by M.J. Hearle
Greta and I catch the ferry from Fethiye to Rhodes. We arrive a little before eight in the evening. The sky is awash in hazy golden light as the taxi driver drives us to the hotel. Days are long in the Aegean. After dumping our bags we begin exploring the city. So much exposed skin. I’ve grown accustomed to travelling through a Muslim country. All the bikini clad bodies and shirtless youths are overwhelming. A feast for the eyes. My arm is still bruised from indulging my sweet tooth. Greta’s patience only goes so far
Averting my gaze from the nubile bodies, I notice the shops. With all the General Pants, Zara’s and the like I might as well be walking down Pitt St in Sydney. The surrounds are comfortingly familiar which is why, I suppose, there so many Western tourists. Lots of blonde hair and blue-eyed folk.
The city of Rhodes sprung up around the Old Town, a two thousand year-old, cobble-stoned labyrinth encircled by high walls. This is what we have come to see. We cross a bridge over a dry moat and pass through a gap between the town walls. These walls were designed to keep out marauders, but the way the locals greedily swarm over us, I can’t help but think of them as a herding pen. Everywhere we turn someone is trying to sell us something. Escaping into an alley we discover pockets of beauty away from the main thoroughfare.
Here, twisting stone corridors slip through shadow and lamp light. Concealed doorways reveal weathered crests. A fisherman lived in this dwelling centuries ago, a stone mason next to him. Bunches of dried sage hang over windows, pagan wards against evil spirits. Above them, crucifixes sit darkly against the stars, survivors of the Ottoman occupation. Cats follow our progress from the parapets, jumping nimbly between the crumbling buttresses. They do not come near the proffered hand. One passage empties into a courtyard where a fountain burbles quietly. We pause to rest and notice a bric-a-brac shop with an Australian flag hanging in the window. Somewhere close by a gypsy child plays an accordion. Badly. The discordant melody is strangely fitting for a place so at odds with itself.
We leave the Old Town behind and head home, past the hen’s nights and stag parties. Drunken Europeans amidst a land rich in historical wonder. It seems wrong somehow to treat Rhodes as just another stop on a pub crawl. There’s the shadows of an ancient world to discover if you’re willing to step off the neon lit track.