Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Goodbye beautiful Greece

When we were leaving our little hotel the last morning, we paused on the way to the car to take one more sun-dappled selfie. We've never taken so many photos of ourselves together, and they were nearly all (at least the ones on Crete) in dappled light. It was a poignant and sad moment for me, and when I look at the photo I know that my heart was tugging and there were tears right underneath:

cars keys in my hand, arm around Marc's shoulders, melancholy under my smile
I really loved our vacation. Ever since we went to India, expecting to love it with all our hearts but instead hating most of the moments (except for Varanasi), when we approach a vacation I'm a little anxious. Will I love it, as I think I will? Will it be all I hope? Will I find that I actually love it even more, will I find a new place in the world to add to my growing list of favorites? Will I find yet another place that feels like home? Gosh I hope so, at least to some subset of those questions. I expected to love Greece because of my affinity for Homer, my connection to those old stories, my girlhood fascination with the ancient civilizations, my college study of the art . . . and yeah, the food. For the first few days I feel a kind of tentative watchfulness, which was extended on this trip since we started in Paris for a couple of days. I knew already that I love Paris, and was so excited to share it with Marc. But Greece? Would I love it too?

OH YES I love it. I love Greece so much. The people were almost all very warm and friendly and welcoming. Funny, often. Generous. Large in spirit. The food was mostly wonderful, though not as uniformly great as it seemed at first, but that's OK. When it was good it was spectacular. But it was the beauty of the place that shocked me, took me aback. It was so much more beautiful than I'd expected. Oh, I knew to expect beautiful sunsets on Santorini, that wasn't a surprise. And they were beautiful. I guess I had a very wrong idea about Crete. I'd thought it was mostly crumbly mountain and rock. I didn't realize it would be so green, I didn't realize that the mountains meant there would be deep gorges and valleys. I didn't realize that there would be such a wealth of flowers, that the homes would be draped and dripping in color and flowers, that there would be vast orange groves. I thought it was only in movies that I'd see so many sheep and goats, but it wasn't at all uncommon to hear a chorus of clanking bells in the air and we'd know that a flock of sheep or goats was nearby. I didn't know the air would smell so thick of oregano, thyme, rosemary. Just wild.

I didn't know the glory of the taverna, that every little village has at least one, sometimes more. I didn't know that old Greek men really do sit at the tavernas throughout the day, drinking coffee and talking. I didn't know that the old Greek women really do mostly wear black.

I didn't know that driving would be like being in a crazy video game, left right hairpin no road hairpin hairpin hairpin left right left left right hairpin no road coast coast first gear hairpin. I didn't know that, and it's one of my most fun memories.

Ordinarily we go to SEAsia, where it's quite cheap to visit, to eat magnificently, to stay. Greece certainly wasn't cheap. Their economy is in terrible trouble, and the prices were quite high. When we visited markets we were shocked by the prices; how do ordinary Greeks in villages afford to buy that food? And then too it's Europe, the euro, a regular tourist destination. All this together means we probably won't return to Greece; no matter how much we loved it -- and we did -- we love SEAsia more, it's more economical, and it's less touristy. There is only so much time, only so much money, and we're getting older, running out of travel time. It really made me ache to drive away, knowing I'd never come back. And it makes me ache now, writing this. My eyes are filled with tears, and I feel a deep sorrow never to see it again. I get Odysseus's longing.

We did eat some very good food -- Greek salads for lunch most days (with a Mythos beer for me) and lots of different stuff for dinner. Octopus, squid, lamb, souvlaki, chicken, cheese.

Created with flickr slideshow.

We saw a lot of beautiful doors in Crete:

Created with flickr slideshow.

We spent lots of hours in tavernas, and at the edge of rivers and seas, watching sunsets, driving around, and just being. Greece made all that so easy and inviting.

Created with flickr slideshow.

I don't mean to shortchange our couple of days in Paris, which were beautiful. We had the most perfect weather, and a wonderful time there. Athens was a great surprise to us both, as was Heraklion. But when I think of Greece, for me it will be Crete. We adored it all, and loved Santorini's just that I left a good-sized piece of my heart in Crete, and I won't get a chance to go back and retrieve it. But when I re-read The Odyssey, as I do pretty regularly, it will be alive in me in a whole new way. Usually I buy a pair of earrings in each place we visit, but this time I bought a Greek version of The Odyssey, written in ancient Greek. That was the best souvenir I could have, besides the beautiful memories and our photographs.

αντίο, Greece. xo

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