It was our free day today. I opted to go on a boat trip to see Mount Athos. Naturally I didn’t read all the available information and was somewhat taken aback by the appearance of the boat. I have never seen, let alone been on, a boat as kitsch.
I am going to make you wait for another post to see the pictures, but it featured pirate statues, gold dolphins, two lion statues, rigging and no sails, toy cannons, and a pretend castle. That’s probably the half of it, but my horrified yet fascinated gaze edited out the rest, and I could not bring myself to photograph some of its excesses.
The boat was a big clue as to the tone of the day. A day off where I had to get up earlier than for any of our walking days.
Don’t get excited about my photos of Mount Athos; I’m not. We had to stay a respectful five hundred feet from the coast, but I suspect the commentary, in German, Russian and English, and generally in that order, reached some of the monks at their labours or devotions.
Although considered holy because the Virgin Mary is said to have admired it, if she were to turn up today she wouldn’t be allowed ashore. It is strictly men only after some distracting behaviour with some shepherdesses several centuries ago. The shepherdesses got the blame.
Some of the monasteries were huge. They looked like industrial complexes. The biggest was Russian. I started to wonder how Putin would be received should he turn up. Bare bodies and aggressive stances are frowned upon. Would he cope? I like to imagine him in attitudes of humility. Suddenly the monasteries seemed better.
We had ninety minutes shore leave. If late, the alternative, according to a sign a crew member held up as we disembarked, was swimming.
We were back in time.
The return journey passed in sunshine. One of the things I find on these holidays is that you make friends with lovely people. It is quite likely you will never meet again, but that doesn’t make the friendship less valuable. One of these transient friends and I discussed death and grief as we gazed out at sea, hoping for the sight of a non golden dolphin or some flying fish. We saw neither, but tissues were consumed. Her husband died of pancreatic cancer just two years ago. His death followed swiftly after a diagnosis that left no room for hope. A post retirement life they had imagined suddenly cancelled.
Next month she has a walk planned to raise money and awareness. It is not far from where I live, and if possible, I shall go.
It doesn’t sound very holiday like, but these conversations are the ones that I shall remember and I feel privileged to have heard her story. The monks may feel they live better lives away from the world; I have a feeling that for lives to be lived fully you have to be in this world and connected to other human beings; to witness their strength and their frailty and acknowledge your own.
If I were the Virgin Mary, I shouldn’t be planning an assault on Mount Athos any time soon.