BATSI, Greece—I have met dozens of strangers in the past few weeks. The man selling olives in the farmers’ market, the woman in the Syntagma metro station, the gypsy girl selling (God knows why) tissues. The man who sold me souvlaki, the man in the Orthodox church, the waiter at the restaurant where I had dinner two nights ago, the person who had stopped to stretch in the National Garden whom I asked the distance of the loop we were both running, separately. The person I asked for directions I don’t know where, the woman who tore my ticket boarding the ferry to Spetsos, the man who tore my ticket boarding the ferry back to Athens. I will never see any of these people again.
There are also the people with whom my interactions have been slightly more extended. The older couple at the table next to mine a week ago, I think they were from Delaware, who helped swat away the bee that had landed on my plate. The waiter who, when he saw me enter the restaurant and ask for a table for one, repeated “alone?” probably five times and proceeded to assume that alone meant lonely and that a free glass of white wine would be enough to convince me to go out that night with his 30-plus year old self. One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I used as my shield to his repeated attempts at conversation, was better company. The twenty-something year old and his mom, who watched my bag when I went into the ocean at Aegina, which I visited on my day off.
And then there are the unexpected repeats. Vacili, the waiter at the taverna next to my hostel, who says “Alice!” whenever I walk by (he misheard my name when we humorously introduced ourselves to each other when I had walked by the taverna enough times for the each of us to be recognizable to the other, and it didn’t seem worth it to correct him. Funnily enough Alice is one of my middle names.). Pam, from New Zealand, who likes to write and is staying at the same hostel as I and has been here for just as long. Noel, the Canadian business school student, and Erik, the archeologist from Denver, and Sarah, the ballerina from Philadelphia, and the two Finnish boys whose names I couldn’t spell if I tried and could pronounce only when I tried very hard. The staff at the hostel, the man who plays the accordion up the block, the waitress at my favorite café beside the Roman Agora.
For a month I have been alone in Greece, Athens, Mykonos and now Batsi, to be specific and only in a few isolated moments have I felt solitude to be sad. I have read many books, and I am no longer self-conscious about sitting down in a restaurant absolutely “alone?” “alone.” But what I had expected to be time exaggerated by extended silences, increasingly depressing musings, and homesickness of the first-week-of-sleep-away-camp variety has actually been filled with a series of inconsequential interactions with strangers and some interesting moments by myself.
I have thought about adopting the character of a book I had most recently read (“Hi! I’m Ursula, from a small village. You’ve definitely never heard of it. There are lots of birds there, and a while ago there was an enormous rainstorm. People don’t even know I’m alive actually.”) Or just being Sarah, from Chicago. Because it would make no difference to Noel or Pam or Vacili whether my name were Elyssa, or Sarah, or Ursula, or Alice. Each of us shares only what we want to of ourselves. Nothing rides on these interactions. They are friendships of convenience, maybe necessity. The interactions are superfluous pleasantries, or those of utility – I wanted olives and to board the ferries. But it’s still been fun. Hi, Vacili!
Elyssa A.L. Spitzer ’12, a Crimson news writer and blog executive, is an social studies concentrator in Currier House.