The Rock Man of Ephesus, 1996
In the summer of 1996, we went on a 17-day Mediterranean cruise. It was one of those cruises where every day is spent in a new place and every day includes a long bus ride and a dawn-to-dusk race to see how much history and culture you can cram in. I don’t recommend this kind of cruise to the faint-hearted. I probably wouldn’t do it again myself.
The cruise started in Barcelona and headed from there to France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Greece again and then up the Adriatic to Venice. Our ship was the Pacific Princess—yes, the same one from the “Love Boat”—a fairly intimate vessel by today’s mega ship standards. Our fellow passengers were a congenial lot, with the exception of a one large party of crotchety old factory workers from Philadelphia. They were recognizable not only by their excessive rudeness—they were forever cutting in line, pushing other passengers out of the way and acting like bullies to the more timid seniors—but also by, in the case of the men, the embarrassing degree to which they were sartorially challenged. Most of the men sported wardrobes of pastel jumpsuits or coordinated outfits, by which I mean that if they’d decided that the day’s color was baby blue, every item of clothing, from hat to socks, was baby blue. Or tangerine orange. Or aqua. You get the picture
Luckily, the ship was big enough for us to all maintain a state of peaceful détente. The rude Pennsylvanians stuck together. The rest of the passengers—from all over Europe, the British Isles, the U.S. and South America—mixed and made for good company.
The trip was full of impressive sights and wonderful experiences. When we got to Ephesus, Turkey, our guide, a moonlighting NATO officer, warned us that it could be a little chaotic at the entrance to the ancient city and that we should take our time passing through the single turnstile.
So picture this:
We arrived at the entrance just as a fleet of buses from the cruise ship Marco Polo arrived. The people on the other ship, I’m sad to report, were all like the rude Pennsylvanians on our ship. They pushed. They shoved. They knew nothing of patience or courtesy.
One of the rude Pennsylvania couples from our ship got separated at the turnstile. The husband was swept in while his wife got stuck in an eddy of people spinning around outside the fence. The wife, a large woman, immediately began to shriek and as much as threw herself into the turnstile melee as if it were a mosh pit.
The rude seniors from the Marco Polo were having none of this and heaved her back outside the gate. When her husband protested and yelled from inside the enclosure that they should make a clearing for his wife, one of the Marco Polo men yelled at him, “Shut up, you old fool! Your wife is acting like a goddamned cow.”
Eventually, we all got in. Even if you’re not up on your biblical history, Ephesus is an impressive sight, even more so because you can touch most anything and there are all sorts of stone antiquities just laying around on the ground.
About half way through our tour, I noticed that the old man whose wife have become separated from him at the gate had picked up a chunk of marble from a fallen column and was clutching it furtively behind his back. Concerned that the old man was stealing a piece of Turkish antiquity, I approached the guide and explained the situation. He chuckled, thanked me for my concern and explained that the old man had come up to him earlier, claiming that his wife has been “assaulted” at the entrance gate and asking if it would be okay if he held on to a piece of marble during the rest of the tour just in case he needed to defend her honor again.
The next day, having endured 12 days of museums, lectures, folkloric dancers and old churches, a number of us asked to be dropped off for the afternoon at a beautiful beach on the island of Zakynthos, Greece. All the guys found broken pieces of coral that we presented to our wives that night at dinner to assure them that we, too, were prepared to defend them. My piece of coral sits on our kitchen counter to this day. You just never know when some cranky old fart from the Marco Polo’s going to barge in the door.