Wednesday, February 3, 2010

January 30, 2010: Crossing the Adriatic or "In the Company of Unspeakably Bad Behaving Men"

Crossing the Adriatic or "In the Company of Unspeakably Bad Behaving Men"

One of the best times to write while traveling is when the world of the present is as different from one’s habitual, normal world as is wildly conceivable.  Such is my present situation, having just departed Italy from Brindisi, writing aboard the ferry Elli T, crossing the Adriatic sea, near mid-night, surrounded by Greek truckers in a ship’s bar, headed for Igoumenitsa, Greece.  The name of our destination, alone, is sufficient to inspire the sense of the strange and exotic.  There is lawlessness in the air.  It started while we were still in the port.  We lined up Kiharambee! for its turn to load on the ferry.  The trucks with names as familiar at the “Globetrotter” and as unfamiliar as any name you can imagine in long strings of Greek characters jockeyed for position.  Some truckers got out of their cabins and confronted each other screaming obscenities.  I suspected a pecking-order challenge, like a couple of stags facing off while surrounded by onlooking members of a herd.  Two, in particular, began a fight throwing liquids at one another from large bottles while the other truckers, including the port staff, squealed in pleasure at the spontaneous entertainment. There was more to follow. Some truckers while approaching to load on ship spun their cabins in dramatic twists at high speeds to impress the onlookers with their deftness and daring, then backed the monstrous multi-wheeled beasts into the belly of the ship at frightening speeds. Here’s a question to chew on for the anthropologically inclined:  Is the unruliness, chaos and bravado the inspiration of port culture, perhaps a needed self indulgence in a world of desperate men,  and undoubtedly,  the permissive influence of the Camorra, who rule the ports of Italy, or is this a glimpse of the world of men that has always existed and is now under threatened extinction?  

