What with all the good feelings that surround a trip to Mykonos, the weather, the water, the socializing and flirting, you would think a trip to the main gay beach, “Elia” would be paradise unblemished. And you would be wrong. While it is a mostly wonderful experience once one is settled in with a spot and beds, there is a disturbing social darwinism that prevails in determining how people get their spot, what type of spot they get, what type of service they can expect and what reception they will get from the pecking order of gays around them. Elia beach roughly divides into left and right to either side of the restaurant (when facing the water), with the gays being on the right and straights on the left (although fortunately not enforced as there are some stragglers who make it to either end by mistake or outreach project, who knows). Within the gay section, the nicest chairs and spots are in the front rows and center right on the beach, followed by center left, the sides and then further back in distance from the water (and the parade of bodies making their way from one end of the beach to the other in an endless mating dance). And people use all manner of influence peddling to get their desired spot: sweet talk, high tipping, bribery, A-gay bullying, and the most egregious to me, “reserving” spots a day or days in advance. Even when one gets to the beach early and all the chairs are seemingly empty, most of the best ones are mysteriously unavailable (until a bribe is offered anyway). People who have “reserved” may not even arrive until very late in the afternoon, making those empty spaces all the more frustrating to look at while others search in vain for a spot. All of these ugly tendencies come to a head in August, when the beach is busy like at no other time of the year (due to coinciding with European holiday schedules). At this time, beds are packed in so tightly that it makes it somewhat difficult to re-adjust to the moving shade of the sun, and some feathers get ruffled as people pack in wherever they can. Some groups forgo spending on beds altogether and just lay down their towels in the thin alleyways between rows, which can make a bad situation worse (especially with the more snotty A gays). And then there are the “extras”, such as pillows that are only on some of the beds. While it is a no-no to take a reserved spot (well, without a bribe anyway), it is apparently completely socially acceptable to play musical chairs with the limited pillows, and people can be seen pilfering them from other spots unrelentingly early in the day.
Although all of this can be rather like a snotty restaurant or club, and it can bring out the worst in people, once one is settled in the experience can be rather pleasant, believe it or not. You lounge, swim, rest, read, eat, drink and socialize in an endless circle, and come away quite relaxed at the end of the day.
I haven’t been to a European vacation destination in quite some time. It isn’t that I haven’t been to Europe in a while, or even that I haven’t been on vacation in Europe, but those others were not places that masses of people from different countries were on vacation themselves, as it is here in Mykonos. And so I had forgotten some of the cultural adaptations people make to get by. Chief among them is the use of English as the lingua franca. Somehow it tickles my funny bone to hear everyone chattering away in their own languages until they meet others from a different place or need to order a beer or pay for a sunbed. This “English” is transactional and simplified, more of a pidgin really, and I even find myself speaking it when dealing with anything service related. After the transaction is complete, you can see people switching back to their primary language to drop some offhanded insult or complaint or complimentary but semi-lewd reflection about an admired body part. The risk of people understanding that second language here is quite great, so I think it is more about providing a fig leaf for otherwise socially unacceptable remarks. I notice even Arnaud and I adjust our language choice to who is around us (French or English) and thin layer of desire to be understood or not, or subconsciously to be perceived as from one place or another I suppose, which can have its own uses. If there are a bunch of embarrassingly loud Americans or an annoying French couple behind us, for example, we will choose the opposing language to communicate in ourselves. And this is another feature of this type of vacation that I find hysterical; No matter the country of origin, everyone has notions of what the “others” are like, and look for people to fit the stereotype they hold in their head or to break it. And given the various proportions of nationalities represented here, the fixed assumptions are greatest for those groups (such as the Italians who seem to outnumber other groups). Still, one of the chief motivations for people to come here is precisely to meet and interact with (and potentially bed in some cases) a variety of people from a variety of places, and to feel more connected to each other and our common humanity. And that is kind of sweet.
It can be difficult adjusting to doing almost nothing. I mean, I was raised in a certain way, and one can feel a little guilty not doing anything but luxuriating on a beach all day, reading and sleeping and swimming and staring at the water. But I persevere. Still, today Arnaud and I stopped at a couple of small sites of interest in Mykonos on our way to the beach today, and took in some spectacular views (as we do most days). Check out the pics below…
It sure is easier to relax on a beach when one isn’t always sweating like a pig. The air here is dry and there is always a breeze, making a day of lounging at the beach a more pleasant experience than any other beach I can remember. The last couple days we have been doing just that, plus having drinks and dancing with the bevy of gays that seem to love this place so much, eating, and riding around a bit on our scooters. Speaking of scooters, I decided to rent one of those four wheel ATV things instead, they are slightly more expensive and slower, but feel a whole lot safer to me. (And despite Arnaud’s evident disappointment with my choice slowing him down, I felt completely justified when on the first day of driving around we passed an ambulance, scooping the remains of some young Italian scooter driver off the side of the road where he had crashed.) Our drive to the beach is a particularly beautiful one, on back roads with some really fantastic views from the hills. I will try to take a few photos of it today or tomorrow and post.
