He came crashing out of a cloud of dust like an ancient Greek charioteer swerving around potholes and bouncing over the bumps that pock-marked the sun-baked surface of the hard dirt road.
He had a hi-fi blaring out Greek pop music on an ingenious German device that would play 45 RPM records without missing a beat regardless of terrain. You could hear him coming for miles. His small truck occasionally defied all known laws of gravity becoming airborne, in spite of a load of ladies hanging-on for dear life in the bed of the truck.
Those ladies chattered incessantly though it all, oblivious to the obvious jeopardy this mode of transportation put them in. They were Greek grape pickers coming in from a morning in the vineyards. They filled the truck’s bed, squeezed-in real tight. The lucky ones sat in the bed of the truck with their arms wrapped ’round their knees and their chins occasionally bouncing off of ’em. The less fortunate of the congregation sat perched on the bed’s walls, over which their derrières hung like huge, plump melons bobbing in a stormy sea.
And so it was that the unforgettable Tony of Patras entered our lives. Boisterous, gregarious and generous without limits, he was over-filled with life! It burst out of him like lightening in a summer sky. He drove a canary-yellow mini-pickup truck with tomato-red trim with matching strings of yellow and red pom moms strung along the inside of the windows. His large hi-fi speakers in the truck’s bed provided seating for a couple of the Greek gals.
What an entrance! What a sight! We couldn’t have been more impressed had the King Constantine himself processed past.
He waved and waved at us like a politician on election day, “Hey! Where you guys heading to now? You go back Patras, yes? You wait. I come back very soon enough!”
The winery estate’s grounds were meticulously manicured. They were fit for royalty, who seemed to frequently visit the place judging from the casks reserved for many of them. Hollywood’s royalty paid a visit too, in the person of one Gary Cooper, whose signature in the guest book particularly impressed us.
The winery vinted Retsina, a Greek wine that probably dates back to the era of Dionysus. It tastes a like a pine needles soaked in alcohol, a taste only a trained palette could truly appreciate. Therefore, as both tenacious and intrepid travelers we took it upon ourselves to undergo intensive training so as to acclimate ourselves in the local culture.
Fortunately, we were the only visitors in the place that day, which probably accounted for the uncounted free pours of the stuff. After an extended lunch hour our host told us we’d gained a true appreciation for Retsina as good as if we’d been weened in the Peloponnese.
Getting back into Patras had presented a bit of a puzzle prior to Tony’s dramatic entrance. We’d taken a bus to the winery, not realizing it was miles from town, and over a mile’s walk from the bus stop to the estate.
Tony was waiting for us. He drove us back to town, during which time he greeted most of the citizens of Patras, all of whom enthusiastically responded to his good natured cheer. He took us to his apartment and then to an early dinner at a beach restaurant with cabanas set-up on the shore of the Gulf of Patras. It was a scene right out of paradise!
We feasted on chicken and salad and boatloads of more retsina, which made us thankful for our earlier appreciation courses. The unexpected, but enthusiastically welcomed arrival of a magnificently endowed Turkish belly dancer, one of Tony’s innumerable admirers, made the repast seem downright celebratory.
This Turkish delight seemed to take a particular interest in us, and when we waded out into the warm Mediterranean waters between courses she somehow kept stepping on objects that caused her to collapse all over me … which certainly added to the exotic atmosphere of the occasion!
It was a thrill to spend time with her as the scorching sand cooled and the setting the sun turned to bronze while a gentle breeze blew-in from the sea whose lapping waves nibbled on our toes and the edge of our cabana.
The next day Tony picked us up at the hostel for another great Patras day and try as we might, Tony refused to let us pay for anything. We ate and drank like royalty, and gained a life-long appreciation for Greek pop music. But truly Tony’s greatest gift was the love returned by those he touched. His enthusiastic, caring and generous personality touched us and we’ve carried undying gratitude for that ever since those too few days in Patras.
Coming next! Driving Around Europe Without A Map, Part 19 … AN ANCIENT ATHENIAN RITUAL
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