Sunday, July 28, 2013

BACK IN THE TRENCHES and back from Sifnos

I have been absent for a few days, since Sunday to be exact.  Last Monday David and I visited the Jewish Museum of Athens and met with the director who gave us an introduction to Jewish life at present.  She said there are about 2,700 Jews in Athens.  The museum is rather small but very informative.  It's divided by themes: holidays, costumes, the Holocaust, World War II, and so on. I think it is worth a visit if you come.  After, we had a cold cappuccino in the tiny square and returned home to have lunch with mother (lunches are pretty important around here).

Early on Tuesday we left from Piraeus for the island of Sifnos, one of the Cyclades.  It took almost 6 hours to get there on the slow ferry.  After searching for a taxi at the port - Kamares - we made our way to our lodgings in Vathi - a very small hamlet.  Our rooms were simple and nice, all white and blue.  The beaches are sandy and that's a blessing for me.  No stones or rocks please.  David rented a car and we were able to visit other towns: Apollonia (the capital), Kastro (the ancient walls), Plati Yialos, Faros, Chrissopighi.  Kastro offers a maze of narrow streets, up and down steps, and the Acropolis or high town.  All is stone and rock, white and blue. We also visited the tiny museum in Kastro.  Of course mother stayed down at a lovely cafe where we had lunch later.  

I enjoyed splashing in the different waters of the various beach towns and soaking up the sun and the salt of the sea.  We met a young man from Athens one day and he joined us for dinner.  Mostly we ate tavern food but Sifnos is known for its chick peas and capers.  When I say tavern food I mean the traditional Greek fare most of us are familiar with.  

In Apollonia mother searched for her cousin Maria's brother and we found him.  Amazing!  Maria has lived in Chicago for 50 years.  Small world: we sat at a corner cafe for a cool drink and asked the owner/waiter if he knew George Avra.  He said: sure, he lives up that street, around the corner.  We walked up the narrow alley and looked around a bit, asked a couple of more people, and then I saw a man inside a courtyard and said: do you know George Avra?  He replied: who are you?  I am he.  

We chatted for ten minutes with him and his wife before rejoining David who was waiting at the cafe.  

The drive around the island was a bit stressful for David because it's all narrow roads on the sides of mountains, curves and more curves.  But after a couple of days he felt more confident.  The views are fantastic from on high down to the small white towns and the blue-blue of the Aegean.  Just like in the posters you see advertising Greece.  I took quite a few pictures and will post them later on this blog.  Breathtaking panoramas!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Yesterday evening mother and I took a taxi to Plaka and went to a concert of some of Hadjidakis's music at a cultural center.  The city choir was singing three different excerpts of three works: "Blood Wedding" by Lorca, "The Chalk Circle" by Brecht, and "Story without a name" by Campanelli.  Hadjidakis had set them to music and they were performed years ago.  The music and the singing were magical, magnificent.  By the end I had tears in my eyes.  Such emotionally charged songs.  I am so glad we went.  And mother enjoyed it very much too.  

Plaka is a challenge for her but we managed.  I want to go back when David comes and walk and sit at a taverna.  There are a lot of tourists but you can always find a secluded, narrow alley where you can sit in relative quiet.

After the concert we went to Cue Bistro where Katerina was djing.  Her friend Eleni was celebrating her birthday.  There were many people.  The music was loud.  We sat outside, on the sidewalk.  Drank, ate, and chatted with several friends whom I have met through her.  At about 11:30 the birthday cake was brought out.  Got home after 1 a.m.  Such late nights!

My rhythms are kinda screwed up.  Late mornings, late lunches, late nights.  I am trying to get used to it.  But I'm not sure if I can.

Tomorrow David arrives in the morning.  We'll see what happens, how it goes.  The weather has been good: not very hot, always a breeze.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

BACK IN THE TRENCHES: Two weeks done, two left

The breeze is strong around here.  More like a wind.  Doors slam, curtains billow.  The balcony offers me the possibility to feel it while I sip my morning coffee and write and read.  It's a narrow balcony but useful.  

Last night I took the Metro and went down to Athinai Street to see Katerina who was djing at Lemon Poppy Seed, a hair salon.  Across the street there is a nice bar called Tranzistor where I sat outside and had a beer, some risotto, and people-watched.  Later Katerina came and told me about her lightning-speed trip to Kalymnos, an island in the Aegean, to attend a private party where a famous dj was playing.  

