Posts Tagged ‘crete’

Europe: The Yellow Houses

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Venice
Buttercup

Crete
Mellow Yellow

Croatia
Yellow House

Denmark
IMG_1755

Bruges
Mellow Yellow

The God of Small Things

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Palate

The splinter comes fast, not exactly painless, twenty minutes after I have arrived. The culprit is a poorly sanded picnic table with peeling paint and no one cares. The conversation between students and wayward travelers and ex-cons continues around me and I just drop out of it, staring at my thumbnail, wondering what just happened.

I did not even hit my hand. It just… swept. A sweep of the hand, and. Like a magic trick.

Then I see it. Horrible. A massive splinter under the nail from tip to cuticle.

Panic because this does not happen to me. I am poorly acquainted with situations in which splinters are common. Woodworking. Hiking. Military maneuvers. I am not one for flat shoes. But then, here I am. Climbing mountains, hefting enormous bottles of water, guzzling power drinks. A splinter in a hard-to-reach place seems almost inevitable.

I do nothing. Well, not nothing. I fret. But I know. Somewhere under that layer of anxiety, floating on the top of my conscience thick as the head on a glass of Guinness — another oddity, an un-Laura thing, I’ve come to enjoy on this trip — is reassurance.

I’m going to leave it there for now, but in a few days, I’ll know what to do.

On the third day, the archaeologist — a pretty, tough-talking Greek girl who was raised in Morningside Heights — says, “OK, let me try.”

The only alcohol they have at the pharmacy is jasmine-scented and weird and costs €6, but desperation renders it acceptable.

Sitting at the communal table with people preparing dinner around us, she sets down a paper towel, the jasmine-alcohol, a bottle of olive oil, a pair of nail clippers, and two sets of tweezers. Then she starts to excavate.

First nothing, just pressure. I will not look like I will not look at needles. And then a stab of pain. Blood, I am sure. I imagine blood, anyway. So much blood. When I actually look, it’s not that bad, but the splinter is still in there and the archaeologist is looking defeated.

“It’s really in there good,” she says.

“I should just go to the emergency room and get it over with.”

I don’t. I fear.

Doctors who don’t speak English. Six-hour waits while tourists get treated for jellyfish stings and falls from the same cliffs I’ve been hiking and kids who ate some stinging plant. Unsanitary conditions even though there’s no evidence that they would be. The loss or massive deformation of my thumbnail, about which I am suddenly fretful and vain.

So I wait. Days pass. I take a boat trip to an island. I visit the temples. I shop in Hania. I go to the beach. All the while, I can see it and feel it there under my skin, tight and foreign and vaguely discolored. It lingers like a ghost. The thing I can almost-forget.

On the last morning. The very, very last morning of my whole trip. I wake up in the pale sunshine on a lumpy pillow after a night of anxious, forgotten dreams, and I think.

I’m going to take it out today.

Because if I’m suddenly living a life in which splinters are a common thing, a daily hazard, I need to live a life in which I can pull the fuckers out myself.

I clip the nail so low that it looks demented and unhealthy. I grab the Good Tweezers. I dump the jasmine-alcohol all over everything. I don’t even bother to find a flat surface. I do it on my lap, on the bed, in the good light.

I dig. I pull. It glides out. Flawless. In one piece.

I shake afterwards as though it were a bullet, glass, pieces of shrapnel. I want to tell everyone. I want to call my mother. To save the little scrap of it and put it in my notebook. To commemorate what I learned, here and everywhere: How to save yourself over and over again from things inside and out, enormous and miniscule, solid as a rock and invisible as air.

Three Short Lessons in Accepting What Is

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Pretty Ladies

The girl sitting next to me is shaving her legs.

She walks into the room gesticulating wildly toward the electrical outlet, unplugs one of the laptops, and plugs in a pink electrical razor. She switches it on, plunks into a chair, and epilates.

The room is the common room, and the chair is in the center, so anyone who enters — and there are lots of someones entering — can watch.

