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Greek Travels with Sailor Boy  

travelogue by Christie Nelson, Foreign Correspondent

Pillars of Grecian society valiantly stand, despite turmoil.

Athens

“When in Athens, live as an Athenian.” Dr. Constantine.

We sit side by side waiting for the flight from Lisbon to Athens. The good man, Dr. Constantine, big-boned like a stevedore, eyes me. “What happened to your face?”

As I explain about my hotel sharp marble tub edge incident, he nods sympathetically. “It will heal.”

“What about my pride?”

He laughs. “That is another matter.”

When our flight is called, we say goodbye; I tuck his advice into my pocket. Advice that often comes to mind over the next week as "Sailor Boy" (my husband) and I walk through the seat of antiquity, a crazy, mad city, broiling with heat in September, crawling with tourists, merchants hawking cheap goods, and above it all a marble apparition, the Acropolis.

The first morning we brave the crowds, the motorcycles, and the humidity to walk through the Sunday Flea Market, soon retreating back to our hotel room in the Plaka to cool off. While the tourists seem oblivious to the mood of the hawkers, I observe tension on the faces of the Greeks, an aggressiveness in their posture as we pass on the sidewalks.

I take a moment with the young woman at the front desk at our hotel. “What can you tell me about life in Athens?” I ask. Two hours later, she is still passionately trying to explain the effects of the 2010 Crisis.

“When the Greek government, burdened by debt, collapsed, one million people were suddenly unemployed. The middle class including professionals like doctors and lawyers and freelancers lost their jobs. Small shop owners shut down. The EU and IMF stepped in to save the country. Greece lost her sovereignty. Now the people are intensely divided and mired in the complexity of a political situation that swings from fascism to socialism to nationalism. Macron is coming to visit and what will happen? Nothing. Our politicians do nothing. They tax us for everything and nothing changes.

She continues, “The sites are a historical way of knowing Greece, but to know the people listen to the music, eat the traditional food, and visit the shipyards. We have a passion for life, too much passion. Sometimes we feel more than we think, but,” she shrugs, “that is who we are.”

At sunset, we catch a cab to Café Avissinia in the Monastraki and climb up three flights onto the roof deck that offers a ringside seat straight up into the Acropolis. It is Sailor Boy’s birthday. We order moussaka, Greek salad, and ouzo. The salad is crisp and fresh, the moussaka piping hot, the ouzo strong. Candles are lit on the tables. Beneath us, cats yowl and race over the rusted ruins of abandoned buildings. A musician plucks a bouzouki, his voice rising up into the twilight. The sky turns pink, and the Acropolis glows like an alabaster palace. As we finish the meal, the waitress brings a chocolate mousse topped with one glowing candle. I sing Happy Birthday. A few diners join in; everyone claps.

In the days that follow we climb the steps up to the Acropolis in the blinding sun and roam the grounds. We eat in cafes, stroll through neighborhoods, window shop. On the edge of the Agora, a restaurant owner and his son who have befriended us, pull out an extra table for our dinner while an opera singer enthralls the paying crowd below. We meet the new face of Greece, a young man who studied shipbuilding in Syros, a destination on our island stops. George returned to Athens when the Crisis hit, and joined his father’s taxi business. He glows with health and purpose, and insists on taking us to the National Archeological Museum and to see the changing of the guards at the Parliament. He becomes our informal guide and the one we turn to for his understanding of the country he loves.

_____

On right - The Erechtheum.

At the National Archeological Museum, we wander star struck through the exhibitions for hours. Finally I step into an installation, "Odyssey," awash in watery cobalt blues and the brilliant whites of marble statuary and artifacts. The exhibition illustrates the account of man’s journey through time, the homecoming of Odysseus, and the exodus. The poem “Ithaka” is recited in a continuous loop while the music of Vangelis silvers the air. I listen. Then I listen again. Here I find the unwavering voice of the people of Athens. They caution not to hurry the journey. What will I find, what will I hear on Crete, Paros, and Syros? We shall see. The blue Aegean is calling.

"The wind is blowing on Syros..."

Syros

“That house with its remoteness and the islands going down like soft gongs all the time into the amazing blue…” Lawrence Durrell

A fat Hellenic ferry laden with cars, motorcycles, goods, supplies and passengers motors into the town of Ermoupoli on Syros, the capital of the Cyclades Islands. The ferry throws down its steel tongue and docks. We stumble out, dragging our suitcases, along with hundreds of others into the capital of the Cyclades that looks more Venetian than Greek. No wonder. Ruled since ancient times by Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, Franks, until the 13th century when the Venetians developed Syros as the most important trade center of the Eastern Mediterranean, it remained under the protection of Rome for over 500 years. Today it’s economy is strong in shipbuilding and manufacturing, and unlike many of the other islands it is independent from tourism.

We have booked a stone villa in the southeast of the island in a rural village, Poseidonia,  through a fine website called "Good Life Greece." We are not to be disappointed. Our host, Nick Geronimos, greets us at the dock and whisks us across the island.  We are instantly charmed by his knowledge and bon homie. As he pulls abreast of their restored brilliant white and cream stone edifices, a feeling of contentment washes over me. This is the Greece I had hoped to find.

The villas occupy a gentle sloping hillside amongst vineyards, gardens, and olive trees. A horse whinnies from a pasture below. The view from the patio is to the sea, and out every window and door, the sky is a pure blue expanse. Nick and his gracious wife, Elspeth, have stocked the refrigerator with fruit and vegetables from the garden, wine from Nick’s cellar, and bread and cheese from the village.

First UK edition, 1965, cover painting by Tom Adams.

In the days to come our son, Jeff, and his wife, Melissa, and our grandchildren, Kat and Sarah, will join us. We’ll swim from sandy beaches where the girls will play in the shallows for hours. We’ll visit Ermoúpoli to see its fine opera house and city hall. We’ll join Nick and Elspeth for a dinner under the stars on the terrace with their charming friends. As we talk, rambling from subject to subject, and I will will murmur The Magus. Someone will say, "By John Fowles." And we will speak of visiting Spetses, the basis for the metafictional island of Phraxos in Fowles' novel. Elspeth will prepare a delicious tomato salad, curry, and cauliflower mélange for our enjoyment. Nick will introduce us to both red and white Greek vintages, their taste and refinement undiscovered until that moment. But it will be in the time that I will find myself by myself, in the serene and luminous light of this island in this place, the islands going down like soft gongs into the amazing blue.  

photos by Christie Nelson

See review of Christie Nelson's latest historical novel, Beautiful Illusion, in On My Nightstand.

 

R.I.P ANNE R. DICK passes, author, poet, ex-wife to sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick

Family obit notice.

MillValleyLit was the last publication to interview Dick in a full feature.

Anne and Philip K. Dick at Point Reyes Station home. Courtesy Anne R. Dick.

 

"Coast Navigator" Late 2018 Issue now available, free at Two Birds Cafe and other selected locations. Complete beach info, maps, histories & more. Cover art by Christine DeCamp of Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. Advertise or distribute -contact lkpeterson @marinsonomacoastguide.com/

 

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Sonoma Coast cover art by Christine DeCamp of Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station

Interval Bar photos: Interval web

Author photos, this issue, from the authors.

Uncredited photos by J. Macon King.

 

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