So many djs!  All bars have djs who play.  Do they do that in Chicago?  I don't know.  But I don't remember that.  Of course, I don't go to bars anymore but in the past I don't remember that.

The Metro is very good.  Quiet.  Clean.  I should take it more often but there isn't a station near the house.  The closest is in Syntagma Square. 

I am looking forward to Sifnos.  I hope the place where we'll stay is nice enough and the beach made of sand and I can swim in the Aegean, sun myself, relax, read, and generally have a good, calm time with mom and David.  I hope we can explore the island too.  We'll see how mom does with her walking.  

Everyone goes away to some island or other.  I don't blame them.  You have to get away from the city.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

BACK IN THE TRENCHES: Second week ending

The German minister of finance (or economics) came to town and all the streets were closed to traffic and pedestrians in a large area.  If it's not the demonstrators, it's some visitor: can't go to Syntagma or Zapion or anywhere downtown.  What a pain!

I've seen three movies so far since I came in open air cinemas.  The last one was "Now you see me."  Very entertaining.  And the fragrance of jasmine was intoxicating.

Yesterday I saw my old friend Evelyn who lives here now.  She took me to Aegli - a cafe in the gardens of Zapion.  Lovely, quiet, refreshing.  We talked for a long time about our presents, about people from the past, her children, my grandchildren.

Every morning we go out for coffee with mom and sometimes her friend.  Then we have lunch late and take a nap.  What a life!  I'm kinda losing my mind.  But I'm holding on.  The television is always on.  Can't think straight.  

David comes Sunday.  It will be a shock for him.  I know.  I hope he doesn't get too upset with the chaos.  I look forward to Sifnos.  It better be nice or else...

Monday, July 15, 2013


Open-air cinemas are such a delight!  Athens is one of the few cities that still boasts of these. Sitting under the blue sky that slowly becomes dark, smelling the jasmine, (and sometimes the cigarette smoke), while watching a film is an unusual activity.  You can also eat and drink while in the cinema and even check your cell phone.  Last night Maria and I went to see "The Company You Keep," the film produced by Robert Redford.  Entertaining.  Then we walked to find a "taverna" to eat something and found a small one, empty at 11 pm.  At midnight we took the trolley home.  

Last week Katerina, mom and I went to see "Before Midnight."  Nice movie, great open-air cinema.  I want to take David to one of these when he comes.  

Did anyone see either of these movies?  I'll wait for comments.

It is hot these days in Athens.  I find it difficult to be out and about in the middle of the day.  It's better to go out after the sun sets.  Today I'm going to the National Archaelogical Museum later. It stays open til 7 pm.  Or so says the website.

Life is slow, monotonous, easy.  We eat lunch at 1 or 2 pm.  We take a nap.  Then we can go out or watch television.  I rather go out.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013


One very small apartment + three women + hot weather = actually not that bad.  We're getting along so far.  It is however curious.  Particularly unusual.  When was the last time you slept on the same bed with your mother?

Since yesterday I've spent most of the time inside.  Last night we went to dinner and today for coffee in the late afternoon.  I am making good karma.  Mother wants me near her.  I acquiesce. But not for long.  

The third woman?  My mother's caretaker.  She's from Georgia (not the U.S. state, the country) and speaks very little Greek.  Young and helpful.  But the struggle continues.  What a mess!

For most people Greece sounds like a fabulous destination.  For me - it carries a load of baggage.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Today is my last day at Hotel Titania; tomorrow I go to my mother's apartment.  It has been wonderful to have my own room and to be able to relax.  The conference ended today.  Yesterday we spent the day cruising three islands: Hydra, Poros, and Aegina.  Not much time spent on any but the sea air was refreshing.  I enjoyed my two new friends Marisa and Sally as well.  

The highlight of the cruise was going to Hydra after 30 years.  It has changed!  I remember it quieter, cooler, but then I was there in September through November.  Sandra and I had a good time writing, having parties, drinking, meeting young men, dancing.  We both immortalized our stay in poems.  In the evening I had a fabulous dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel with a view of the Acropolis and the entire city.  A cold beer and some pasta restored my body and mind from the sun and sea and wind.  If you come to Athens be sure to see the Olive Garden restaurant atop the Titania Hotel.  

Monday night's dinner offered me the opportunity to dance and become a bit famous for fifteen minutes.  Everyone was surprised I could dance Greek dances because they didn't know me.  The next days they came up to me and congratulated me and inquired as to the reason I could do that.  Funny.  Tuesday's dinner was more subdued.

