Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Greece retroblog, part 2

(Greece retroblog, part 1.)

This post is rated PG-13. You might want to skip this one, Ma.


There were cases full of such durty sculptures at the Delos archaeological museum. Delos, home of the Athenian treasury once upon a time (and equally renowned for its orgies—see above), is an uninhabited island, which is why we stayed two nights on Mykonos (party central, jacked-up prices for the tourists). The food was mediocre and most of the folks we met were entirely too old to be dancing on tables, but as you can see, we made the best of it:

Minster salsas with a crazy Albanian who was bartending at this place right on the beach.

(Speaking of Greek food: apart from Mykonos, we would get the most amazing vegetarian meals everywhere we went—stuffed peppers, dolmades, flavorful baked veggie dishes, and/or fresh salads with lots of feta, and baklava for dessert—plus a carafe of white wine for like €20 total. We had retsina and the most amazing 'zucchini flowers' on a balcony at Betty's at Mithymna, many memorable meals!)

And now for something completely different:

Poor gawky pelican wandering the streets of Mykonos picking at the rubbish.

One of the Naxian lions (the originals are on display inside the museum at Delos).

Then we took the ferry to Santorini for fun outdoorsy stuff, scuba-diving and riding an ATV all up and down the island.

We stayed at this awesome domatia at Perissa for €35 a night (for both of us). Went swimming in the pool every morning. Great idea to visit Santorini toward the end of the season!

1:25PM — 2 October 2006 — Monday, Perissa Beach

...Our diving excursion off the west coast of Santorini turned out to be one of the coolest, most worthwhile things I've ever done.
..[skipping over the complaints about the sketchy diving company]...but once we were on the boat, speeding past all these breathtaking cliffs formed by the volcano, I felt really happy and peaceful—and that feeling only increased when we went under the water. This flamboyant middle-aged guy from New York told us it felt like returning to the womb—it did!—and another really kind and friendly guy from Long Island said he figured that space and sea were the only frontiers left, and since most of us will never board a rocket ship we might as well explore the bottom of the ocean. He was clearly addicted—they all were...

Our instructor would lead us to different places and point out the fish and sponges and suchlike—he even cut open an anemone (with a knife in a sheath strapped to his ankle) and fed a few fish with it. Saw a red-and-white 'poisonous fireworm' too. Sounds cliched to say it was profoundly peaceful on the ocean floor—not that we went all that deep—but how else can I say it? You could look up at the surface and watch your own breath-bubbles rising, shimmering like mercury beads in the light. The second dive was more fun—we were down about seven minutes longer and swam through an underwater cave—the walls were covered in electric blue and orange algae, and to swim around a corner and find the daylight shining through an elegant crevass—oh, it was bliss.

I am sorry to say that the ferry passage to Crete was not at all blissful. Yes, that's right. I lost my lunch.

The Minoan palace ruins at Knossos, Crete, which were much more touristy than we were expecting. Many scholars take issue with the restorations executed by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans: Coach tours are offered to Knossos, the disneyland of archeology, where Evans poured concrete to recreate his ideas of what this fine civilisation meant (from this site, which has some interesting info despite a few small bloopers...Evans discovered the site at the turn of the 21st century? Really?) Sir Arthur should have left the ruins just as he'd dug them up instead of reconstructing them based on his own imagination. Anyway, I hope this explains the following exchange:

Min: Sir Arthur Evans, the no-talent ass clown. I fuckin' hate that guy.
Me: Would you like to exhume him and pee through his eye sockets?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The day I became a writer

It was May 1, 1996. My 9th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Gaffney, was out sick, and the substitute brought us to the library and told us our assignment was to pick one of the prints on the walls above the bookcases and write a story about it. It was busy work, but an easy 20 out of 20. I chose a picture of an old farmhouse at dusk, and decided to write a story about a girl listening to her grandmother telling stories on a porch in the twilight—the time of day being, of course, a metaphor as light as an anvil.

At the time my grandmother was very, very sick, but I wasn't thinking much about her as I wrote. This was fiction. Where my narrator's grandma told fanciful stories that made her granddaughter doubt if she was 'all there,' mine was still living very much in the present—and was as reluctant as ever to tell any stories about her life. Why did I write that stupid story instead of actually calling my grandmother to tell her I loved her? It was the last night I'd ever have the chance to do it.

But I didn't. I printed the two-page story, tucked it in my notebook, and turned it in to Mrs. Gaffney the following day. And that afternoon, on May 2nd, my grandmother passed away.

A few days later—I can't remember if it was before or after the funeral, which was on May 5th—my teacher passed back our graded writing assignments. I had forgotten all about it, of course, but I felt sick when I remembered what I'd written. The horrible irony of it!