We are sitting here, a group of three or four of us reading. Or writing. Or surfing. And we’re waiting for her to maybe start on her underarms. Her bikini line.

This is how I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it’s time to go home.

*

After I snap at the Australian girl and her drunk friend about using my computer, I expect her to avoid me. Instead, she does something that genuinely humbles me, that not a lot of people would do if they had just been snapped and snarked at by the girl on the iBook.

She refuses to give up on me.

She’s a little scared at first, I can tell, like I’m going to bite her head off at any second, but then she just keeps talking. And talking. And before I know it, I’m talking back. We decide to go to Knossos together, to view the palace.

She talks about metal, which she loves, about the music festivals that brought her across Germany living in a leaky tent. About wanting to go to film school and breaking into the business with music videos. About Harry Potter.

Meandering through the ruins, it becomes clear that the walls have been concreted and rebuilt and reinforced according to the plan of the long-dead Englishman who discovered them, a wealthy archaeologist named Arthur Evans. Evans had ideas about the people who lived here, and he imposed those ideas on the rocks that jutted from the dusty Cretan ground. He invented and hypothesized and today, every plaque and description bears a gentle disclaimer.

Arthur Evans thought.
According to Arthur Evans.
Evans envisioned.

Some people think he ruined it with his fake Greek-style columns, his rebuilt second floors and unauthenticated throne rooms. Others forgive him because he was working without much archeological precedent, and because exotification, for a wealthy Englishman in 1900, was more or less a viable way to view anything that was… not English.

For us, though, it is more a lesson in the History of History Lessons. At Knossos, there is the line between the authentic and the concrete, the imagined and the real, the people and what one man thought about them.

I want to leave after a quick perusal, disappointed, but the Australian girl stops me.

“We’ve come this far,” she says. “Let’s at least see the frescoes.”

The frescoes are, of course, reproductions. But they are vibrant against the dull rock, women dancing and a leaf curling over onto itself, a bull, men bearing a pitcher. A glimpse of what these people were. Of pigment on a wall. Of what was human, underneath.

“See,” says the Australian girl. “It was worth the ride, right?”

I cannot find a single reason to disagree.

*

They think I’m crazy because I write. That I’m lonely or overworked or a lesbian or all three because I’m not socializing enough. Not flirting enough. He’s all but said it to me, the guy who runs this place.

I write in the mornings and at night after the sights are seen and the towns are wandered. I wake up at crazy hours, fiddling with plugs.

I was in Italy, on an island surrounded by the bluest, bluest sea. And I was swimming from one side of the cove to the other in long, strong strokes, and all I wanted to do was write. To put words on a page, regardless of whether anyone read them and regardless of whether they were any good and regardless of my fear concerning both of those things. So I decided to let myself write. Even though it takes me away from the clubs, from the perks and charms of social butterflydom, from reality, from living in the NOW, like Eckhart Toll said.

And I wonder sometimes if this is why I came in the first place. To tell you a story.

The Wrinkle in the Earth

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Millennia

I find a tattered copy of The Power of Now sitting on a shelf and, exhausted by Homer and Toni Cade Bambara, I decide to read it. On the beach. At the bus station. Afterwards, I try to do what it says to do.

I try to ignore the fact that some of its wisdom sounds like it was ad-libbed by Owen Wilson in The Darjeeling Limited.

Be the Buddha.

Afterwards, sweating in my bunk, I scribble in a notebook in huge letters.

Does being a writer preclude me from spiritual enlightenment? Maybe I am forever condemned to wallow in memory, enslaved by the details of my own experience.

*

The Australian girl who talks nonstop barges in on my quiet, aggressively drunk and wanting to bring others down with her. There’s an American girl with her, whining, saronged.

I’m writing.

“OK,” says the Australian girl. “Do you have Internet on that? Go to Apple.com. I want to prove to her that…”

In my head, something changes.

“No.” I keep typing.

