'Just to be held by the ocean is the best luck
we could have ....'
It’s an odd thing, this ticket buying. On arrival at Bari we’d expected there to be no problem in acquiring tickets for the crossing that evening. It was February, hardly the tourist season. But we were told that there were no tickets for that day (Friday), and none for the weekend either. There had been a strike it was explained, by the Greek ferries. Monday? Well we could come back on Monday and chance it but she could not promise anything for Monday. Surprised and disappointed, we withdrew to discuss alternative possibilities. This took some time and involved technology (total frustration) and the information desk (no luck there either). Just as we were about to leave the terminal building, one last question to the booking clerk – Monday, you said, there might just be a place then? Wait one moment she said, typing something into the computer. We waited. Her boss came past on his way out to lunch. She spoke to him. Turned back to the computer. We waited. And a few minutes later she said, yes, you can have tickets for tonight. Tonight? Yes. We could hardly believe our luck.
How no places for the next few days turned into a place for that day’s crossing seemed near miraculous to us. But Nicolas Bokov’s story A Ticket for the Holy Land (from his collection La Zone de réponse ) recounts two instances of even more astounding miracles. His first ferry crossing and first miracle, was from Brindisi, just a little further south from Bari, to Igoumenitza, in northern Greece.
At this time in his life, Bokov was travelling across Europe, a true pilgrim, picking up work when he could, visiting various holy sites, accepting lifts when they were offered, walking when they were not. But a ferry required a ticket, and a ticket required money. He asked how much the cheapest ticket was and was told [in the days before euros] 40,000. Just before the boat was due to leave, a passenger hurried up to the desk, bought a ticket, and asked him if he was going. Bokov explained that he wanted to but did not have 40,000 lira. The young man with the backpack rummaged in his pocket and pulled out 30,000 and gave it to him, saying I’m sorry, but that’s all I’ve got. He then ran off to the boat. The man at the desk asked him how much he was short. Ten thousand?
Wait, I’ll try... He’d had an idea and he was already preparing the longed-for piece of paper.
And so, thanks to a stranger’s generosity, Bokov got on the boat.
I was on the bridge, I felt almost weightless, I breathed in the sea air, and the powerful boat carried me effortlessly into the infinite blue.
(I’ve translated Nicolas Bokov’s fascinating story Coincidences. It seems that from a young age he has had premonitions and intuitions, and his book La Conversion recounts the story of the most astonishing of them all, which led to him abandoning home, shelter and possessions and taking up a wandering life for many years. He now has a settled abode in Paris.)
|The Ionian Sea|
This ferry is enormous. The lorry decks may have been packed full but there were few people in the seating area, plenty of room to stretch out and sleep. In the early morning, before light, I went out on deck and saw that we were passing an island, sliding past a few lights, sprinkled like rare seeds along the adjoining darkness. An L-shaped formation, like an arrow. Lumps of darkness, raw rock in between the small lights, resting on or just above the sea, faint fallen stars.
The waves roll out from under this large boat. Cream white on deep blue, tinged with green. When you split water, it seems that it is white inside, it's made up of a white cream and when this white water has run along the surface of the dark water, as far as it can, it rushes and crumples in on itself, making patterns small and wrinkled, almost like fingerprints.
Its texture looks like cream, a sinuous liquid, solid enough to form, briefly, small scallops, curved rounded shells, with tiny clinging barnacles all in the same cream colour, scallop and oyster bed in formation, before the cream castles, cream shells and oyster beds disappear under sea surface, vanish into blue again, leaving traces like sand marks on shore, after the sea has left with its hissed and echoing goodbyes, its repeated greetings and farewells, its repeated reassurances.
|The road bridge to Patras in the distance|
In the afternoon, we dock at Patras.
|Arrival at Patras|