This is not New York

A tale of hijacking and and flummoxed Germans, to be told in two parts.

When we ran out of money on Lesbos, we decided to come back to America, at least for a little while. True, we could have found work of some sort in the olive fields and scraped by one way or another, but we felt that it was time for life to lead us elsewhere, perhaps even back to California for a time to figure out where we should go next. (There was an ashram in India that sounded like it might be interesting, Carlos was in Kenya and raving about it, and rumour had it the Australian government would give you land for free.)

My father duly booked seats for us on the cheapest flight out of Athens he could find, on Pakistan International Airlines to New York with a stop in Germany. He sent a postcard to our old friend M, telling him the date and time of our arrival (and oh, by the way, could we stay at his house on Long Island for a few days?)

We packed up some possesions and gave the rest away, moving reluctantly from our little half submerged house on the side of the hill looking up at the castle. We took the ferry to the mainland and looked back at the tiled roofs and olive groves of Molybos only once before facing the adventures ahead.

The first sign that things might not go as planned occurred in the early hours of the morning at the Athens airport, when we arrived to catch our flight. The airline didn’t have a representative at the desk. In fact, the airline didn’t even have a desk. A handful of sorrowful looking janitors wandered the halls, but the airport was otherwise deserted. We stood, puzzled, in the middle of the lobby for some time before someone took pity on us and brought over cups of coffee. If we waited, we were assured, someone from the airline would come.

But someone didn’t, until almost twelve hours had gone by. We were sitting in the shade of a tree next to the runway, splitting a loaf of bread and olive oil, when a turbaned man strode confidently out onto the tarmac, carrying a battered briefcase under one arm and a folding card table on the other. We watched, mesmerized, as he unfolded the table and opened the briefcase to extract a sign that read “PIA International Departures.” He wandered off in search of a chair and an assortment of characters drifted over carrying an alarming assortment of luggage. When the man returned, the group of people formed into a loose queue and we watched in amazement as he somberly examined tickets and handed out boarding passes while behind him a giant rust streaked white and green plane taxied into place.

This, it turned out, was Pakistan International, and our ticket home.

We boarded the plane to utter chaos. There had clearly been other stops along the way, and a gaggle of goats, harried women, and manic children wandered the aisles of the plane, fighting from room between tottering piles of vegetables, electronics, and mysterious cloth covered objects. It reminded me refreshingly of riding on rural Greek buses, not at all like my previous sterile and clinical experience on airlines like Lufthansa. We shoved our luggage and ourselves wherever we would fit, and settled in for departure, which was heralded by the firing up of hibachi grills in order to grill nefarious looking meat on the parts of our neighbors, who offered us some once they understood that we didn’t have any lunch. We declined and sat back right about the time the luggage compartments flew open, raining suitcases, bundles, and pillows down on the passengers.

This, I decided, was going to be a flight to remember, and I promptly drifted towards the back of the plane to play poker with some Armenian cardsharks. We landed in Berlin and disgorged some of our payload, only to take on a flock of confused German tourists who were clearly regretting the economy package. All of us settled in for the leg to New York, the old hands holding the luggage bins shut until the plane reached cruising altitude.

Presently, the stewards came around with carts, offering:

“Would you like chicken curry or sauerbraten?”

“Chicken curry,” said the Middle Easterners unfortunate enough to have not packed lunch.

“Oh, sauerbraten,” the Germans said.

“I’m sorry,” the stewards would reply. “We only have chicken curry.”

This typically Greek approach to cabin service endeared me greatly, further causing me to question the infidel status of the Pakistanis. How could infidels capture so perfectly the quintessential ideals of Eastern Orthodox customer service?

To this point, I was enjoying the flight. It reminded me of the joyful boistrousness of life in Greece, where seventeen things were going on at once and everyone was talking at high speed at the top of their lungs. This was life lived to the fullest, with gesticulations, hunks of good country bread and oozing raw milk cheese. About the only thing that could have improved the flight in my opinion was a carnival, and I was about to get one.

To be continued…