I’ll get to the Oracle in a second.
Has anyone ever told you that poop stories make the best stories?
What about poop jokes make the best jokes?
Well then, invite yourself on over for supper circa 2000.
Our family dinner table discussion growing up would regularly devolve into some tall tale about fecal matter. Usually the dogs’. Usually. Sure, family members variously requested that we NOT talk about crap at the dinner table and yet, night after night, it’d all end up in that direction to the usual backdrop of laughter and horror.
And I’m not not-proud of that.
Remember my Penny Christmas Eve post? Remember how the whole story arc was basically waiting for my dog to poop in Vejer? Well, in my current story about Delphi, Greece, we explore that arc from the opposite direction: Poop at the beginning. And everything that follows. In three chapters for easy reading (1, 2, 3). Enjoy.
The Bus Ride:
The diaper exploded its confines at around 9 in the morning.
We’d gambled poorly when we chose to give the kid regular lactose-filled cow’s milk.
We didn’t know the extent of it at the time, only that the smell from his shorts was becoming more and more pervasive.
The tour bus had just filled with its last occupants at our last stop in Athens before the 2.5 hour drive to Delphi. Cody and I had already been dreading bringing the only baby on the bus. Like Atlas, the world falls swiftly to the shoulders of the sole baby parents in attendance. So it seemed an ominous start that the poop smell would happen outside the Amalia hotel 60 seconds before takeoff.
After some delay and wishful thinking, Cody asked the tour coordinator if there was time for a diaper change? “No more than 10 minutes,” he warned.
And so after the injudicious poop walk-of-shame from 15 rows back, I was then run/flying down the block to the large 4 star hotel’s entrance, whose staff bent-over-backwards in their helpfulness getting us to a public restroom right away. Really, they were the sweetest.
On the floor of the stall (“No baby changing station,” the concierge had apologized before hitting the elevator button) I proceeded to yank off James’s clothes.
It was so much worse than expected.
SO MUCH WORSE.
I heard another woman enter the restroom. I didn’t hear what she did next.
“No! No! No!”
I wailed in cadence, like a Greek chorus in a tragedy or a chant meant to make the disaster disappear.
To his credit, James burbled happy commentary, something about being on the floor and what was this new fun excursion we were on? Oh and what was all the smeared substance everywhere-
“Don’t touch!” I screamed, preventing his hand from exploring further.
Poop was everywhere and on everything.
I hadn’t brought his change of clothes with us. So instead, I went through a whole forest of baby wipes, giving him and his clothes (and my skirt TBH) a thorough bath until everything was damp and mildly smelly but maybe that fecal odor could be confused for mustiness?
I washed his and my hands in the sink. The restroom had fragrant lotion in a dispenser. With a quick and slimy thrust I was spreading it all over my hands and his legs and my skirt as I took the wrong turn from the elevator. I threw my thanks to the bewildered hotel staff behind me.
As I jog/skipped back to the bus, the tour coordinator called, “Don’t worry! I have two kids.”
I gave a pained smiled by way of thanks/apology before boarding the bus, hoping everyone I passed would follow my lead and hold their breaths to the sickly-sweet-lotion-poop smell that trailed behind us.
On the first half of the drive out of Athens, James was squirmy and unhappy and mowed through the rest of the milk at crazy speed. Pray for no pink eye or stomach cramps, we murmured, trying to keep fingers out of mouths or faces.
His unhappy cries were well timed at least, and tended to only happen when the tour guide wasn’t regaling us with tales of the local history and mythology. When James was finally passed out asleep on our laps, we wrapped my sweater around his smelly shorts and hoped that’d contain the odor…. which it did to mild affect.
I glanced at my skirt and locked knowing eyes with Cody.
“I am that thing we smell,” I whispered.
About an hour and a half into the drive, we had a 20 minute road stop. Between the two of us and our respective bathrooms, Cody and I got the little lobster into fresh clean clothes and all of us wiped down and decently sanitized.
And like that, we were on the road again, James a little more pleasant tempered after a nap and clean clothes and crackers so many crackers.
The Oracle (AKA the Barbs):
It was hot and the tour buses were plenty when we pulled up to the slope at the bottom of the Oracle of Delphi site. We preemptively drenched James in sunscreen so that he looked nice and greasy and buckled him into the baby carrier, first to Cody’s back.
From there on out started a fun dance finding shade from one tree to the next as we followed the tour guide through the sun and beige stone (why must beige reflect heat so intensely? I thought it was supposed to be the most boring color) and listened from a polite distance, James squawking about this and that most unapologetically.
Things were going well until the one time I stayed with the tour group to listen better and abandoned Cody to the shade. I hadn’t thought to check if it was safe first but being the birds of prey that they are, it wouldn’t have mattered.
A half hour earlier, three older American women named Barb had been the conversation bear-pokers in the group, turning to any person next to them to say things like, “What are you doing in Greece?” “Just the two of you??” “Where are you from?”
