Ta Delphinas (Part I)

Lost Boys — By on August 18, 2010 at 12:01 pm

By David Rozgonyi
Special to the Lost Girls

David Rozgonyi was born in Libya to Hungarian political refugees in 1976. He has lived on four continents and has traveled through over 50 countries on foot, bus, train, motorcycle and Cyril, his beloved 1977 Volkswagen bus. His first book, Goat Trees: Tales from the Other Side of the World, is a collection of short fiction written in and about some of his favorite places in the world. His first full-length novel, Two Dolphin, is coming out soon. He currently lives and writes in Hungary. For more photography, book information or just to say hi, visit David at davidrozgonyi.blogspot.com. Here, he shares a shares a story about a day in the life at a Greek Autocamp.

*****

Before dawn, a retired Italian gentleman is surveying the expanse of olive trees, the high black windless sky, the birds dancing the coming morning on branches older than he. The light comes and the world awakens to his bemused smile, as motionless as the rest of his great body, which is clad only in a dazzling lime-colored Speedo that one could be forgiven for suspecting is a permanent installation between the months of May and September. Hands relaxed, palms down atop a spotless white plastic table set before the broad expanse of the camper at his back, he sits like Caesar in judgment, surveying the black sky and the olive grove and all who stir beneath them.

The sun has hardly begun to push at the salmon edges of the sky, and here comes the old Belgian. Led by a little mongrel dog, they shuffle back from the waterline as they do each morning; only the sleepy cicadas know how early they must rise. A floppy hat askew on a small bald head, a ragged pink shirt, a creel large enough to hold the proceeds from a purse seine hooked into the crook of a gnarled elbow. He is bent at the waist from the weight of the creel, even though it is always as devoid of fish as the Belgian is of haste, or the dog of leash, but perhaps tomorrow morning…. Perhaps tomorrow morning. The Italian doesn’t believe it for a second, but shrugs his heavy shoulders once and sighs.

Guarding the worn dirt track that leads into the clearing is a family whose rigidity and efficiency reaffirm all unfortunate Teutonic stereotypes. Der mustachioed, crew-cut Vaterspends entire days in silence, his back within two degrees plus or minus of a protractor-set right angle to his thighs, reading and rereading what appears to be the same page of an increasingly tattered newspaper. Illiterate? Monstrously interested? Nah. The Italian knows the paper is sniper’s cover and weapon rolled into one. Der Vater’s former military discipline twitches its epaulets at the merest grumble of any vehicle to approach within earshot of the camp, and when one occasionally bumbles into the clearing—either a newcomer or just a poor soul returning from a grocery run—he leaps to his feet, signals frantically with the newspaper, and orders in authoritative newspaper semaphore the unfortunate to slow down.

Lagsamer zu fahren! 5 kph! Ziss izz tsoo much dust, und siehst du nicht die Kinder?? His youngest child, who (needless to say, much to his disgust) celebrated his eighteenth birthday in a campground very like this a few months and a few countries back, squirms in his lawn chair; the remainder of his family focuses intently on their own reading material; the Italian makes a sound like he is clearing his throat at each petulant flap of Father’s treasured paper.

Midway between the steel-blue eyes of the German patriarch and the stark pink belly of our extra-zaftig Caesar, mills a pair of middle-aged Yorkshire lads. They have only just stepped from a long road by the looks of their rounded shoulders and sunburnt faces, but they aren’t so tired they are unwilling to meander through the olive grove at great length, inspecting boughs and angles of the sun for just the right place to lay their heads.

Eventually, a folded tent like a Quonset hut is laboriously extracted from a rucksack beneath an olive tree identical to the rest, and the cicadas swarm about their heads as the work begins. With infinite care, poles get organized, pegs found and misplaced and found again, hammer hefted. Tarps and rain flies shaken free from the thorns and grit of the last camp, a patch of dirt rubbed thoughtfully away. The lads chuckle quietly amongst themselves as the poles assemble funny; a peg bends and then another.

Despite this good-humored and methodical effort, the tent refuses to assume any geometrically self-standing configuration at all. Time after time, it whooshes back into its rough folds like a collapsing zeppelin. The lads take quick sit to think things through, then a pot of porridge calls to them and this is made and eaten. Then comes an infinitely patient rearrangement of poles, calm rethinking of the stakes, gentle mutters regarding braces and guy ropes hung like nooses from branches. Finally, with the aid of a little duct tape, the tent is standing at last.

Although it is listing like a houseboat run aground, the lads share a smile to make a Yogi envious of their benevolence. Their voices are as unhurried as the rest of them: “Aw, wasn’t too bad this time.” “Not a’ tall! What was it, twenty minutes? Best time yet!” It has been two full hours, but no one has the heart to break it to them. Certainly not the Italian, who still appears not to have so much as shifted in his hard plastic seat, palms upon the table, head jutting forward. Now and then a cigarette appears between his lips, but that is all.

The cove beneath the bluff on which the clearing perches is ice blue, and for a very good reason: it is fed by underground freshwater springs, and shares not only the hue of ice but also its temperature. After a hot day among the olives, though, it is a sweet, if shocking, relief for most of the campers. Not so for the young French couple just returning from their first swim, unless flapping arms and bared teeth translate differently in that language. What’s worse, despite being the proud owner of the ubiquitous and trendy (and guaranteed to impress your new girlfriend) Quechua “chuck-it-in-the-air-and-watch-it-unfold-itself” (and-don’t-let-it-poke-your-eyes-out) tent, the young man must have forgotten to attach the little trailer to his hatchback before departing the Left Bank, the one that contained their sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, lawn chairs and folding table, towels, lantern, stove, food, plates, a book…. That must have been the case, for surely no sane person would come camping here with nothing but a Quechua. Or even a Quechua, but let’s leave that out of it for now; doesn’t the struggle to fold it closed absorb whatever time profit you gained by flopping it open?

After drip-drying in the sun, they sit in the stifling heat of their car for a while (one in front, one in back). Eventually, he coaxes her from the car. She cocks a hip above her stiff brown legs and watches her man use the baking metal of the hood as a table to prepare dinner. It doesn’t take long, consisting as it does entirely of a loaf of bread and a large plastic bottle of beer. No glasses, so they slurp the hot liquid in turn. The prettiness of the young girl’s face is destined to seep away as the scowls she is playing with even now become more developed, more nuanced, more venomous over the course of days, weeks, perhaps years. Not so the Italian. Crow’s feet appear in the corners of his eyes; the edges of his plump mouth rise in delight.

Please watch for Part II later today…

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