Boarding The Elli T

Even as I’m writing, confined to a corner of the bar because of the scarcity of electrical outlets, I concentrate to keep my thoughts loud enough to  “hear” over the thunderous din of these cantankerous, hard drinking, public smoking (in defiance of ship rules), characters surrounding me. By the by, I heard today from Lorrie Fair, who is about two or three days ahead of us, that Greek farmers have blocked the major highways at various locations along our route across Greece. The rest of the world recognizes this as a superficial symptom of an economy on the brink of collapse.  The Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P are all skittish over the potential for Greek financial insolvency, but it doesn’t take much to make those bastions of capitalism skittish. The premier of China can hiccup or Obama can point his finger and the S&P will drop 5%.   Getting back to the colorful characters nearby:  there’s the paunchy, pink faced guy, with the white hair in a pony tail. I’ll bet he thinks 20 year girls still peek in admiration (by the way there are absolutely no women in the place, save Maria who would prefer to be anywhere else).  There’s the tall guy, butch hair, pocked marked face, with an affable smile and a big laugh.  The loudest is the guy with thick black hair and the face of Johnny Cash with the skin of someone who has smoked since the age of 13 and bellows like a school yard bully.  They’re all dressed as characters from the Deer Hunter. They’re too many of these guys to describe, but they all share a few characteristics.  They all talk at the same time, very loudly, and animated, full with compulsory gesticulations.  Alcohol is the rule, as is the required cigarette (there’s so much smoke you can barely see the no smoking sign on the wall next to them).
Perhaps anarchy is in the air.  Perhaps I’m witnessing why democratic ideas surfaced in this country nearly 3000 years ago.  Some genetically influenced screamers shouted their ideas with profound affect, not necessarily effect,  leaving little choice but to listen. I could see anyone of the nearby 15 or 20 smoking, drinking, babbling characters pounding a podium in some parliament, somewhere in the world.  Everyone wants to say something. The final word is the loudest word. Thank God their bold defiance of social constraints is limited, at least for the moment, to public smoking.  One could imagine the full potential of self expression should hidden weapons be revealed.  This is a wild world where men habitually approach the edge of disturbing chaos, then back off a step to avoid dropping into the full depth of their passions.
Lest I should be accused of a skwered portrayal of an unfamiliar world, I am dutifully noting that there are a couple of guys in their twenties, possibly college kids,  pre-occupied with their internet connection in the other corner of the room where there is one other electrical outlet.  Out of curiosity I clocked the upload speed of the connection on just for fun.  It was 5kbs which means that we’re in an internet environment that is less efficient than the 1990 world of 14.4 kbs dial up modems.  There was also another normalish activity going on in another part of the bar, though briefly,  where a generous number of football fanatics were shouting and screaming over a monstrous goal. In fact, we heard the screams from about 50 feet as we approached the bar area for the first time.  Maria and I looked at each other thinking the truckers had brought their port side pugnacity onto the ship’s deck.  However, that wasn’t the case, and Maria and I both felt relieved that we realized we weren’t walking into the middle of a brawl.  Of course, our relief was short lived as it was only a matter of moments when we understood that internet connectivity and electrical power on board the Elli T required an anthropological emersion into a fringe subset of European society.
Speaking of men behaving badly, I find myself, once again, reflecting on history.  We are now crossing the Adriatic sea between Italy and Greece.  It’s a formidable body of water, well known for it’s cruel and unyielding capriciousness.  Poseidon, called Neptune by the Romans, terrorized this sea and claimed many a ship and many a life in these waters.  Now we’re ripping boldly and defiantly through Poseidon’s domain at about 20 nauts. We do not feel the sense of fear and concern as did the ancients, even though the Elli T rolls and jolts its way across the Adriatic this stormy night and lightning flashes the darkened windows bright white.   In 48 BCE (2058 years ago),  Julius Cesar pursued a man named Pompey across this sea. Interestingly, the two of them were previously great friends, even relatives, as Caesar forced the betrothal of his daughter, Julia, to the much older Pompey as a political gift.   When Caesar made his famous crossing of the Rubicon, the Senate demanded war and ordered Pompey to wage it.  As Caesar marched towards Rome, Pompey took his legions to Brindisium (our port of departure). As Caesar approached, Pompey slipped out of the harbor and headed for the other side called Ilium.  It’s now called Croatia, Montenegro, Albania or Greece, depending where you’re standing.  Caesar hastily pursued Pompey and the enigmatic and unpredictable Adriatic lived up to it’s reputation.  Caesar lost nearly half of his forces when a storm claimed thousands of his soldiers and most of his navy.  If any of you saw “Rome,” a multi-episode BBC production, and some of the finest TV ever produced, you may remember the event. Two unforgettable fictional characters, Pulio and Varinus, were shipwrecked in that storm,  survived, unlike many of Caesars shipwrecked troops,  and washed up on shore of the other side. 
Well, in that production, and in real life,  Caesar ultimately restored his depleted army, crossed the Adriatic and pursued Pompey to another place on our itinerary, called Pharsalus.  I won’t bore you with those details, but suffice it to say, the relentless Caesar destroyed Pompey’s army, which was far superior in numbers, and the Roman Republic was forever ended. So ended Rome’s flirtation with democratic principles and so was set the stage for a culture of personalities that dominated, if not plagued, the Western world since.  “Caesar” became the equivalent of “Emperor,” and his name, whether it be “Caesar,” “Kaiser," “Czar," or just "Emperor" became the favorite of tyrants.   Few would approach Caesar’s greatness for military genius and leadership, but many, imbued with the relentless desire for power, as was Caesar,  achieved artistic heights of lunacy.  These idiots brought pain, misery and death to countless people everywhere as the name of Caesar lived on.   Arguably, the defeat of Pompey by Caesar set back the evolution of democratic principles up until, well, to be fairly specific, a time when some English religious fanatics decided to move to the New World. They were motivated by the desire to freely express their religious beliefs.  Fortunately, some very intelligent and far-seeing guys, who probably read their history books, took it one step further  and stated that the freedom to express oneself must be accompanied by a complete independence of the religious ideas that inspired the original movement. They even wrote a document called the Declaration of Independence.  It’s brilliant.
So here I am, once again, taking up your time with random thoughts about unspeakably bad behaving men and historical references that clutter up your lives with facts, observations,  and tidbits that compulsively spew forth.  As we march on, knocking kilometers off our itinerary while adding them to Kiharambee!’s odometer, maybe I’ll get around to focusing on the thing that inspired this journey.  It supposedly has something to do with football. But...I have to warn you.  Tomorrow we'll be in Actium, and I have to tell you about that.  A hint: it had something to do with two famous lovers, yes, Antony and Cleopatra.