The conference papers ranged from interesting and creative to difficult to understand.  The best part was meeting people from all over the world and seeing how the work of literary analysis and criticism is the same.  

Tonight I'll go to a bar where Katerina is playing music (she's a dj).  I'll see Samantha and a few other friends of hers I know.  Late nights are trying on my body but I'll make the best of it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

HERE I AM...Day 4

I managed to get up at 7 this morning even though I couldn't sleep last night.  Time difference? Go figure.  

A shower, a quick breakfast, registration and I'm in the conference room, sitting and waiting.  Welcome remarks, instructions, first panel.  Somewhat interesting. Break time. Second panel. Not comprehensible.  Why?  Most presenters have heavy accents.  And I mean heavy.  Yet some people manage to ask questions.  Lunch.  My room.

Where I promptly fall asleep and almost miss my own panel.

Geez...what's wrong with me?  I'm not myself, I'm out of sorts, I'm sleepy.  I wake up and need a minute to figure out where I am.  Look at the time.  Fifteen minutes before four: the time of my panel. Run upstairs to the conference room, grab a glass of water, sit.  My head is fuzzy.  Fortunately there is one paper before mine and I gather my thoughts, regain my consciousness.  

Read my paper but must shorten.  Fifteen minutes are not enough.  I finish, sit, breathe.

Some of this morning's audience has bailed.  Shoot!  Not happy.  After all papers are delivered questions.  None for me.  Crap!  No matter.  I come to the lobby brasserie to think, to write, to drink coffee.  Later we'll go to the Greek night dinner.

Miss David whose birthday is today.  Anxious about staying at mom's after Friday.  Need to find joy.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Sunday ends late as does every day here.  Yesterday I went to bed after 1 in the morning and today I woke up at 10:30.  Could not believe my eyes.  But tomorrow I need to be up at 7 since the conference starts at 8.

Last night we went to an open air cinema - one of the many in this city.  Surrounded by bouganvilleas and jazmine we watched "Before Midnight."  Lots of words, little action.  But I liked it anyway.  It was fun to see the landscape of the south of Greece, the house where Patrick Leigh Fermor lived, the sea, the town.  

Today was spent in Nea Makri: a town outside Athens where my cousins live.  Sat all day in the big veranda and looked at the Aegean down the hill, ate moussaka and lamb and dolmades, discussed politics, and breathed the clean air.  It is a fine place!  I'd love to spend a month there, alone, writing, reading, meditating.

I am anxious to see what the conference looks like, who the people are, what they do.  I really hope I am not disappointed.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013


First full day in Athens starts at a tiny cafe called Velvet on a side street off the big Panepistimiou Avenue where Titania Hotel is located.  Why this cafe?  There is WiFi.  Free.  So, here I am, reporting.

Uncharacteristically quiet out this Saturday.  I sit on the sidewalk and hear the few men around me talk.  I inhale their smoke.  I sip my filter coffee.  The white clouds dim the sun.  A breeze blows.  A woman arrives to sit with a couple of men.

I'm still not quite here in my own head.  Haven't settled.  Still sleep-deprived.

A loudspeaker truck drives by announcing "cleaning services".  These trucks are so ubiquitous in other countries.  I wonder why not in Chicago.

Later I'll meet Maria for a talk, and the to the movies with mom and cousin.  Open air cinema.  I'm curious about that.

Tomorrow to Nea Makri with family.  Perhaps I'll get to take a dip in the sea.

Monday starts the conference.

(The smoke asphyxiates me.)

Monday, July 1, 2013


     Half of this year is gone already.  Can you believe it?  Time seems to move faster when you get old.  Or older.  

     This half year has been difficult to navigate.  Anxiety levels have been high some days.  Life has proven challenging, yet - we go on.  We struggle and push ahead and eventually come out on the other side, scarred perhaps but successful.

     Happy month to all!  Good summer to all!  In a few days I'll be flying to Greece and will post every day as I like to do when I travel.  It keeps me sane.  It gives me a purpose.  It brings me close to all of you.  

     This will be a longer than usual journey.  I have misgivings but have decided to embrace it, enjoy it, learn from it, create, meditate, be productive.  

     Your responses, your comments, your thoughts will be welcome.  I will cherish reading what you have to say, anything, everything.  Please reply when you can.  Or just write me and tell me about your life.  

     Love to all of you, readers, friends.