But as if that wasn't bad enough, there was a secondary indignity that pretty much lit the fire under me: Mrs. Gaffney had given me an 18 out of 20. An A-. Mind you, this was the type of assignment we always got 20 out of 20 on. And mind you, I wouldn't have cared if this had been any other day, or any other assignment. I went up to her after class and asked her why she'd given me a lower grade, and she said something to the effect of creative writing being subjectively graded (looking at the print-out right now, it occurs to me that it might have had something to do with the obnoxious font I used). Anyway, I don't think I told Mrs. G. the real reason why I was so upset (there were a ton of overachievers at Mo-town, so complaining about A-minuses happened all the time), but when I got home that night I opened a new word processing document and typed, "I'm going to show Mrs. Gaffney! I'm going to be a writer."

And I did show Mrs. Gaffney, who hightailed it home from her golf tournament one day in July 2007 to hear me read from Mary Modern at the local Barnes & Noble. I've never told her what a big part she played in making me a storyteller, but there it is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Minnie & Mealey's Greek Adventure (part 1)

Traveling with my friend Aravinda (a.k.a. Min) is never, ever dull. We traveled around Greece for three weeks in September 2006, island-hopping on and off the tourist track. My journals from that trip are full of what Min and Leah call the 'liturgy'—a string of inside jokes and assorted nonsense, which we would sometimes recite out loud and add to each time. Here is but a brief sample:
HOT CHOCOLATE + COINTREAU = SEXUAL BLISS. [Written at charming cocktail bar on Lesbos.] This music is making me sterile. "Oedipa came to, to find herself getting laid." "She's sniffing his armpit. He's dry-humping her. That's real sexy." [I believe that refers to a pair of turtles we found tussling in a cemetery.]
A walk through olive groves outside Plomari on Lesbos:

Minnie Minster chillin' on the ramparts of an amazing medieval fortress, Mithymna, Lesbos:

We went to a hot spring near Mithymna as well, in a small building that reminded me of an igloo (hah!) You would hang out in the hot water for awhile (trying to avoid looking at everyone else's boobs—we were the only women there in one-piece bathing suits), then go straight outside and dive into the sea. So refreshing, I can't even tell you.

(Not the beach by the hot springs, but you get the gist.)

Pretty much the only places we visited on mainland Greece were Athens and Delphi. The Acropolis is as touristy as you'd expect, but I found it funny that once you're up there, you look down at the city and you realize just how hideous all the modern architecture is. The only good view is looking up at it. Delphi was almost as touristy, but the scenery was fantastic.

(Above: the Erechtheion on the Acropolis; below, Delphi.)

We visited six islands in all: Lesbos, Ithaki, Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, and Crete. We'd originally wanted to visit the Peloponnese, but realized we didn't have quite enough time, and Ithaki was plan B.

9:30PM—Friday, 22 September 2006

Ithaki is lovely. Min says it's her new favorite, but I can't decide which place I prefer. This afternoon we walked a couple kilometers past darling terraced houses and hills covered in olive trees to a small secluded harbor and pebbly beach. The water was clear and warm and I quickly waded in up to my neck. Then I noticed movement beneath the surface—a few (at least three) schools of fish swimming all around me! It kind of freaked me out at first—I had this hilariously stupid idea that these tiny black fish were carnivorous (TEE HEE!) Took loads of pictures in the dusk. I didn't want to leave...

Last night, when we got off the ferry at 12:30am—having failed to secure a room, but unconcerned, seeing as we're always approached by some legitimate domatia owner—I had quickly decided I liked the place. A clear sky full of stars, the air heavy with jasmine—there's definitely a timeless quality to this island I haven't noticed elsewhere. The dull chime of bells around goats' necks in the distance, the old man waving from his veranda on the hill above us, the dogs half-asleep in the road, the colorful rowboats bobbing in the eerily clear water—(I pictured whole rooms beneath the surface, furnished in algae and shaded in green and blue)—yes, timeless.

(Not bad for point-and-click, eh?)

Next time: Mykonos/Delos, Santorini, and Crete.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How's this for random nerdiness?

I found this fishbowl in my grandfather's crawlspace. I gave it a good cleaning and now it stores my oddballs. I'm so tickled with this, it's ridiculous.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Great Book #15: Death Comes For The Archbishop

This book—the physical book—is quite special to me. My grandmother was a voracious reader, but she owned very few books; the public library was her library. Death Comes For The Archbishop is one of the few books she kept a copy of (writing her name on the fly), and I distinctly remember her saying that Willa Cather was one of her favorite writers. I would have been too young to read her then, but I'm certainly appreciating her now. Willa Cather wrote my all-time favorite ghost story, and I've enjoyed Death Comes For The Archbishop almost as much.

I imagine it is extremely difficult to write A (Good) Novel In Which Nothing In Particular Happens (the only other example I can think of is John McGahern's That They May Face the Rising Sun). A story without a plot (or an episodic plot as in this case) has to compensate in other ways, with memorable characters and an extraordinarily vivid sense of time and place.

