Day 15 (Thu, Sep 29): Piraeus / Athens / USA
Everything was going smoothly until we tried to walk through the door of Greek customs. Our way became blocked, and our line cut, by a very large cart full of luggage going by. When the line (me at the head of it) attempted to go forward we were stopped by customs officers. Something bothered them about the rug I was carrying (the tightly wrapped up bundle we brought with us from Istanbul). We yelled for Christina, who had already gone outside with the rest of the group, who rushed back in and began a heated discussion with about 20 people at once. She kept screaming "In transito!" I worried about missing the plane and spending the night in a Greek jail. I was also worried that Karen happened to be carrying in large bag some duty-free liquor for Christina (who had already used up her legal allotment).
Finally, the Greeks were down to four for five huge customs officers standing around a desk on which sat our tightly packed rug. They were yelling at each other and at tiny Christina, with occasional glances toward me. Finally, one of them - a bald-headed guy with a big bull neck - came over to me and asked me, "How much?" I didn't know if he meant what did I pay for the rug or what would I take for it. I told him "$1,300", the price we paid for it. He shook his head violently, saying "No, no!" I had paid that amount using three American Express charge slips (at the request of the seller, to avoid some kind of tax on him), so I next ventured "$500", the amount on the only slip attached to the outside of the bundle. "No, no, no! $120!" I still couldn't tell if that was the amount he wanted me to declare or the amount he was willing to pay me for him to keep it.
I thought losing the rug for less than ten cents on the dollar would be worth it just to get out of there -- and, in any case, border guards rule -- so I just said "OK". He smiled the broadest smile I could imagine on that otherwise stern face, filled out some papers, wrote a note in my passport (I no longer have it because I later had to turn it in to get a new one), and wished us "bon voyage". It turned out that, had the rug cost $125 (₯ 5,000) it would have meant a lot of extra paper work for the customs official. So we finally escaped, gave Christina her duty-free contraband, and boarded the bus.
We went through Piraeus and arrived at the (old) airport with plenty of time to spare. We checked in, then said our good-byes to Christina, then waited for take-off. That was delayed for nearly an hour. Seems to have been a culturally appropriate habit with Olympic Airways.
Our flight was smooth. We sat with a Greek girl named Xenia who is going to school in New York. She was fun to talk to. Regis wandered the plane. At one point he leaned over my shoulder (there was an esacpe access space behind our row) and whispered, mocking my very poor eyesight, "Ed, the object is to read that book, not sniff it". Then he said that he and his wife didn't have many arguments anymore because he plays a trick on her: when he disagrees with her, he doesn't tell her. He also told me that while I was gone, Karen had told him that she prefers "short, stocky, mature men." Funny guy.
We arrived in New York just over an hour late at 4:30. That gave us two hours to make our flight to Seattle. We had to wait a long time for our luggage. Got through customs with no hassle, though we did have to pay $90.40 duty, with no time to argue the matter. Wasted too much time trying check our luggage through to United and ended up dragging the suitcases (and that heavy rug) over to the United terminal ourselves. That meant carrying it all out into New York traffic and racing with our loads for a very long block. By this time we doubted we'd ever make our connection. We got our bags checked and made it to the gate with just five minutes to spare.
We arrived in Seattle a bit ahead of schedule. Christine and Rachel were there at the arrival gate to greet us. There was a light rain falling and the air was fresh and cool. We showed Chris and Marty our rug and enjoyed the first bourbon we've had in two weeks. Watched a little of Johnny Carson's 18th anniversary show and went to bed.
Before we left Greece I had asked Christina to see if she could locate a copy of the bust of a very young Alexander which was in the Acropolis Museum, probably carved by Leochares or Euphranor after Alexander's visit to Athens in 335 B.C. She did. It arrived some weeks after we got back to Paso Robles CA, where we were staying with my mother on my sabbatical. The arrival of that large wooden crate from such an exotic locale as Greece (Paso Robles was very small then, before they became famous for their vinyards) caused quite a stir at the post office. He's now in our Bellingham WA living room, along with the rug we picked up in Istanbul, atop the piano and staring across the room at books of poetry and art as well as the many tour books we bought on this trip.
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