Friday, July 2, 2010

Sabbatical: Day 21

I have been enjoying myself far too much to update this blog. But let's catch up before I get too lost in the magic of Santorini, shall we? I warn you, this one is long. Feel free to skim.

When we last spoke, the writing workshop was almost over. The last day in Andros was just wonderful. That morning I brought in the revisions I'd made to my story in progress and the group approved of them--making some minor suggestions about word choices in a couple of sections. They were the exact places that I thought were clunky or not right too, so I was grateful for their help. They pointed out a couple of other things I hadn't even thought of. I love this group! I now feel obliged to finish it.

Dimple read us her revisions and her story is even stronger now. (Which is saying a lot, because it's already a hell of a piece.) It's really amazing how moving scenes around can make your story that much more powerful. In your own writing, try to play with that. Read what you've written out loud. If you come across a sentence or scene that really packs a punch, why not start with that and grab our attention right away? Or if something is boring for you to read, why not take it out altogether? We worked on more of Michelle's poetry and no one had much to say because they seem ready for publication. She wrote one called "The Writer's Alphabet" that I really wish I had written. Dawn reworked her personal essay and I loved the new structure. Just a simple suggestion or two from Natalie and the thing has meat on its bones now.

Then we read Amalia's piece--the beginnings of a novel about a real-life art collector, told from several different points of view. And here's another exercise for you: Try writing a story from one point of view, then write it again from a different character's point of view. How do the details change? Can you trust each character to tell the truth? What would one character notice that another wouldn't? Make sure each character has his or her own distinct voice and language. It's a workout for your brain.

Anyway, by the time we left the workshop that day, it was after 2:30 and we were starving. So Dimple, Dawn, Annalize, Michelle, and I drove into town to eat some souvlaki and french fries and lament the fact that we would soon part ways. I'm happy to say they've all become friends. When we got back we decided to get our bathing suits on and head to the small private beach in front of the hotel. I had never been the whole time we were at the hotel since I was on crutches, but I was determined to go at least once before I left. When one is heading to a sandy, slippery beach down a steep set of stairs and a sloping hill, it's a good idea to bring Dawn with you, who will not only carry all your stuff, but will support your weight on her shoulder and walk you down with tiny baby steps so you don't fall. (Thank you, Mama Dawn.)

The water was so good--and so salty that I barely had to swim, I was so buoyant. We all got in the water together and talked about how much fun we'd had and that we would support each other's writing efforts from now on. Too bad the sun didn't cooperate with us. It got kind of cloudy and cold, so we headed back and got ready for our final meal.

Before dinner that night, we met once more by the pool and had an informal reading by our instructors. Adrien read some of her poems, which were so, so good. (I bought her book.) Then Natalie read from her short story that just won the O. Henry Prize. I am so honored to have been instructed by these writers! At dinner, we laughed and talked about politics and Greece and Saturday Night Live and whose house we would all crash in the near and distant future. Then some of us stayed out and had a drink under the stars before finally turning in.

The next day consisted of packing, breakfast, and some hurried and sad good-byes. I hate this part. Then Annalize, Natalie, Adrien, and I headed for the ferries. Annalize and I boarded the one bound for Mykonos.


Don't let anyone tell you that Mykonos is just a party island, good for nothing else. It's actually quite beautiful! Upon our arrival, Annalize and I first made our way to my hotel, The Princess of Mykonos, not far from the port. Our taxi driver agreed to wait while I dropped off my bags so he could drive us back into town. I guess I took to long because by the time I came out he was screaming and cursing. How could I have taken so long?! He has other things to do! Apparently, there are only 30 taxis on the entire island so their time is extremely valuable. After I yelled back at him, he finally shut up about it. What do you know? Having a little New York attitude works well here.

After he dropped us off in town, Annalize and I bought our ferry tickets--hers leaving for Paros that afternoon, mine leaving for Paros to connect to Santorini that Wednesday. Business handled, it was time to sightsee! We walked all through the town, my hobbled foot only slowing me down a little. The streets of Mykonos are a maze of staircases and flowers and tourist shops full of evil eyes (blue stones that look like eyes, meant to ward off evil). Most of the taverns were not open yet, but the streets were still full of people window shopping and snapping pictures. Finally we found the section they call Little Venice. We stopped to have a snack by the water (a Frappe for her, an iced tea and a walnut and honey crepe for me) while gazing at the row of famous windmills. Life is good.