This novel follows the life, work, and travels of Father Jean Latour in 19th-century New Mexico. Death Comes For The Archbishop continually reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe—but Cather paints the American Southwest with words, from the perilous mountains and ravines the priests must traverse to the eerie mesa towns perched high above the desert floor. Take this sublimely simple description of dusk:
They relapsed into the silence which was their usual form of intercourse. The Bishop sat drinking his coffee slowly out of the tin cup, keeping the pot near the embers. The sun had set now, the yellow rocks were turning grey, down in the pueblo the light of the cook fires made red patches of the glassless windows, and the smell of piƱon smoke came softly through the still air. The whole western sky was the colour of golden ashes, with here and there a flush of red on the lip of a little cloud. High above the horizon the evening-star flickered like a lamp just lit, and close beside it was another star of constant light, much smaller.
And like her landscapes, Cather is brilliant at nailing a character in just a few words:
Don Manuel Chavez, the handsomest man of the company, very elegant in velvet and broadcloth, with delicately cut, disdainful features—one had only to see him cross the room, or to sit next him at dinner, to feel the electric quality under his cold reserve; the fierceness of some embitterment, the passion for danger.
The electric quality under his cold reserve. Gives me chills! Conversely, here's a splendid encapsulation of the Bishop's assistant, his dear old friend Father Vaillant: He added a glow to whatever kind of human society he was dropped down into.

The other remarkable aspect of this novel is its abiding respect for Catholic missionaries. Desert life is a constant hardship, yet the Mexicans to whom Father Latour administers lead richly spiritual lives. They may have only the plainest, most serviceable clothes to wear to Mass, but they take great pleasure in arranging what little finery they have on their Madonna statues. Cather writes admiringly of their complete lack of materialism and the strength of their faith in the midst of unthinkable cruelty, so it's quite difficult to believe the author wasn't a devout Catholic herself (she was born a Baptist and later joined the Episcopal Church). My grandmother was a devout Catholic, but I'm sure that's only a small part of why she loved this novel.

Here are a few more of my favorite lines (I'm not giving anything away—it is in the title, you know!):

The old man smiled. "I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived."

During those last few weeks of the Bishop's life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.

Sometimes, when Magdalena or Bernard came in and asked him a question, it took him several seconds to bring himself back to the present. He could see they thought his mind was failing; but it was only extraordinarily active in some other part of the great picture of his life—some part of which they knew nothing. When the occasion warranted he could return to the present. But there was not much present left...only the minor characters of his life remained in present time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Assateague Island

At last, some new travel to report! This past weekend I went camping with my sister and several new friends on Assateague Island in Maryland, which is known (to everyone but me, apparently) for its population of wild ponies. It was overcast the whole time, but we still had fun getting our feet wet on the beach, walking through the marsh, and looking out for deer and horses.

(That's Kate and Elliot having a seaweed fight. Some things will never change.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Plum Truffle Redux

(Plum Truffle part 1, Plum Truffle part 2, Raveled here.)

Well, those dimples on the button band were really annoying me, though I can't even wear it for another two months. I really liked the idea of an invisible button band, but on this cardigan it's just not working out. So I pulled out four lovely buttons I got from Jo-Ann ages ago, picked up four more (luckily they're still in stock), and now this button band is 100% visible.

I had to reknit the buttonhole band because I'd originally knit it with dyelot #2, which would have been way too obvious to let show. Now the buttons are fastened on the 'wrong' side, but I certainly don't care enough to reknit both bands. Between the buttons and all the cabling, perhaps the effect is a bit busy—but still a big improvement, methinks!

Monday, September 7, 2009

1930s Tennis Blouse

(Tennis blouse, part 1.)

This one spent quite a few weeks in time-out before I finally dealt with all the little things that were annoying me about it. First, I have decided that I really do not like knitting with cotton. The fiber has no give, and my fingers actually started to feel a bit sore after awhile. Also, it may not have been such a good idea to stray so far from the original pattern. One word: STRIPES. Since I knit the front in pieces, they were a b***h to match up. Plus, the lace pattern slants to the right (oops), so it was tricky to seam so it laid evenly. I'm not pleased with my finishing on this one either, but it's time to call it a day. It's quite pretty...if you don't look too closely at it.

Pattern: 1930s Striped Sweater with Lace Panel, from Vintage Knitting
Yarn: Rowan 4-ply Cotton (discontinued) in aegean and fresh, 3 balls each
Needles: #2s for the ribbing and #3s for the body
Raveled here (with detailed pattern notes, not that I suggest you follow them!)

Kate took these pics today, a very gloomy Labor Day. No tennis racket to hand, but I found my grandparents' old croquet set in our garage. I think this qualifies as random nerdiness.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Poll Results

Eighteen readers! Oh, you dear sweet wonderful people! That's about three times the number I was expecting.

Random nerdiness wins. Who would have thought?