The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Monday, 8 April 2019

A kiss in the Hotel Tourist

I popped into the consulate before it shut down. I had my photographs of Mt Athos to show Terry. The prints delighted him, genuinely, I thought, so I gave them to him. I kept the negatives. When he moved to England, he showed the photos to some friends. They decided to go to Athos together. They’d travel to Salonica first, then continue to the Holy Mountain.

So, Terry came back to Greece like most people, on holiday, a plain citizen. The consul was no more. He brought three friends – he liked his party of four – but one of them irked even Terry. When the others couldn’t hear, he confided, “Gerald comes across too camp.”

There was an air of expectation about them, as if they had a mission to fulfil. I pictured them at Ouranoupolis, city of heaven, assembled on the pier, like schoolboys on a trip, then boarding the boat to Athos, a special boat which left the girls behind.

After they returned, I went around to their hotel room. If I hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a kiss in the Hotel Tourist, not one involving me. They were going back to England, and I wanted to say goodbye to Terry. At the end of the evening, when I was about to leave, he leaned his face forward – he didn’t say anything – and kissed me on the left cheek. He was drunk; he was maudlin, though he mightn’t have done it in front of Bryan. Three men stood next to us. They all saw the kiss and they all condoned it. I think I did as well. There isn’t much else to say. It was very quick. A kiss in the Hotel Tourist – a chapter heading, not the title for a book; a thing you do with sadness as much as love, like a last sip of ouzo, when you’re leaving Greece and you aren’t sure if you’re coming back again. A kiss is like the person who gives it, and this one felt like Terry: gentle, spontaneous, not too wicked but not too innocent. There weren’t any more. It was our final meeting. I didn’t tell Bryan about the kiss. I didn’t need to. I could guess what he’d do. He’d swing around with a touch of rhetoric, then say, with a second touch: “Oh, did he?”

In every monastery, there’s a prominent sign, normally in the pilgrims’ quarters by the door. The wording varies, but the message, in several languages, is the same: no inappropriate behaviour or disrespect to the Holy Mountain. Examples include noise and bare skin; ordinary things, really, for most people. If you break the rules, you risk being “cast out” of the monastery, like devils, I assume. We used to smile at the signs, Bryan and I; at most things, in fact, when I knew him better. We imagined being thrown off the roof. A Greek hotel has signs but nothing like these.

A few years later, when I was living in Rome, I got a letter from Terry asking if he could stay with me ‘if things get too difficult over here.’ It was ominous. He’d never said anything like that. There were no more letters. Some months passed, a year at most. Bryan sent me the news. Terry’s wife had divorced him. He’d been cast out again. First, it was a country, Cyprus, when the Turks invaded; then a mountain, Athos, when he hurt his ankle; next, a town, Salonica, when the consulate closed; and now his own home in England. As always, he adapted; he found another place, for the time being, anyway. He was living with a young man, Bryan said, adding, “It’s not homosexual or anything like that.”                                                           

Good old Terry. He’ll be chuckling somewhere. He liked irony. They re-opened the British consulate. Better still, the consul is a woman.