Sometimes things just make you feel happy and warm all over. It’s a miracle really, for happiness is one of the last things that’d come to mind if you viewed our situation on this planet realistically … after all, you could say we’re just a bunch of insignificant vagabonds hanging onto an inconsequential pebble circling a slow-motion explosion of super-heated hydrogen in a vastness filled with fire, black holes and deadly flying objects, a.k.a. the universe.
Yet somehow we defy all of this and find ourselves eating and drinking and laughing with some fellow hangers-on in magical moments we call serendipity. That’s when the inexorable tide of time slacks and we forget about the perils of the heavens, the volcanic cauldrons of the earth and the unknowable darkness that surrounds us.
These moments often begin as insignificant events, but quickly metamorphose into indelible mental souvenirs that make our lips curve into subtle smiles whenever their shadow passes through our memory.
One such occasion for me and my traveling buddies occurred on the road from Athens to Yugoslavia, a misbegotten nation composed of a conglomeration of ancient kingdoms cobbled together by European autocrats and a beguiled American president after World War I. In the recent past this volatile mixture of ethnicities and religions came unglued and grievances older than the Bible flared anew.
The result? The slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. It’s ironic that the bloodiest century in human history began with blood spilling in the Balkans and concluded with blood spilling in the Balkans … bookends of an unspeakably tragic tale.
But fortunately those troubles were all in our distant past or near future as we drove through antique kingdoms like eager students on the first day of school unaware of archaic animosities.
We’d spent the night sleeping on a beach somewhere on the Aegean Sea where Greeks and Persians engaged in fierce naval battles for centuries, and over which great fleets of Greek triremes sailed to Troy.
And though sleeping on the rocky beach proved challenging, a picturesque reward revealed itself early in the morning as the sun rose. A man who’d arrived before dawn with a large, horse-drawn cart was tossing shovel-fulls of beach rock onto a filtering screen propped up over the cart while his horse waited patiently practicing a routine he’d repeated for years.
The day before we’d met a some Aussies cliff diving into a nearby cove. It was a deserted stretch of coastline and a blazing hot Grecian sun beat down on us. These blokes had beaucoup of cold beer that they were eager to share, and as we willing to drink it we joined them for the afternoon.
We spent the day swimming and drinking and singing, after which sleeping on the rocky beach didn’t seem like such a bad idea. That morning I awakened to the silhouette of that hard-working Greek, backlit by a sun rising out of the Aegean painting an unforgettable image, the beauty of which was perhaps lost on the guy doing the shoveling.
The day’s drive up the coast, a route that the Great Alexander and his intrepid Macedonians once trod, we stopped for breakfast at an inn, a solitary structure lying at the intersection of two roads where a young man named Alexi introduced himself to us. He was a Greek college student on summer break and wanted to practice his English.
We hit it off and he eagerly invited us to come with him … it was the day of the annual swim meet for all the villages and farms of the area!
We had a ball at the meet! We cheered-on the local competitors, standing among the mass of local and highly vocal family and fans. Afterwards Alexi invited us to see his village and meet his family.
“That’d be great!” we exclaimed and drove down a road that ended at a goat path, literally a goat path. After a short hike up the path we came to a dozen or so dwellings scattered around the crest of a hill with goats, chickens, pigs and other farm animals roaming about.
We caused quite a stir there. For the villagers it was as if visitors from another planet had dropped in. Our visit seemed to bring some special honor to Alexi’s parents, who welcomed us with deference and great ceremony.
Their place was a bit like an adobe dwelling of the sort found in our southwest. It had carpets on dirt floors swept so clean you’d mistake them for tile … in fact the place was spotless. Overall it had a friendly, welcoming warmth that was palpable and comforting.
We visited with Alexi and his father while his mom and brothers prepared a feast for the wanderers from across the sea. And what a feast it was! Farm fresh salads and fruits fit for a king, a fine selection of meat and the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted! Wine, of course, and lots of chatter. Alexi must have had at least a good year’s worth of English language practice that day!
After dinner as I sat while Stephen and Martha sang for our hosts and it occurred to me while sitting in the pleasant air of early evening that sometimes things just make you feel happy all over, like a random few bits of colored glass that nest inside a kaleidoscope to form unexpected, exquisite designs.
I suppose that’s the essence of serendipity … finding yourself an honored guest gorging on a feast at the end of a goat path in a home without a floor. What are the odds?
Coming next! Driving Around Europe Without A Map, Part 21 … A MIXED BAG IN MACEDONIA
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