Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of Paradise and Pelicans

20 years ago, in 1990, I graduated from the University of Manitoba. After four long years of study and wearing the typical black mock turtlenecks so well associated with the school of art, being anxious about my starting my career as a graphic design, I did the first thing any serious person embarking on their career would do – I went to Europe! 2 months of fun-filled, non-school-filled adventures. Well, I was there to learn, but more likely about strange languages, historical ruins, and foreign spirits (of the liquid kind, not the ghost kind).

20 years ago exactly from this date likely would have found me in Italy, during their turn of hosting The Beautiful Game, the World Cup. We had just traveled through France, catching The Rolling Stones in concert in Paris, and getting to know the white sand beaches of the French Rivera. Life was relaxed and life was good. But once the World Cup was over, it was time to move on, and the next logical place was Greece.

Greece is famous for many things – beautiful cliff-sides, white-washed buildings, amazing sunsets, and it’s also known for a certain liquid called ouzo, a anise-flavored aperitif that if drank in high enough quantities will have you singing songs in languages that have likely disappeared from record centuries ago. In smaller quantities though, it’s quite enjoyable. But this was our Europe trip – we were there to go big, or go home!

This leads us back to Greece, to me, my friend Jamie from Winnipeg, and another traveler named Rob from Seattle. After a long day of cruising the island of Mykonos on peppy little mopeds and hanging out at some spectacular beaches (for the record, any topless beach to a guy is almost always spectacular), we found ourselves in the market area of the town recanting the stories of the day and taking in a few drinks as the day cooled and the sun set over the narrow, cobblestoned streets.

We had found this great little bar to go to called Stavros – it was an Irish Pub in the heart of the town, it was just celebrating its grand opening, but unlike other drinking establishments in the neighborhood, it had no washrooms on the premises. Combine a few extra-thirsty guys, cool Irish beer, and no toilet facilities, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get a story out of the mixture. This particular evening was no exception.

Jamie, having to go make room for the next beer, took off to find the nearest facility. About 20 minutes or so later, Jamie returned, with a curious expression on his face. Yes, he had found a washroom (to his relief and ours), but he went on to explain that on his journey back, he came across this part indoor/outdoor pub, and that standing right in the middle of the room on it’s own perch, was a full sized pelican, right in the middle of the other guests.

Being the good and open-minded friends that we were, we told him he was nuts and delusional and likely more drunk on ouzo than he realized. His story, even with the fine detail that only Jamie could include in a story, was more unbelievable than anyone could, well, believe. Also, we considered the source – Jamie, a joker at heart with a vivid imagination (and a lot of ouzo in him), was a guy who could easily try to pull something like this over our heads. Well, the wool wasn’t coming out and we were not believing his spectacular story, even as he defended it on the honour of his mother’s grave (who, by the way, was very well with health and was waiting for his next phone call home, likely at that exact moment).

In the end, Rob and I chalked it up to Jamie having a little too much ouzo to drink combined with possibly too much sun during the afternoon and the strain of leering towards the topless tanners. After further frustration of trying to convince us his story was true, damage done to his reputation, the conversation changed and the rounds continued on to the wee hours of the morning.

Funny thing was, about an hour earlier, I had had to go and find the washrooms, and after successfully finding them and before making my way back to the bar, I passed by the exact same pub Jamie saw and walked by the exact same pelican, quietly sitting on his perch, ignorant (or so it seemed) of his noisy and social surroundings.

But when I came back, fearing for being thought of as a drunken loon with a ridiculous story, I decided to not mention my believe-it-or-not sighting. And the whole time Jamie was trying to convince us of what he saw, I never let on that what Jamie saw was real. It was too much fun to see him squirm, plus I felt safe knowing the fact that the streets of Mykonos were like a labyrinth and that almost for sure, none of us would ever pass that way again.

Turns out after further research that this might have been ‘Pablo the Pelican’, a famous long time resident of Mykonos. Pablo, many years before, was saved from certain death by a Greek fisherman and then spent his days hanging out around the shops and bars of the town, amusing the locals and tourists alike (the pelican, not the fisherman, at least to my knowledge).

I’m not sure if I ever told Jamie the truth from that night. Strange and wonderful things happen when you and your friends travel for extended periods through Europe, and I suppose some things are just better left un-said. I’m sure with the perspective Pablo has each night, watching slightly tipsy backpackers quickly wandering by eagerly in search of a restroom, he too would agree.