The last question was most effectively ended by the awkward, “Well that’s complicated,” from an ardent, young Classics undergrad named Lilith.
The complication, I would learn on the return bus the next day, was that she was American but grew up attending an international school in Singapore.
But Barb didn’t care about this. Barb didn’t have time for Lilith’s nervous chuckle or fastidious eye-spectacle adjustment. Barb was on to the next more viable morsel.
See, under other circumstances, this sort of prodding might be taken as friendly conversation starters. But on group tours, these are not amicable. These are invasive boredom busters, the rounding up of personal information like the herding of stray goats. These women could be listening to the tour guide, but what feline prefers prepackaged meat to the chase?
All tour groups with Americans will have a group of Barbs or their male equivalent, Kevin. Kevins don’t run in packs; they’re usually attached to an embarrassed wife or girlfriend who must brave through the rest of the tour giving gentle but firm elbow touches. Kevin will be a 50ish year-old white male who tries to get the rest of the group on his side by interrupting the guide to ask unimportant questions and demands polite group laughter by making loud unfunny jokes.
Remember, these are not the mind-your-own-business-ers, these are the trophy hunters. I’m not sure who I prefer on these trips, but inevitably you will either have Barbs or a Kevin in your tour, make no mistake.
So after I wandered over closer to the group for that one minute, the three grandma-aged Americans sited a weakness and marched over to Cody. When I turned back from the tour guide I saw Cody making his way back over to me from the shade, the Barbs keeping a circular formation around them, fussily waving their passports at James.
“Oh he’s so hot,” one of them fretted, following.
James swatted at the movement near his neck.
“Oo! He felt it, Barb,” the other said, encouraging her.
“At least this passport is good for something,” said the first Barb, fanning faster.
I snapped the pictures I wanted to snap before turning my attentions to a rescue attempt. Cody was clearly outnumbered.
I removed my shawl to start shading James, hoping this action would shoe the Barbs away. But it seemed only to invite more interaction.
“You almost had it. Try holding it here,” Barb fretted, assuming I was trying to fan him instead.
“Try folding it this way,” another one offered.
“Take him out of that thing!” the third clawed at the baby carrier (caricature for dramatic effect).
The tour guide interrupted further negotiations with the announcement of free time:
“If you go to the stadium at the top, it’ll be worth it!” she smiled, heralding the unseen landmark with a gesture.
The group turned its collective 30-person head, squinting upwards at the path.
Tour guide added ominously, “But it’ll be a run to the top if you can make it.”
I guided Cody out of the throng clustered around the temple and to the next nearest spot of shade. As we unbuckled James, got him some water, and slathered on more sunscreen, we debated what to do next: mill around the bottom to take pictures or make the hike to the top.
To be clear, it was hot, but James wasn’t really sweating. All moisture was from the liberally applied sunscreen making his hair stick up like a rooster’s crown.
I noticed the Barbs had moved closer. Now they were squinting up at the path and murmuring behind their hands a few paces away, one of them still earnestly fanning the air with her passport.
Then they began walking towards our shady spot.
As undergrad Lilith had interjected earlier on the tour, the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, aka the Oracle, was chosen from village’s post-menopausal women, a role known as the Pythia. To the Pythia, people from all over the Greek world would journey, stand in line for hours, and cast forth their questions. Through the vapors rising from the earth, the aged women would heed Apollo’s lips and garble out an answer. The male, money-keeping priests would then interpret her gobblydygook for a fee. It was often a nonsensical, vague sort of answer, the type you had to ponder over to make your choice.
They weren’t Pythia, but as the post-menopausal Barbs descended on our shady spot, I understood the message loud and clear.
I pulled Cody’s arm as he snapped the final picture.
“We go to the stadium,” I announced, jingling the coins in my purse absently.
Up, up, up the mild incline we hurried with no delay. I did not turn to see if the Barbs followed.
I proceeded next to dominate all other tour members on the trail up the mountain. I, in my slitted maxi dress and sensibly cushioned sandals with a 28 pound space heater strapped to my chest, passed everyone I met without a huffed breath. In fact, it felt good to march briskly up and down, jumping sure-footedly from stone to stone, the fussiness of busybodies urging me on faster.
Must get back into off road running, I decided.
After we reached the top and Cody agreed to a selfie, the little poop nugget that is Jamesy fell asleep against my chest and napped for the next half hour, legs swinging at my side as we marched back down.
In some crowded shade outside the gift-shop while we waited for the group to reform, the Barbs were back.
“Oh he’s asleep now?”
“Good, he needed it.”
Fan fan fan with the passports.
I smiled ferociously while Cody navigated the next five minutes of small talk lined with cleverly invasive questions,
“Oh how wonderful you were able to make the trip over with him…”
“Do you enjoy your jobs back HOME?”
“He must be so tired.”