I arrived in Mykonos 2 days ago and it is a really lovely place. (I am still a bit low energy from the time adjustment or heat stroke or I don’t know what, I really need to get it together.) The old town is a crazy labyrinth of postcard images, and although a little touristy (ok, a lot touristy) still really beautiful. I came to meet my old friend Arnaud, who comes to Mykonos quite often and really knows the place well. Apart from the old town, we rented transportation and went across the island to a couple of beautiful beaches. Although it is quite hot here, it is also blissfully arid with a lot of wind, so you don’t really feel the heat so much, (except in the middle of the day that is). Here are some first photos, I will write more when I can gather my thoughts, for now I am relaxing and brain dead.
Other than testicles, I don’t really carry any of the above. But it is a good mental exercise to try to remember all the crap one needs to pack and carry when one leaves the house for a short errand. In my case, trying to remember everything I will need on my month long vacation is almost impossible without lists. Passport and tickets, of course, but also figuring out what to take (how much can I cram into a carry-on and still be ok for a month of travel?), toiletries, devices (computer, phone, iPad?), cleaning out the fridge and emptying the garbage, unplugging everything non-essential, building/apt instructions, earplugs/sleeping pills, and the list goes on. And then there were all the appointments to have before leaving, and the last meetings and meals with friends. To say nothing of the last minute work crush as every client I have ever known (and a few new ones) needed something done before I took off.
But that is all behind me now. I head to the airport in a few short hours. And if I am lucky, sometime tomorrow I will be presented with something like this:
As I was blogging the other day about where I am going on my next trip, I took a quick screenshot of a google map and embedded it, which prompted a question from my friend Gabe about why I was not using a real interactive map. I then pointed out to him that I actually have such a map embedded on my site at the “Where’s Stephen?” link and its own google maps page. The original idea of this map and page was to track on an ongoing basis where I have been traveling. This map was great when I was first building it, but as I have been adding places to it, I have become somewhat dissatisfied with it. Google places a limit on how many pins can be on a single map page, and this was causing people to miss out on map points. So I dusted off the maps API and called forth the geek inside and learned how to make cluster maps that show the number of places visited at larger scales, but when zoomed into show the individual points. You can check it out here at the new “Where’s Stephen?” page. It is just a start, more of a technology demo for now. But in the future, I plan to link each place to a blog category that will show all posts related to that place, among other goodies. Stay tuned.
Every year, I try to plan a rather lengthy travel period. The reason for the length is to try to stay in a place long enough to get a better sense of it (than that of a mere tourist), and how it is to live there. I also combine a light work schedule with my travels so that I am not completely cut off from my sources of income, and because I think it is interesting to lead a somewhat “normal” life while one is in a new place, mixing the routine with the new. This year, I will be going for a week to the Greek isle of Mykonos to meet my friend Arnaud and really do nothing but relax on the beach, eat, drink, and stare at the Eurogays. I have never been to Mykonos, and it has long been on my gay bucket list, so it should be fun. This part of the trip will also be the standard “vacation” part. After that, I am headed to Istanbul, Turkey for about 25 days. I have rented a full apartment in the Taksim neighborhood, and will use it as a base for exploring Istanbul and interesting places nearby in one or two day mini trips. I will work a light schedule and try to get to know some locals, as well as catch up with a couple of Turkish friends of mine who live there. At a couple of points in my sojourn friends will come to stay with me and explore a bit.
This year, much more so than in years past, I am really feeling in need of the change of pace my travel will afford. I am not joking when I tell you I have consistently had 3 times the amount of work I had last year. Between that and some recent personal disappointments, I really need a change of scenery. I leave in just a few short days, on Thursday, and I can’t wait!
I had an odd dream last night that I only remember part of, but here it is. I was helping out to build some sort of “Out West” amusement park or fairground in a dust bowl type area. We had built a tall sign that could be seen from a great distance away advertising the place. One of the main features of it was a kind of wading/smimming pool that we were adding shinyness to, so that it would be more fun and attractive to people. We tried various things to increase the shiny quality of the water, and then settled on a kind of dissolved silver. We spent a fair amount of time mixing the silver in the water, and were really happy with the result, the water was looking beautiful and enticing, and people starting arriving from everywhere to attend the fair and wade around in the water. And then we remembered that silver absorbes really easily through the skin and could be very poisonous. Then I woke up.