Wednesday, August 13, 2014
While traveling in Europe last month, I did some things that I’d wanted to do for decades. I visited Liverpool, which I first dreamed of doing in 1980.
I’m glad Mark Lewisohn, the author of Tune In, the 2013 book about the Beatles that prompted me to finally take the trip, saw that I credited him with getting me off my ass and on to Penny Lane.
After Liverpool, I went to London and caught an Eminem concert at Wembley Stadium. I had been interested in going to Wembley since 1985.
I capped it off by going to Greece, a place I had thought about for even longer than the other two. When I was around eight or so, I loved to read about the Greek gods and goddesses in the encyclopedia, back when encyclopedias were leather-bound books sold by door-to-door salesmen. (We had the World Book Encyclopedia, not the Encyclopedia Britannica.) I was a voracious reader, so I enjoyed the “never-ending story” aspect of encyclopedia reading. I’d get to the end of one mythology entry and there would be a “SEE ALSO” suggestion with several related topics, and I would just keep going. No wonder I took to the Internet so easily in the 1990s. It’s the same thing. One link leads you to another and, as we all know, you can find yourself clicking away the whole day.
Greece wasn’t originally in our plans. Earlier in the year, MrB’s new Greek friend Petros said, “You and your wife must visit me and my family in Greece!” MrB said, “Sure, thanks!” but we viewed the invitation as one does such invitations in New York: a polite thing to say and nothing else. Petros viewed it differently. As summer approached, he emailed MrB the equivalent of “Well? When are you coming?” MrB and I were astonished: “Wait, he’s serious? Okay! Let’s book our tickets!” The plan was to go to Athens first, where we would tour the city ourselves, and then join Petros and his family at their house on the island of Kefalonia. Shortly before we left, we found out that Petros intended to entertain us in Athens too. We were worried we were imposing but Petros insisted, “We Greeks love to host our friends!” Well, okay!
In Athens, we spent time with Petros, his wife Anastasia, son Pavlos and daughter Selini. We had fantastic lunches and dinners with their friends. (I wore my decade-old Versace dress to one party.) I was pleased that one of their good friends is well-known jewelry designer Ileana Makri. Ileana and I bonded over having our designs knocked off by the same dude. “There are no new ideas,” Ileana noted. “Only interpretations, and I recognize MY interpretation when I see it!” Petros’s sister, a famous history professor, gave us a personal tour of the old area of Athens. We also had special tours of the Museum of Cycladic Art and the New Acropolis Museum. I meant to prepare for the Acropolis while I was in England by going to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles, but it was one of the only things I couldn’t squeeze into the few hectic days we had in London. The Elgin Marbles are the sculptures that Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, removed from the Parthenon and other Acropolis buildings during the early 19th century. He had permission from the Ottoman Empire — Turkey — which occupied the Greek territories at that time. A couple of decades later, the Greeks overthrew Turkish rule in the Greek War of Independence. There has been a long-running debate about returning the marbles to Greece. Greeks feel, among other things, that the removal of the work was authorized by what was essentially an occupying force. Did the Turks even have the right to sell off Greece’s heritage? The arguments against returning the marbles include (a) the move would set a precedent that would empty the world’s museums and (b) the patronizing assertion that the Greeks wouldn’t be able to take care of such valuable artifacts due to Greece’s debt crisis. Having seen the stunning Acropolis museum, which has an amazing view of the Acropolis buildings and places in the museum reserved for the marbles, I say, “Send everything back to Greece!” Those works would mean so much more at the original site, in the right context, than they do in London. Besides, England has plenty of its own impressive history to display in museums.
Pavlos (with Petros playing back-seat driver) drove us outside of Athens to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, so we could see the sun set over the Aegean Sea. Despite Pavlos’s Indy 500-worthy driving, we were a few minutes too late for the sunset, but it was beautiful anyway.
Legend says that the Aegean Sea got its name when Aegeus, the king of Athens, leaped to his death from this spot. He was awaiting the return of his son, Theseus, from Crete, where Theseus had faced down the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. Theseus had set sail in a ship with black sails. If he survived, he was supposed to return with white sales. But, you know how it is after you kill a monster. You’re all excited and you’ve got so much on your mind, you just forget to change your sails. Aegeus saw the black sails and, stricken with grief, committed suicide. Theseus inherited his throne. I got extra enjoyment out of this visit because I was reading Mary Renault’s novels about Theseus: The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea. I like to do themed reading when I travel. Great books are even better when you’re in the places in which they’re set. If you like historical/mythological fiction, definitely check out Mary Renault. The way she characterized the Minotaur was brilliant. I’m reading her Alexander the Great books now.
After Athens, Petros, MrB and I were supposed to take a short flight to Kefalonia — Anastasia had gone ahead of us. We had a fun, unplanned adventure when we got to the airport and found out the travel agent had made a mistake with my ticket and there were no seats left on the flight. Petros exchanged many impassioned phone calls with the sheepish agent and the end result was that we were put on a helicopter instead. Petros was terribly apologetic about the confusion and I was like, “Are you kidding? This is so much better!”
The view was superb.
Our pilot was a former military guy, so we were in good hands.
The house on Kefalonia was at the top of a mountain, with stunning views in all directions.
I bonded with Pavlos’s Jack Russell puppy, Irma, who came to Kefalonia with us while Pavlos returned to England for a teaching job there. She already made an appearance on the blog here, but I have to share another photo.
I wish I got some video of Irma the night she sipped (or so we suspect) from the digestif glass I had set down on the patio next to my chair. She wilded out for a good 15 minutes.
We went swimming at two beaches — the water was so crystal-clear that you could stand still, look down, and count the little fishes.
We took a long and winding drive through the mountains to the village of Fiskardo on the other side of the island. Normally, we would have taken a pretty coastal drive, but that road was badly damaged by an earthquake earlier this year. The rental car apparently hated the twisting, dusty drive and gave up in the ghost in a tiny town.
We called a taxi and continued on our merry way to have dinner at the renowned Tassia Restaurant in Fiskardo.
I fed tiny bits of our sea bream to a stray cat that had settled at my feet until another stray cat found out about it and I nearly got in the middle of a catfight.
After a few days, we all flew back to Athens together — on a plane, not a helicopter. Petros and Anastasia went back to work, and MrB and I got ready for our flight home. When we parted at the airport, I had tears in my eyes because I didn’t want to let Anastasia go.
Before we left Kefalonia, Petros and Anastasia asked if we would come back next summer, and I was like, “Duh! I’m already buying the plane tickets.” (Irma was thinking, “I hope so, I never get any booze when you’re not here.”) My new ambition, after reading the Mary Renault books, is to visit Crete.