Plowing the wine-dark sea

Leaving Venice on my way to Greece always make me feeling weird. In corner of my eye I see shadows of thousands ships travelling this route in history. In the wind I hear shouts of sailors, warriors, slaves and rebels, and I can almost answer them. Our tiny “here-and-now” sunken deeply in vast ocean of “There-and-then”. We, the living, are just a tiny minority (approximately 6,5%), among the vast number of human beings ever born on this planet. And maybe that is why I sometimes see people from the past looking through contemporary faces.

In the belly of a steel Leviathan, the Anek Lines ferry Corragio, I laid down my humble possessions on the floor of the ‘Poltrone’ section – the cheapest part of the ship. Around me, other human beings, put together by the oh-so-important common denominator: lack of money.

Couple truckers, the less wealthy ones, apparently lost in the environment. Probably Turks.

A host of bikers, in their hi-tec gear, looking a bit funny – like a toy knights, taken from their saddles.

Several – probably Bulgarian – women, apparently returning from a trade mission. I can remember Polish people with the very same kind of enormous shopping bags, full of underwear, cosmetics, kid’s toys and trinkets. They will be selling them cheaply on their bazaars, making still enough profit to support their families. Seasoned travelers with a hint of success and confidence in their voices – business went well, I believe.

And a handful of random, often nondescript types – including me and kyrios Iorgos.

An elderly – 72yo, I guess – Greek gentleman, very calm and a bit introvert, had his place in the corner. I made my camp nearby, not invading his space, but close enough to start the conversation. Initially skeptical and a bit detached, after several hours started talking with me a bit more openly, admitting that my role of “travelling story teller” is needed – especially, when I told him couple (new to him) stories from Thessaloniki, where he lives. I hope I gained a new friend.

Sailing the ferry is boring. If you do not have money to spend on gambling and booze, you will end up sleeping to the point of hibernation – just to survive till the arrival.

This time I had something to do – a backlog of texts to type, plus a mini-set of leaflets to distribute among random victims. So I spent most of the time sitting at the small table, tapping my faithful netbook and calling ‘come and get a copy’ to more or less ‘alternatively’ looking people. And it worked.

Doerthe and her partner – both German – are on the mission of their own, which happened to be complementary to mine. They aim for making a network of people and communities, based on the belief we all share – no one will survive alone. And even the brief conversation we had there showed, that we have a lot things to discuss and do together.

Land, ahoy! – almost audible cry of some ghost sailor behind my back woke me up from my dreams. The ship entered the Corfu Strait. This time I will not visit the island of my dreams. I could only look sadly as we passed by, heading Igoumenitsa in Epiros – my first stop in Greece this time.

At 22:00 it is already dark here and I did not want to sleep outdoor – not in the port city, well known of assaults on migrants. So, using good old poster way, I have arranged with some (Tukish, possibly) truckers that they will pick me up at the port gate and give me a ride to Ioannina.

Waiting for debarking, however, I heard somebody speaking Russian – and the native one. I started a conversation with a gentleman who looked a bit too educated and confident for just a regular trucker. But we had a nice smalltalk and the conclusion was “Podwieziom!” – we were also appointed at the gate, then.

Among first passengers I left the ferry and made an exhausting race to the exit gate. I even had enough time to calm my breath, when I saw a luxury van stopping by – with the said gentleman at the steering wheel. I was surprised and a bit unnerved – this was a serious international business of some kind and I really even did not want to know details. But the man was absolutely top class and I am really grateful for the quick, 100 km trip which brought me to the last leg – the local road to Ioannina. Thank you, S. – good luck in your ventures.

The love is powerful. It was the love, what finally carried me to the heart of Ioannina. A young man from Thessaloniki, going to meet his girlfriend in Ioannina spared a minute to pick me up at the crossroads and to drop me in the middle of the city.

Around 23:30, in the dark, new place – No easy way to find Antiviosi squat, where I was supposed to stay my first night. In addition they warned me, that public opinion in Ioannina is rather hostile for them, so I felt rather uneasy asking somebody how to get there. But, then enter the angel.
A tiny girl (did she mention she has three kids??) showed in the dark, when I just put my bags on the bus stop. And she appeared to be one of a small group of those, who not only know where Antiviosi is, but also frequent various events there. Anjelica the Greek – that’s how she introduced herself – led me a good part of the way, then she gave me detailed instructions and disappeared, as angels normally do. Possibly, some other fool needed her help that night. 🙂
So I got to the old hospital complex, currently only used by the ambulance station, a migrant shelter and Antiviosi. Most of the area was dark and empty. No music or noise I tend to associate with squats at the night (almost midnight, though). Only a dark figure on the road between buildings. We approached each other hesitantly. ‘Hello my friend’ he said with a strange accent. “Hotel?”
“I am looking for Antiviosi squat.” I asid. “My anarchist friends”
“Nonono, come sleep Muslim! Here” – he pointed closest building.
Call me an old and xenophobic fart, but it was not a time and place I would even consider accepting this invitation. So for next couple minutes we replayed our statements in the more and more forced nice way, until another man emerged, much more English-abled. After exchanging mandatory greetings the Moroccan guy finally let me to the squat (much farther than I expected) and finally left me there, for what I was really grateful. It was 00:04.
As agreed with Antiviosians, I located the kitchen window and started shouting. “Kouzina” didn’t work. “Anarchia!” neither. No anarchist song – Polish or Russian – caused any reaction, except for a distant dog howl.
I changed to instrumental music, using my multitool to bang the hell out of the iron gate – to no avail.
So finally, 25 minutes after midnight, I simply spread my slipping gear at front of the Antiviosi squat and went to bed.

One hour later…

I heard steps coming. Not heavy and self-confident steps of the law and order. Not sneaky steps of a night predator. Just couple pairs of light feet, accompanied with apparently small dog. And I heard feminine voices, obviously surprised by the fact they found a man’s body at the doorstep of their place.
“Hallo?..” someone said hesitantly.
“Yes? What can I do for you?” I tried to sound as social as it was possible half past one am, after the long journey, being almost kidnapped by Moroccan Pirates and having my throat worn out with shouting and singing. And no wine.
“May I see you?” The lady asked.
I took the mosquito net off my face and look at the nice brunette, slightly older than I would expect to see in the squat team.
“The kids did not hear you, that’s why they did not open” she said. “Will you enter now?”
” I am perfectly ok here.” I said and went to sleep again.
20 minutes later the lady brought me a blanket. Meanwhile my anger went away – she was really nice, after all – and I followed her into the place.
I can hardly remember how I greeted a group of girls in the kitchen. I went to the guest room (filoxenia – sympathy for strangers – is the world for hospitality here) and crashed.

So I officially arrived to Ioannina.


Turning stories into reality.

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Posted in English Texts, Traveler's Tall Tales

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