Thursday, April 3, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 17

Previously

On the road

Lotte found Barbara much easier to talk to when the latter was wearing something approximating to normal clothes and make-up that did not make her look like a member of Hot Gossip. The absence of the wig helped too. The ate dinner together and chatted a bit, though Barbara still basically said nothing about herself, the organisation she worked for, or what exactly had happened to Chris and how exactly Lotte would be able to help. Lotte gave up trying to elicit information. The chatted about less consequential things. They had a shared interest in German expressionist cinema from the 1920s and early 1930s, which projected into a further appreciation of the strange films of Carl Dreyer, the Dane. They parted early and Lotte returned to her hotel. She reflected on how she seemed to be sinking into a strange world of bizarre mystery, albeit one in which it was still possible to have surprisingly banal conversations.

The following morning she checked out of her hotel (after a delicious breakfast) and made her way to the bus station. Barbara was already there. The bus arrived and they boarded it. As they had bought tickets separately they had to sit separately, which was not a problem for Lotte as she was not relishing having to find more items to talk about with her strange new associate. She settled in for the journey to Sparta, which would involve having to change bus in a town called Tripoli. She wondered if people ever ended up there by mistake when they had intended to travel to either of the towns of that name in Lebanon or Libya and if so would they consider they had done better or worse. As she had not been to the others (or to Greek Tripoli, yet) the question was a hard one to answer. According to the guidebook, Greek Tripoli was a pretty dull place. The Tripoli in Libya however was developing a certain reputation for lawlessness, while the one in Lebanon was increasingly suffering from a spilling over of the conflict in neighbouring Syria. So Greek Tripoli might be boring, but maybe the others were a bit too interesting?

Alas, the dullness of Peloponnesian Tripoli was not something that Lotte was able to quantify, as the bus station was well out of the city centre, in one of those areas that appear to be all dual carriage-ways. Or maybe this was the centre of Tripoli? If so then yes it was a dull and unappealing place. Lotte and Barbara had to wait for an hour for the bus to Sparta, which was coming from Athens. When it arrived it was very full but Lotte was able to find a seat. She was beside a younger American woman who seemed very excited.

"Oh my God, this is so awesome!" she exclaimed in a clich├ęd manner as the bus climbed over the mountains from Arcadia to Laconia. Lotte was not sure if this remark was addressed to her or whether it was the verbal equivalent of a post on Twitter, thrown out for the delectation of the world whether the world was interested or not. So she did not offer a reply. But the woman continued, now unmistakably addressing her. "You're going to Sparta?"

This was not quite the stupid question that it sounded, for although this was indeed the bus to Sparta, passengers were able to get off at other stops along the way.

"Yes, I am going to Sparta. And you?"

"Oh yeah, Sparta! It's gonna be amazing. This is Sparta!"

Lotte did not quite know how to reply to this last statement, as they were still on the road to Sparta rather than in Sparta itself, so she tried to just look like she was somewhat interested in what the woman had to say.

"Are you coming to the festival?"

"I did not know there was a festival."

"Oh sorry, I thought you might be. We're not meant to talk about it to the uninitiated, but it's going to be so awesome."

"Oh."

"It's meant to be a secret, but I'll tell you about - just don't tell anyone else about it." She was talking in a voice of sufficient volume that everyone on the bus would have been able to listen in if they wanted to. "It's kind of a religious thing. We're bringing back the worship of the Greek Gods. You know what a Maenad is?"

"Yes, of course - the female worshippers of Dionysos."

"Well that's what I am! I'm meeting the others down there and we're going up to the hills to worship Him. It's gonna be amazing!"

"What will you do up there?"

"I think we just drink lots of wine and party. There'll be music and dancing and we'll just go totally crazy."

"But why are you going to Sparta? I thought Dionysos was most closely associated with Thebes."

"Well we can't go there," said the American, with a patronising edge to her voice, "because Alexander the Great demolished it. And anyway, people only think of it as the famous centre of the worship of Dionysos because Euripides wrote a play about the arrival of the cult there, but more advanced scholarship now reveals that actually the Peloponnese was where worship of the Lord of the Vine was strongest."

"I see," said Lotte. Religious maniacs were always the same, whether Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim or Dionysian.

"You should come up and join us."

"No thank you, I am atheist."

"Oh that's just crazy. No way, you've just got to come to the festival with us."

"No, I will not be at your festival."

"Well if you change your mind, we're meeting at the Sparta bus station at mid day tomorrow."

"I will not change my mind."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Costas and Julian sped along the main road. Then traffic slowed and backed up, leaving them able to move forward only at a crawl. Costas became increasingly irritated.

"Leave it, there's nothing you can do," said Julian.

"Goddamnit, I know it, but when I find out who's responsible for this I'll make the fuckers pay."

Julian said nothing, knowing that when Costas was in one of his black moods there was nothing really to do but let it ebb away of its own accord.

The reason for the delay eventually became apparent. Greek police officers had set up a check point on the road and were stopping each car as it came along.

One of the corgis had climbed up to look out ahead and was growling.

"Fuck," said Costas. "They're onto us."

"We don't know that. Even if they are, they don't know who they're looking for. Play it cool, Costas."

"We might have to bust out of this one, buddy."

"Don't be a fool, see how many there are? We can't take on this many. Play it cool. They've nothing on us."

"OK, I'll play it cool. Cool. Yeah, I'm cool."

When they reached the checkpoint a policeman barked something at them in Greek. Costas handed over his driver's licence and identity card. The policemen looked at them both carefully and then said something in Greek to Julian.

"He wants ID," said Costas.

"Here you go," said Julian, handing over his passport. The cop gave it an equally close inspection, leafing through and looking on each page.

"So," he said in English, "you are from Ireland."

"Yes, that I am."

"How did you enjoy your visit to Egypt?"

"I liked it a lot," said Julian evenly.

"And yet you do not have an entry stamp for Egypt on your passport. This is your passport?"

"I was there a while ago. Longer than I thought if the visa isn't there."

The cop handed back the passport. "Please be careful, sirs. There are escaped criminals on the loose. Very dangerous. Do not approach them. Report anything suspicious to the police."

"Sure officer," said Julian.

The policeman said something else in Greek and waved them on.

"I thought he had me there," said Julian.

"You played it cool, I respect that. If he'd tried that shit with me, he'd be a dead cop now."

"And we'd be dead too. Or in custody. Would that be any good to anyone?"

The two corgis barked.

"No, I suppose not," said Costas.


pictures

The story continues

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