“Oh, come on!” says the Australian girl. She reaches in to shake my shoulders and I draw back, avoiding her clutch-y little hands.

“No. I’m not settling a bet for you and you’re not using my computer. Sorry.”

I don’t even mean the sorry and she knows it.

I know what I become in that instant, how she will talk about it to other people here. How other people will not talk to me because of it. It is not so much that I’m getting older. It’s more what’s happened to me in the last months.

Despite our surroundings, I am not communal.

Denying you will not end the world. Not yours and not mine.

*

I cross the street at a crosswalk and the driver honks, rolls down his window, shouts angry things at me in Greek like I understand, like I will somehow in this instant stop being a pedestrian who, even in this not-quite-first-world nation, still has the right-of-way at the very most and who cannot legally or justifiedly be run down by a Mercedes at the very least.

I smile over my shoulder at him. Toss him a jaunty wave.

A point lost for his humanity; one gained, I pray, for mine.

*

The Scandanavian boy who never wears a shirt asks where I was.

“I hiked the Gorge,” I say. “I’m sore today.”

“Aw, man,” he says, “The Gorge is nothing. I went through that in two hours and forty minutes.”

He’s lying, of course. But it’s more than that. It is the dismissal. Of my soreness. Of the time I spent. And the notion that hiking the longest Gorge in Europe is or was somehow a race, that there is something to be gained by letting the scenery fly by you, by looking at nothing, by asking no questions. As though there’s a Samarian Speed Prize and that someone cares one way or another if you win it.

I could keep talking. Tell him the story about the stream, about the birth-metaphor, about the fossil layers.

I don’t, deciding how and when to use my time.

*

And then there is my body, this lump of me. I almost never look in the mirror here and when I do, I hardly believe what I see.

My body that suddenly does things that it never did, that has more capacity for work and strain than I ever understood. My palms are a solid knot of calluses from my bag and my back doesn’t hurt as much anymore because I’ve learned how to carry it, arms close, pushing not pulling. I can swim for hours, hike rock-laden paths, get there on my own feet. I have pushed so hard, to the brink, have sweated gallons, have danced, have crossed one side of the cove to the other.

In the past, I have been clothes hanger and mannequin, house of a million emotions, the girl who had her period every week during swim class in ninth grade, shy about sports, about what I thought I could not do, me and this thing that houses me, two separate entities.

But here, without my clothes or shoes, without solid ground, where motion is every day, even in heat, where it is always cheaper to climb the mountain (free) than rent the sunbed (€9), where cabs are scarce, where moisturizing shampoo costs as much as dinner, where there is no store, no rest stop, no choice but to move, no one to carry you. I became one thing.

I am tanned, bleached out, oxidized, exhausted in a way that feels satisfying and solid, as though I could see it, hovering there above my limbs.

*

The Gorge is the longest in Europe, they say, 8 miles to the sea from the mountains, where they leave you. Off a bus. And let you go. The first part is crawling down the gorge wall through pines and breeze and chattering birds but the second part, on the floor of the gorge with its walls covering you and holding you close, a mile into the ground, is the better thing, even though the path is harder.

The cliff walls are orange and striped into swirling layers, one era and then another of sediment until you can see it at the bottom. The beginning of the world. I wonder what bones are caught there, what prehistoric lizard, bird, something that resembles a person but no one you ever knew, is trapped, nothing more than an outline of what was. You can see some of the fossils on the outside walls, she shapes of shells, of sea creatures that wriggled a millennia ago.

We guzzle water and eat cookies and nectarines. We talk about New York, make lists of our favorite places. She spent a summer there, lived on the Lower East Side, knows places that I know, diners and book stores. She tells me a story about how, on vacation with her family once, a disoriented kangaroo wandered into their cabin at night and had to be lured out with pieces of biscuit. I tell her one about how we almost ran over a moose on the Kancamagus Highway. The awe between us is approximate.