But all too soon it was time for Annalize to catch her ferry to Paros, so we hopped in a cab. (This actually took a lot longer than you would think since our driver got into a big fight with another cab driver about which one of them would take this Turkish tourist to Paradise Beach so she could rejoin her group. Our driver lost and the woman climbed into our front seat.) After dropping off Annalize at the port, the driver dropped me off at my hotel and I was officially on my own.

I didn't do much that first day. Truthfully, my foot was killing me. I basically just put it up and put ice on it that first night, venturing out only to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant (which was lovely, if a bit lonely). The next day I resolved to go to Paradise Beach and see what all the hubbub was about. I asked the woman at the reception desk about taking the local bus, but it sounded like a hassle. She suggested I rent a car or scooter. I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be a great idea! Cheaper than calling a taxi, and so much fun! I ended up renting a quad bike for the day. Man, I tell you--I felt like such a rebel on my quad, tooling around in my red helmet and sunglasses, having no idea where I was going. It was great! If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.

Somehow I found my way to Paradise Beach and spent the next few hours swimming and sunbathing in my beach chair (which I found out you have to pay four euros to use). I even found my way back to the hotel all by myself! Okay, I got lost a few times, but I didn't panic and got home safe and sound. That night, I got back on my ride and drove to town to check out the Mykonos nightlife. Little Venice is where most of the action is. You can hear the thumping baseline from far away, coming out of lots of open-air bars and restaurants and clubs. I stopped into one and watched tourists from Australia and Germany and all over dance together. Then I had a delicious pasta dinner before heading home. By then it was almost one in the morning and I had to get home and pack.

The next day I returned the quad bike (aw) and the hotel gave me a ride to the port. It only took about an hour to get to Paros, and waiting for me when I got there was Annalize! Happy reunion. We didn't have time to do much since my next ferry was leaving in less than an hour, but we had time to get a quick sandwich and drink. Then she gave me a whirlwind tour of Paros, where she lives. What an adorable place! I really wish I'd had more time. But just as we started weaving through the narrow streets, we heard my boat blow it's horn and had to rush back.


The ride to Santorini was a long one--a little over three hours, including one quick stop at the island of Naxos. But oh my, is the ride worth it! Santorini, even from afar, is breathtaking. Steep cliffs of red rock, topped with white-washed houses built into the mountain that look like snow until you get a little closer. Getting a cab from the port was impossible, so I climbed onto a local bus that takes you to the bus depot in Fira (the capital), where I connected to another bus heading to Oia. (Tip: Don't look down. The buses ride along the edge of the cliffs. It's a beautiful view, but I think I held my breath the whole time.) I wish I could say I was as impressed with my hotel but... Well, there's no phone in the room, there are bars on the window, my view is of a car rental place, and the pool is the size of a bathtub. Booo.... Hisss... They do bring you a great breakfast in the morning, which almost saved it. But I still think I'm going to look for something a little closer to town. I'll keep you posted.

In any case, Santorini is everything you think it is and then some. The views are unbelievable. Yesterday I walked all the way down the cliff on a zig-zag road of stairs leading down to a port and a small black beach. Even though I could have taken a donkey back up, I climbed myself. (I hope to be in much better shape by the time I leave here.) I wandered through shops selling pistachios and dish towels and leather bags and tiny blue and white ceramic churches. And in the evening I gathered near the end of the path with all the rest of the tourists to watch the sunset. Then I treated myself to a fancy dinner of lamb with vegetables in a cream sauce. Delightful. The only thing that would have made it better is if I'd had someone there to share all this with. I was pretty much surrounded by families and couples. I definitely felt a little awkward being by myself. To that end, when I got home I did write one bitter, meant-to-be-funny poem about it. Enjoy:

Couples (Rant of a Bitter Solo Traveler in Greece)

Everywhere I look
there you are

nuzzling into each other’s arms, feeding
each other feta off of shared forks

or mango sorbet from each other’s spoons,
groping like teenagers in Mykonos nightclubs.

I left New York to escape you, but
you have invaded Santorini,

ruining my sunset with your cooing,
hogging the table overlooking the caldera—

the one I wanted so I could sit alone, in peace,
looking at the scenery

instead of at you.
But single women don’t get the good tables.

They put me in a dark corner, near the kitchen
so no one has to look at me.

But you… You get candles and lanterns, laughing
waiters eager for your wedding plans,

while I have to beg for a second glass of tea.
They are only too happy to bring me the check.

No, I won’t take a picture of the two of you.
It will be more romantic if you do it yourselves.

Like I had to.

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