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Off to Turkey

“I like this island living,” says Petros, the man sitting behind the ticket counter. He chain-smokes, flirts with me, and looks and sounds like an old cabana boy. “I was born in Athens, many centuries ago, but have been living in Samos for twenty years.” He stands to join me on the other side of the ticket counter, and together we smoke and stare into a distant horizon. “But I do not like these…” he savors the word, and his cigarette, “creatures…who live here.”

I’m about to board the ferry for Kusadasi, Turkey, my first border crossing in a month. Greece has been wonderful: the excavation was the experience I hoped it would be, I was able to see many of the artifacts I’d grown up reading about, saw places I’d never honestly believed I’d get the chance to see. Ran a footrace in Olympus. Crashed a moped in Naxos. Sat on the beach, got tan, ate too much souvlaki, learned the value of water pressure. Met fantastic people.

But for all that, I’m happy to be off as well. Not through any fault of Greece, far from it. Even now, I’m partly tempted to see about getting a student visa, to stay to see the new Acropolis Museum, to take language classes here (it’s startling how much you can pick up in a few weeks if you try).

Ultimately, though, the words I find myself repeating so often are Tennyson’s: “I cannot rest from travel, I must drink life to the lees.” That’s from Ulysses, Tennyson’s romantic take on the voyager, modeled after Dante’s more tragic vision. I’ve been looking for an excuse for a while to cite it, since it’s near to my heart, and somewhat of an inspiration for this adventure. Tragic or romantic, the wanderlust attributed by both Dante and Tennyson to Ulysses is one with which I’ve often identified. The desire to see all, know all, to “follow knowledge like a sinking star…” it’s a powerful drive, and for the first time in my life I’m embracing it fully.

So adio, Greece, I hope to see you again, someday. In the meantime, I’m off to Kusadasi, another tourist trap, according to my guide book, and I’ve read some reviews warning me off the hostel I chose at random. It will be a new language, a new city, a new adventure in water pressure, certainly. But I look forward expectantly, eager for the next leg.

I think it’s altogether fitting to cite that most famous of all Greek vagabonds on the day of my departure. So let me leave you with Tennyson’s poem, which captures in words better than ever I could write what it means to be a vagabond at heart.

Ulysses
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads–you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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