All those hours later, we’re both so tired, our shoes have rubbed so hard, that we stop, slump against the pale rocks. We are covered in dust up to our knees, all of it clinging like a film as though we’ve been building a house or stirring concrete.

I will myself to stay in the moment, to be silent between my ears. It’s been failing all day, this effort. I have not been able to push aside thoughts of home, of my occasionally dubious-seeming future, of being lonely, of What I Was and What I Will Be, a chattering monologue that loops over on itself, does its damndest to make me feel bad about everything I’ve ever done. Even in this place, in a crevice in the earth so many miles away from reality, I cannot let go.

But for an instant, it works. There is nothing. Wind from the top of the mountain and the cicadas screaming in the trees. I take off my shoes and dip my feet in the stream and my muscles retort, burning. I regret nothing. I look forward to nothing. I am a diversion in a little stream, a thing to flow around.

The narrowest part of the Gorge is just 4 meters wide and you can see it coming from a long way off, the doors of rock closing in as though they could swallow you. Landslides are common. Signs warn, DANGER OF FALLING ROCKS, PLEASE WALK QUICKLY as though doing so could somehow stop you from being killed by a Volvo-sized hunk of sediment any more than running in a storm could stop you from getting wet.

We emerge on the beach like being born or spit out, heaved up by the earth and rock, expelling what it knows doesn’t belong.

There and Back

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Liberty Tree

I want to ride on a scooter. With a scarf in my hair. A minty green Vespa or plum. Big sunglasses. Little sandals. This is a new idea, a thing I would like to do. And I worry about this thing I would like to do, because like, say, a crazy idea about moving to New York City, the things I would like to do tend very quickly to become the things I did last year. I worry because it’s dangerous. And because in America, it is not so much a girl thing. And because petrol is not a cheap thing.

But I want to glide through city streets, to just go. Like the girls do here, purses slung over their slim shoulders, eyes forward. Or with a friend on the back, on the way somewhere. A way to get there and a way to get home.

*

They tell me that you can hike to the next town beyond the monastery, that there are Minoan tombs, houses. So I walk.

And it is me and the burnt Cretan brush, yellow with summer sun, goat dung under the soles of my sandals. I can hear their bells tinkling, one every few minutes, in the gorge below and every so often, one will appear on the road, glance over his furry brown shoulder at the girl with the camera, and go back to whatever grass he was nibbling.

In pounding midday sun, the only noise is the wind in my ears. I practice conjugating French verbs out loud while I watch the landscape change, the sea come into view over the mountains. There is no village, no cars, just me and the rocks and the goats and the crunch of my sandals over gravel.

And I feel so strong. In the midst of everything. My life in New York reappearing on the horizon like the sea creeping behind the mountains. My life whose dimensions I cannot even perceive, cannot even imagine even though they’re wholly mine. This whole new thing I’m walking into. My life that is scaring me so badly.

I know it. It’s fleeting. But I know it. That I’m going to be more than OK. And then the feeling disappears, drowned out by the anxious hum between my ears.

I reapply sunblock every ten minutes, paranoid.

*

I am offered several rides.

They are Greek and sexy and driving a sexy car. And there is temptation. There is. But there’s this place I’m in. And by place I’m in, I mean not the latitude on the map but the situation between my ears, the thing that is protecting me, flinging itself in front of trucks.

“We take you,” says a guy in sunglasses, running a hand through his hair.

“I’m sorry,” I say, smiling. “I probably shouldn’t.”

But on the way back.

The sound of a motor gets closer, slowing, and it’s so hot. There’s not a speck of shade, no stores or shops, just brush and picky low bushes and the bleat of goats. And I have to catch a bus.

He’s in his sixties and deeply tanned and not in a car but on a scooter. In his mouth, I spy a gold tooth.

“Where you go?”

“To the monastery.”

“Ah!” he says, and gestures for me to get on the back of the scooter.

I have never. Have never and have always wanted to. And then here I am.

