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Then he pauses and asks, “But what is your religion?”

“I don’t have one.”

“But you believe in God?”

“No.”

He thinks this over.

“Then I’m pretty sure they can’t let you in.”

He lets the thought sink in, then says. “On the other hand, how much worse could it get for you?” he says, and chuckles.

An hour later I’m walking off the ferry holding nothing but the Eagles Palace hotel laundry bag and Cesar’s little map, and he’s still repeating his own punch line—“How much worse could it get for you?”—and laughing more loudly each time.

The monk who meets me at Vatopaidi’s front gate glances at the laundry bag and hands me a form to fill in. An hour later, having pretended to settle into my surprisingly comfortable cell, I’m carried by a river of bearded monks through the church door. Fearing that I might be tossed out of the monastery before I got a sense of the place, I do what I can to fit in. I follow the monks into their church; I light candles and jam them into a tiny sandpit; I cross myself incessantly; I air-kiss the icons. No one seems to care one way or the other about the obviously not Greek guy in the mauve Brooks Brothers shirt, though right through the service a fat young monk who looks a bit like Jack Black glares at me, as if I was neglecting some critical piece of instruction.

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