I was in Lesbos again last year for three weeks, late September, a bit late, as it started to get cold mornings and nights. After ten days with my routine of thermal bath one day and swimming the next, I got bored and also got annoyed with the incomprehensible bus schedules, and the limited access they and the coaches gave me to the island. And I suddenly had this image in my mind, of sunbathing while going all over the island on one of those motorbikes with 4 wheels, must have seen one on the island in a previous year. I asked my landlord about it, and his travel agent son, and found one a coach ride away in a more touristy part of the island, in Molyvos - I stay in a village Aklidiou, near Mytilini, the main port, on the route to the airport - which I knew well and loved. But the man wouldn’t let me have it. Had his doubts about me. But so had I! Hadn’t driven a car for 30 years, and had never ridden a motorbike. So I didn’t inspire him with confidence: Disappointed and in a quandary, I irrationally took a local bus along the coast in entirely the wrong direction, for as far as it went, and there was a restaurant that hired out quadbikes! The English wife of the Greek owner immediately arranged for a bike to be delivered, gave me a glass of orange juice, and I hired it, getting a quick short lesson from the man who had brought it, AND HAD THE MOST FANTASTIC FUN WITH IT!!! I did over 600 km, along tracks by the sea and over fields, up the mountains, right through the island, staying a night or two in 2 other places, in both of which I have fairly regular digs, which gives an intimacy to the relationship with the island. There are even remnants of old customs in the villages. I stopped in one for lunch, and at a long table on a terrace above the street were some 30 fairly mature Greeks eating and drinking. On the opposite side of the road below me was a small park, with a number of magnificent horses, with lovely saddles on highly coloured rugs, being walked and watered by young men. I found out it was a meeting of villagers, who had come down from the hills for this reunion on horseback, an annual affair. Of course I raised my glass to the company, as I started my meal at a table for one and, having eaten, was invited to join in the Greek dancing and given Ouzo at their table: A really old Greek scene. The new Greece is less attractive, rather bourgeois, formal, distant, with city ways. I discovered that I was a better driver than I had been, took it at walking pace round the S bends as instructed, and only went up to just over 50 kmh on the few very good straight surfaces. I'd been to a good driving school early on: The British Red Cross Commission in Germany, 46-48, with the Save the Children Fund, driving 8 ton lorries, Bedford, Fordson and Dodge Trucks, ambulances and the original Volkswagen with the divided rear window, and going on forest tracks and on the Autobahnen. And years later driving my mad Minis. This new mobility, this freedom of movement, enabled me, for instance, to see a Roman aqueduct at close range, that I’d been wanting to inspect for years, always passing just within sight of it on my way by bus to my thermal baths. But my main joy, apart from my giggles and suntan, was that greater intimacy which my quadbike gave me with the island, where I’d first gone in 1958, when I met my painter friend Manolis Kalligiannis and his German wife Angelika and the two boys, Michel and Christian... I look forward to my quadbike rambles again this summer!
7 February 2011