The brush and the mountains and the rocks glide by and the wind picks up the edges of my skirt and I hold on to his back while he gestures to the countryside around us like, look!

I giggle. Unbidden. The weirdest sound in the world. One I haven’t heard in a while.

“So beautiful!” I shout into his ears, and there’s no translation necessary. He just nods.

He lets me off in front of the monastery and I thank him. He smiles, shakes my hand. We aren’t so sure, then, who has made whose day.

The Wreck

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Me Out to Sea

In paradise. I want to see the wreck up close, so I pick my way over the rocks, which are pock-marked and bleached in the sun like the surface of another planet. I saw it from the boat, but I must see it up close, from shore, its precarious sub-horizontal tilt, crashed against the rocks, peek through the holes in the hull all the way to the blue water on the other side. It’s been there for twenty years, maybe thirty, the whole thing rusted and crumbling.

Some of the rocks are covered with a kind of dark coating, and it’s only when I step on a patch of it, when the sole of my sandal sinks in, that I realize — horrified, my stomach turning — what kind of boat it was.

I look closer. All the rocks around the shore are black like environmental ring around the collar, a terrible contrast to the gleaming white rocks beyond. My plan was to check out the wreck and then swim in the cove, but my eyes follow the dark ring around the shore until it meets the swimming area. The little kids splashing there.

Twenty years. Thirty. Forty. It’s safe. It must be safe.

I stumble over rocks, blinded by the sun, still feeling queasy. In the end, I don’t swim. I sit in the shade, mesmerized by the quiet.

The Last Leg

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Lighthouse

The ferry feels like a refugee camp with people huddled on the floor under blankets or dozing in corners. I take an empty seat and the guy sitting next to me asks where I’m from.

“America!” he says. “Americaaaaa! America good.”

Sensing that I am being put on, I nod and smile and dive immediately into a book. He continues to try to talk to me, even though he speaks no English. Then he pulls out his phone, gestures toward it, and points to me.

“Oh. I don’t have a phone here,” I lie. “Sorry.”

I’m not.

Porters stand by chatting while I lug my bag up stairs. A uniformed woman laughs, blatant, when I try to enter the first-class dining area, even though the only sign indicating it as such is in Greek. Babies cry. A bartender serves nine other people before me. Women shove from behind, only to emerge a foot in front of me.

I sleep on the floor, restless, dreaming nightmares that I will not remember, but I wake up startled, hour to hour, as though I’ve forgotten something important, let something slip.

It would have been worth it to fly.

*

Laura cannot admit that she’s in pain until it’s passed. Laura cannot do anything at all in the moment except work on it, fight for it, take a sad song and make it better.

But it’s passed, so.

I hated Greece. Corfu is legions of drunk 18-year-old Australians pouring out of Contiki busses, shrieking at the tops of their lungs, waving neon-colored drinks. The people who work in the hotel are foreigners who got stuck, who cannot go home. Australians. Canadians. Americans. All of them shrugging their shoulders, indifferent to everything. There is no Greece on Corfu. Only the parasites that raided it.

Athens is erector-set ugly and broiling at 8:00 in the morning and I wonder if I’ve made a mistake coming here. To this country that I cannot understand and that cannot understand me.

This is not my Italy.

I admit defeat. I move on.

*

I listen to other itineraries. To the kids with the drinks in their hands. And I realize that I cannot follow them, even though my initial plan was to follow them. Mykonos. Santorini. Naxos. I cancel all of it. I skip to the end of my itinerary. The final frontier of this journey.

I book a ticket to Crete.

*

I step into the streets and everything feels better. Overhung with flowers and packed in with little shops and tavernas and white-washed with wall fountains and gleaming churches and a mosque with a soaring minaret.

I decide to stay. Until the end, if necessary. To not move from this spot.

Walking, through town, I feel like I’m convalescing. Like I have just been through something terrible and need nothing but quiet, gentle voices, the soft gurgle of fountains. And miraculously, I have found it.