Out again before dawn, snapping photos around the alleys and hidden paths that wind through ancient Rhodes. The old city could be the dictionary definition for the word 'photogenic.' It is an aesthetic treat, the splendor of centuries-worn stone and sun-cracked paint. The walls of Rhodes wrap themselves around a long-vanished history. For centuries they have stood in these configurations, directing the flow of conquerors, inhabitants, and tourists.
Our time here is so short. I would gladly have borrowed some days from our earlier stops (perhaps the two rainy days on the Danube Bike trip; I'll bet Rhodes would be striking in the rain, water washing the cobbled streets, shining the stones in the street lamps). I have been taking full advantage of the golden hours — the periods of early morning and late evening light bracketing each day. Nevertheless, I feel like there is so much more to see. We keep stumbling into new alleys, finding heretofore uncharted back streets, each offering rich photographic possibilities. I could spend many more days simply poking around, hunting for churches and capturing this beautiful city with my camera.
We went out before lunch today to try to place a few more lines on our mental maps of the city. Our wander took us down into the southeast corner, and here we made a couple of noteworthy discoveries. The first was a tiny, shadowy, half-room carved into the base of the tower of St John's gate. My first impression was that it was a miniature icon shop, but closer examination revealed a working chapel, filled with icons and a votive candle stand. There was no guard, no vendor, just a simple place for worship. I was amazed, and then hugely pleased, that a place like this can survive unattended and unmolested. It helped restore my faith in humanity.
Our second discovery was also a church: the Church of St Catherine. This church consists of three barrel vaults joined in a row, the foundation of a much larger building. From the outside, you might never guess that it was a church. The information placard states that St Catherine's was the first church to be converted into a Muslim prayer room after the Turkish occupation. The shadowed walls of St Catherine's are covered in badly-eroded frescoes. It is just possible to make out images of the saints in the faded colors. Many of them have scratched out eyes and faces. Presumably the walls were more recently covered with Islamic decoration.
While taking our morning stroll, I was able to bring about a successful (albeit embarrassing resolution to a problem I haven't mentioned so far. Here's the story: on our first morning in Rhodes, I had a little accident on the edge of the Commercial Harbor. I had decided that a particular picture of boats would be enhanced by attaching a polarizing filter to the front of my camera lens. I pulled out my trusty Cokin filter set, and was just about to screw the 72mm adapter ring into my wide angle lens, when it twitched in my fingers, bounced on the concrete seawall, and dove for the harbor like a trout on a lucky day.
I couldn't believe it. This was a catastrophe. Without this ring, I wouldn't be able to mount my filters, and continue to deliver the properly filtered shots that you, the discerning reader, have come to expect from this illustrated travel series.
The wind was driving ripples across the water, and I quickly lost sight of the thin black steel ring against the rocks of the bottom. Nevertheless, I took a careful note of my position on the seawall, just in case I might be able to see the ring again under calmer conditions.
Over the next two days, I returned several times, scanning the water carefully for my ring. Alas, no joy. Today, I purposely routed our walk to pass by the spot of the great disaster. I turned four sets of keen eyes toward the depths and the whole family concentrated. Then, amazingly, I saw my ring, half-buried in a sandy pocket. Now the only problem was reacquiring it.
I toyed with the idea of rigging up some sort of grappling hook, but eventually decided that the direct approach was best. After carefully lining up landmarks to facilitate finding it again, I went back to the house and changed into my swimsuit and sandals.
The seawall was about six feet tall, made of crumbling concrete. Directly beneath the waterline was a ledge, six inches wide and slippery with algae and sea slime. Beneath that were the rocks of the bottom. They didn't look very far beneath the surface of the clear water.
The main route from the cruise ship docks to the center of town passes over this sea wall, and as I sat on the wall, contemplating my task, large groups of cruisers trudged past. Some stopped to stare over my shoulder, wondering what was commanding such fervent attention.
Well, at this point I was wondering how I was going to get into the water, and then carry out my task with minimum publicity. It was impossible. I was going to be an attraction, an object of wonder, and there was nothing to be done about it. The Rhodes filter ring diver. If I wanted my ring back, I would have to look like a prize idiot, suddenly clambering down the sheer face of the wall and plopping into the water.
Nothing to it. I waited for a gap in the passing crowds, then wrapped fingers around a lamp post and lowered myself over the wall. I felt like someone about to commit suicide and expected cruise shippers to start yelling “Don't do it! Don't jump! Life is rich, man, don't throw it all away!” Down onto the ledge, and then a bold step into deeper water.
Now, I was still wearing my shirt because I didn't think the water would come over my knees. I was wrong. Crystal clear water is often deeper than it looks from the security of land. Up over my knees, my waist, my belly, my chest, rising to a mark about two inches below my armpits. Deep water. Now I really looked the prize idiot. I strode purposefully through the water, walking across the submerged rocks as if this was what we did every day in Rhodes. A Greek tradition, nothing unusual here folks. Take your pictures and go about your business.
I reached the spot where I thought I'd seen my ring, and horrors, there was nothing there. For some reason it was much harder to see the bottom and my feet were stirring up clouds of mud. I was gripped with fear: was all of this humiliation in vain?
Suddenly I realized that I was not below the red brick that marked the ring. I shifted position five feet to the left and caught a glimpse of black steel against the sand. With water lapping around the top of my shoulders, there was only one thing to do: employ my five, incredibly agile toes. I snagged the ring on the first try, gripping it firmly between big toe and pointer. A moment later, I strode purposefully toward the nearby beach, ring clutched tightly in my fingers. Slowly I emerged from the sea like James Bond making an entrance. Only I was wearing a three-quarters soaked shirt.
I didn't dare look back at the sea wall. I simply kept walking and didn't stop until I'd circled the outer wall of the city and crept in through one of the deserted back gates.
I have suffered for my art.