Daniel Adler and the Oracle at Delphi

daniel adlerOn the subway, Anthony nodded at me and directed his gaze behind me at a girl, who then came and sat across from me, her almond shaped eyes and fine Greek nose turned in three quarter profile. I admired her, then before I got too creepy (which I’m working on) I admired her in the reflection of the glass. I imagined her soft tan skin pressed against mine and I noticed that because of the heightened sexual tension, our breathing had fallen into rhythm. I wondered if it was because she was attracted to me too, or because it was because she was lessening it. When we got off she did too, and I told Anthony about this. We waited for the bus and she did too, talking on her phone, peacocking back and forth in front of us. She got on the next bus.

At the bus station Anthony bought a loaf of bread. We made sausage and bread sandwiches and ate blood oranges. The scenery gave way from suburban home improvement stores and car dealerships to white-capped mountains and Arcadian pastures, the Greece of yore. It was still sunny when we arrived in Delphi about three hours later. We checked into a quaint hotel for thirty five euro a night including breakfast, which Walter from the hostel recommended, we walked down to the ruins. Sun streamed across the distant inlet of Ionian sea, the river and the open valley, and the high rock peaks. We knew that the ruins would be closed; we’d see them in the morning; we were in no rush. We walked past them. There, across the street, an old woman gathered flowers. She was the Oracle of Delphi. Anthony snapped a photo of the placid vestal woman as she passed us, muttering delphically.

Down and off the road we sat on a sun splashed rock. Anthony searched for fossils and I groomed myself, waiting intermittently for the clouds to pass and the sun to warm me. When he came back we unearthed a piece of Apollo’s temple, an ancient block of Parosian marble.

For dinner we ate souvlaki and fresh french fries at the restaurant across from the hotel, with the bad art on the walls and the wifi you could get if you sat at the distant drafty chair near the hotel window. That evening feeling settled upon us and we both felt distantly melancholy. We went back across the street and after blogging and a shower, I crawled into bed. “It’s not even nine o clock,” Anthony said. So I tried reading a couple of pages of classic literature, A Room With a View. It was agony. The book fell to the floor when I set it down.

Over breakfast the next morning Anthony said I had fallen almost instantly asleep. We ate our fill of granola and poundcake, shared a kiwi, filled our pockets with fruit and made a sandwich for lunch and went upstairs. We read for half an hour, showered, and walked to Delphi in a beautiful day.

Delphi was the omphalos of the ancient world twenty five hundred years ago. We walked past the Athenian Treasury, posing on the way. Two eagles circled around Mount Parnassos, a propitious sign. At the Temple of Apollo, Anthony suggested we make a sacrifice. One Euro. It had to hurt or else it wasn’t a sacrifice. But when the time came to dig our monies in the ground, we faltered. “Apollo doesn’t exist anyway,” he said. And I agreed because I’m on a travelers budget. When we got back down to the bottom of the ruins we still felt bad about not offering a tribute, a pelanos, to Apollo. So I prayed to him, for offering a beautiful sunny day to us, for giving us intellectual companionship, and allowing us to continue onwards safely with our journey.

In the museum we saw statues from the 7th century B.C., rigid and barely incised kouros, give way to the idealized features of young athletes sculpted in the “Severe Style” from the 5th century B.C., then move to the naturalized “Classical Style” at the height of Antiquity, during the 4th century B.C. And finally the piece de reistance, the Delphic Charioteer, a life size bronze, from the 5th century BC.

We walked back to our hotel for lunch and sat on steps overlooking the beautiful view. Feral cats meowed for our feta, the same piece we bought in Athens before, still good. We ate and lay in the sun. There was a box filled with icons off to the right. We surmised that this was in part what held the Greeks back. A weird alphabet, isolationist religion, bad haircuts, and general disgruntlement and merrymaking. Despite all that though, they sure did have a beautiful country, I had to give it to them. What next? The monasteries of Meteora? Albania tomorrow? Macedonia Monday? Or should we just go to Thessaloniki then Istanbul. We had to research. We decided Theassaloniki. Night train to Istanbul?

The bus station wasn’t yet open, so we sat like civilized people for espresso, looking out one last time over the valley, imagining how sailing into that port town some ten miles away two thousand years ago meant a day’s journey into the mountains of Delphi. a On the bus we wound our way up and out of the valley, into another small town, past home improvement stores and car dealerships. I remarked that I hadn’t seen any fast food places.

We talked about saving money and traveling like hobos. When you get to a city you can just hang out there until you’re ready to leave. Why? To simply live like a bum. Walk. Eat. Sleep outside. Hitchhike. Then why didn’t we do that in Greece? Because we have a schedule–we have to get to Istanbul.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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