with snarky grins sitting on the bikes, and a big red tricycle staring at me with pouty eyes begging me to love her.

Ugh. You've got to be kidding me.

It didn't help that I was wearing a baseball cap with a brim that rivaled the cowboy hats of the west. I was also wearing a 3/4-length t-shirt with blue sleeves that could have been mistaken for a baseball jersey. I was tired. Maybe a little crabby. I had the face of an angsty teenager who didn't want to ride to the store to pick up groceries for his mom after baseball practice. And as we turned the corner, a priest and his cigarette were confronted with that picture. I fought with my trike to get through the intersection, and when my back was turned to him, I heard him burst out in laughter.

I can still hear you, buddy. You're not inconspicuous.

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