As the tour guide reappeared, the Barbs paused to pat their bellies like happy dragons, appetites satiated with all of these tasty details: our professions, James’ age, states of birth, where we lived, future grandchildren’s names…
While Cody and I discretely slid out of the Barbs’ triangular formation and to the anonymity of the front of the line, I watched the head Barb seek out her next morsel.
“No time for the pool after this,” a father was warning his daughter.
“Aww-” the daughter started.
“Sure, plenty of time to go to THE POOL.” Barb fell in line beside them. “It stays light late here.”
“Our hotel pool closes at 7,” the father explained offhandedly.
“So, just the two of you?” she continued cozily.
Inside the much cooler museum, we immediately unbuckled James and he came awake like a mad scientist, hair and little European shorts all damp and askew.
James, for his part, was delighted to find himself in a whole new world of cool, echoy chambers, and proceeded to toddle around one bench after another remarking on this Sphinx and that light fixture.
We weren’t letting James anywhere near the exhibits, but we were letting him chant and cast spells voraciously (because I have no idea what else he could be doing with his arms).
This seemed better than the alternative of wearing him and trying to stay with our group. See, James was making a point to bark sharply if we stopped for too long (a new habit we quickly learned was reserved for museums) so we opted to semi-follow our tour but settled in the nearby empty rooms. While James stretched out or chanted “Hi-yah, ya-ya-yah!”s, we hovered and consumed the exhibit info at remarkable speed.
In each room, a new or familiar faced docent casually milled.
James was getting more adventurous by each tile trespassed. Eventually he let go of the latest bench and trundled along to a long motif of galloping horses on the wall, fingers dancing further up, up, up, below their hooves.
Cody swerved to correct James’s path, herding him on to the more open space.
But in the next alcove, James made an immediate beeline towards a preserved column.
I dove in, hoisting him up up up into the air where he welcomed the height with a mighty “Bababaaaa.”
A man with a pony tail brought his radio to his lips. Feeling restive, I moved on.
In the next room, filled to the brim with museum-goers, James sang from his father’s shoulders “eeeeaAAHHHH!”
As the docents clustered and walked with us, Cody and I began to feel a little ill at ease. I mean, they had friendly enough eyes, these close-lipped docents, but we’re Americans, we need more obvious declarations of love. After about 20 minutes, there was easily a group of five of them just whispering and casting looks in our direction as we stood on the outskirts of the tour group.
I decided to take James at this point to move us away from this particular room when someone put a finger on my arm.
I turned to see a stoic-faced docent and braced myself for a reprimand.
“Your son has enchanted the staff,” she confided.
I stared for a second. Come again?
“Not too distracting?” I joked.
“Oh no!” she replied. “Look at those eyes. And his shorts.”
I had forgotten. We were in southern Europe. They adore children. And yes, that applies even in a museum when in Greece.
“Alright James,” I turned to him, embracing his role, “you’re in the museum. Show her your thinking face.”
I tapped my finger to my lips.
He shook his head.
“Come on James,” I teased, “thinking face.”
“Not for me?” the docent cajoled.
James shook his head again.
Tap-tap-tap, I persisted with my finger on my lower projected lip.
Cody gave a helpful, exagerrated, “HMMMM?”
James stared, unimpressed.
You reckless thing, I thought, learn to love the audience back!
The docent made way as our group moved on to the last exhibit.
Falling in line, we entered the final room with a large youthful statue. We crouched against the wall, balancing James on our knees as the tour guide talked.
Noticing us, a kind man from our group insisted we take his wife’s and daughter’s seat on a bench. While we went through obligatory “Oh no we couldn’t possibly!” negotiations, someone else sat down. Which was alright. But they in turn saw what was happening, slid over, and patted the bench.
So we sat with James, who did acrobatics on our laps while the tour guide continued doggedly. At his first experimental squawk, we exited the museum early. Not finding a bathroom in the corridor, we walked outside.
As I inelegantly stole a moment to wipe myself down with a deodorant wipe now we were in the oppressive heat, a different man from our group came running up and tapped Cody on the shoulder. We turned, fearing the worst.
“Yours?” he said.
My first thought was James had lost his shorts or something. Nope, just Cody’s Ray-bans. Somehow James had gotten them out of his pocket while we were on the bench.
Ah, good times, this family vacation.
Finally, back on the bus. We drove for about four more minutes into the town of Delphi where we separated from the day-tour group to stash our luggage in our hotel room, cool off and maybe nap, hopefully shower, then go off to explore the town. We did not say goodbye to the Barbs. The tour guide seemed surprised when we seeked her out to say our fond farewells.
James finally did his thinking face after we’d dropped the luggage in the hotel room and had given him another diaper change.
“Crazy old Maurice, hmmm?” Cody started, adopting the voice of Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston. “Crazy old Maurice?! Hmmm.”
James puckered his lower lip and tap-tapped his forefinger to it.
Then he passed out for a real nap.
The end. Our day at the Oracle of Delphi.