in Greece 2015

A look and a nod


A view from the road on the north shore of Crete.

λεωφορείο (leh-oh-foh-REE-oh) – n.: bus

HERAKLION, July 11 – The conductor from Chania to Heraklion is young, maybe mid-to-late twenties, with heavy-lidded eyes, a blue polo and khakis. She wears a change belt and a smartphone. As she sells tickets, she speaks languidly but only as much as necessary. When a passenger is done boarding or debarking, her instruction to the driver is the word Πάμε (PAH-meh; “we go”), which she says sharply yet still somehow languidly, the second syllable rising with expectant compliance. She is a cross between a Best Buy employee and a member of the Israeli Defense Force. 

When I appeal that the wi-fi they promote doesn’t seem to be working, she looks at me directly. Tsipras is speaking on the bus driver’s radio. Her only response is the Greekest gesture there is: she thrusts her chin forward slightly while raising her eyebrows and puts both back a second later, not changing her otherwise blank expression or taking her eyes off me.

Less is more.

I am en route to visit friends of the family for the weekend. The largest cities of Crete – Heraklion, Chania, Rethymnon and St. Nicholas – are all on the north coast of the island. The longest and most significant road on the island connects them like a spine and goes all the way across the island, which is about the distance from Bloomington to Chicago, most of the time right up against the Mediterranean. Think Lake Shore Drive for 200 miles. The entire bus ride to Heraklion, about two and a half hours, is spectacular, the view worth another €13 by itself.

I wait for my ride at the tables and chairs in front of the Heraklion bus station. A man with a neck brace walks stiffly up to where I’m sitting. I look up. He is holding a tin cup. We make eye contact. He rotates his head about five degrees counter-clockwise, his right eye down, his chin towards his left, then puts them back again, not changing his expression or taking his eyes off me.

I give him a 2-euro coin.

When my ride, whom I’ve never met before but will get to know quite well, pulls up in his car, we signal each other with the same look and bob of the head. There are some things Greeks do very efficiently, and one of those is the knowing glance.