Saturday, 11 June 2011

When in Rhodes

‘Come on now, girl. If you don’t love me…’ He twists his finger in the air and then sips his coffee through a straw.
His short-sleeved shirt is open revealing a lean torso. He’s wearing cargo shorts and surfer bracelets. His head is shaved except for a tuft on top and he has thin sideburns extending at an angle to his chin, and big rapper DJ sunglasses.
If I’m looking for cool in Rhodes, I’ve picked the right bus driver.
I’ve also found him having a bad morning. He started out by shouting at everyone to stay off the bus until he was ready to leave – in Greek, so all the tourists got it wrong and were thrown off again – then argued with an old Greek man who wanted to be dropped off on the way to Lindos. The driver got off the bus to shout at him some more, then they both got back on and he was slapping him on the back like a long lost father. I noticed his necklace was a leather thong with a shark tooth.
‘What time do we arrive?’ I ventured to ask in Greek.
‘Tomorrow!’
As we pull out of town, his tone of voice changes to something more apologetic on the wireless mobile phone. There’s clearly been a lovers’ tiff.
‘Wait, what can I say, baby?’ As we speed out of town, I can read the conversation in the hand gestures she can’t see. Who knows? Let me finish! Listen… Here, there… Left hand, right hand, both at the same time, up, down, around. I’ve been mentally compiling a set of extra rules for the Greek driving test – and driving while speaking with your hands is on it.
‘No, my love… I can’t, that’s how it is…’
We pass cows in a field on the outskirts of town, and soon deep blue sea appears to the left, rocky headlands, long sandy beaches, pine trees, and the resort hotels of one of Greece’s most popular islands. It can be big and brash, but there’s another side of Rhodes, a side most tourists don’t see. Last night in the New Market near Mandraki Harbour, where usually you run the gauntlet of touts pulling you into joints selling cheap draft beer and souvlaki, I ate in Kafeneion I Agora, packed to the gills with locals. We had fried baby squid, tuna steaks with horseradish, rocket salad with crab, all produced from a busy open kitchen. Then, bypassing tourist restaurants, we danced at Apenanti in the Old Town, a cool bar in an old stone building with an iron vine hanging from the ceiling.
‘Can I ask you something? Wait! Can I ask you…’
With most of the cool bars – Mooi, Belon, Angel – they’re empty or not even open until midnight. Greeks go out so late you have to be prepared not to sleep at night on the weekend. As if it wasn’t hard enough finding your way around the Old Town anyway, its meandering narrow streets change completely as daytime cafes close down and nightlife opens up. Empty alleys are suddenly heaving with people. Even when they don’t have money to spend, people still have to go out.
We’re now passing lush gardens filled with flowers, bamboo, fruit trees, eucalyptus. There are outlying villas surrounded by olive trees soft and silvery in the sun; a handful of outlets for furs and ceramics as we ascend into an emptier landscape of rocky hills and pine trees, like California, with pink oleander lining the road.
‘I’ll stay on my own, you’ll learn…’ A pause. He laughs. ‘OK, thank you…’ Laughs again, warmly. ‘Thank you. You’re very good.’ I think the surfer-DJ-rapper-bus driver has the outcome he wants.

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