Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Way I See It... at Starbucks

This morning I met my friend, Nancy, at Starbucks. If I was writing these words four years ago, they would have had a different meaning. Four years ago, I actually met my friend, Nancy, at Starbucks... for the first time. I was reading Green Dolphin Street for my book club and she asked about it. We struck up a conversation and an hour later realized we both: had adopted children (nearly grown) from South Korea, were artists, loved to read, and considered ourselves to be spiritual... although we might define that a little differently, as she is Episcopalian and I'm Orthodox. (We also don't talk about politics....)

My daughter calls this friend "Starbucks Nancy" because I have another good friend named Nancy... but I digress...

Anyway, here we are four years later, still meeting twice a month at Starbucks. She teaches at the University of Memphis but comes into midtown for a church service on Wednesday mornings, so we meet in my neck of the woods. She usually brings some watercolor samples (she has some work at a show that opened recently at Fred Rawlings' Atelier Art Gallery) and we talk about our latest travels, art work, and yes, much to their chagrin, our grown children.

This morning as we talked I began to read the quotes on our coffee cups... and yes, I've noticed them before, but for some reason today they caught my attention more than usual. So, tonight I went to the Starbucks website and found a bunch more of them... and since I'm pretty tired, I'm just going to let some others do the writing for the rest of this blog post... a few inspirational thoughts from Starbucks coffee cups... beginning with their company intro:

Sparking conversation: In the tradition of coffee houses everywhere, Starbucks has always supported a good, healthy discussion. To get people talking, “The Way I See It” is a collection of thoughts, opinions and expressions provided by notable figures that now appear on our widely shared cups.

Since my friend Nancy is also a lawyer, I'll begin with #271...

The Way I See It #271
The law, for all its failings, has a noble goal – to make the little bit of life that people can actually control more just. We can’t end disease or natural disasters, but we can devise rules for our dealings with one another that fairly weigh the rights and needs of everyone, and which, therefore, reflect our best vision of ourselves.

-- Scott Turow, Author of Presumed Innocent and Limitations

And here's a good one for us writers and artists (and everyone, really) to keep pure about our work:

The Way I See It #245
A person’s pursuit of goodness leads to greatness, but the pursuit of greatness leads to ruin. Pursue goodness and you will achieve great things.

-- John E. KramerVice president of communications, Institute of Justice.

Not all the quotes are by "famous" people ... I like this one, from an ordinary customer like me:

The Way I See It #246
Sometimes good art is simply creating an honest mess.

-- Stacy D. Flood, Writer and Starbucks customer from Redmond, Washington.

This next one's a good one for me, as I've been struggling with anger lately... and yes, it can fuel artistic pursuits, but oh my, at what cost...?

The Way I See It #276
Anger is contagious.

-- Sandra Cisneros, Award-winning author of Caramelo, The House on Mango Street and Loose Woman.

And here's my favorite:

The Way I See It #257
Love wins.

-- Tavis SmileyTelevision and radio host, and author of What I Know for Sure.

And this one...

The Way I See It #27

Do not kiss your children so they will kiss you back but so they will kiss their children, and their children’s children.

Noah benSheah, Poet, philosopher and author of Jacob the Baker, Jacob’s Journey and Remember This My Children.

You can read an interview with Noah here ... which includes some good stuff about writing. (That's him, right.)

Okay... I'm off on a road trip tomorrow, so I might not be posting until early next week... we'll see. I'm escaping for a couple of days to the beach while it's still warm... with a stop in Mississippi to see my mom... and another trip to Arkansas after the beach... so... I'll be back on Monday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Artful Hat Trick

My cup overfloweth… with three days of creative activities… soulful times back here in the U. S. of A. (Still slightly jet-lagged, but recovering!)

Starting on Saturday, as I carpooled down to Oxford (Mississippi) for the second monthly meeting of the Yoktapatawpha Writers Group. With three new “members” (everything about this group is pretty loose) in tow―Sue Brownlow, Terry Bernadini, and Cindy Beebe―we met up with Doug McLain, Herman King and Tom Hamilton on the balcony at Square Books for a full day of peer review, lunch, and, at the end of the day, drinks on the balcony of City Grocery (above, right.) It was "my pleasure" (inside joke for Terry) to buy drinks for everyone this month, as we agreed last month that anyone who got published was buying. My essay, “myPod,” appeared in the October issue of Skirt! Magazine. And actually, we should have made Cindy buy, because she’s already a published poet, with a recent publication in The Southern Review. See her name under "poetry" on this link. Only problem is, she can’t find a print copy of the magazine, so if anyone reading this knows where she can get one, please leave me a comment or send me an email at and I’ll pass the info on to Cindy. She’s an amazing poet… I can’t share a sample of her work, though, as poems in blogs are considered published. The group gave Terry a nickname, “The Slasher,” which gives you an idea of how shy she was with her criticisms! Seriously, with two folks writing poetry, four writing fiction, and two writing creative nonfiction,the peer review was fun, enlightening and very useful. Again, thanks to Doug, our fearless leader!

Sunday afternoon and evening brought another fun event, the RiverArtFest on South Main in Memphis. Dozens of artists sold their works from booths (check out these homemade hats by Kimmerle Green … that’s me and Elisabeth Crabb, who works at the Brooks Museum of Art here in Memphis. She’s married to Will Crabb. They’re both friends with our son, Jon, who was home from Fort Drum, New York, for a 5-day visit. (He’s the one who flies helicopters for the army and spent a year in Iraq back in 2003-4.) Anyway, the RiverArtsFest was full of music, wine and beer, and art… beautiful weather… and a great place to hang out with friends and family. (Sounds like a Sprint commercial. Ugh. Not sure why I’m so sappy tonight.) Jon got a poster commemorating a previous “Blues on the Bluff” event (cute girl at the booth, we don’t know who she is!) and we also ran into an old roommate of Jon’s, Jeff, who is in the trolley picture. We ended up at the Pearl Oyster House for dinner.

I loved this sign at the restaurant!

It reminded me of the one at the Blue Fish, also downtown:

We love children, too, but
unattended children will be
given a shot of expresso
and a free puppy.

You think these places have been overrun with ankle-biters?

Final pix from Arts Fest... Elisabeth and WIll show Jon their art find.

This morning I woke up at 6 a.m. inspired to write. But I drank my first cup of coffee with the new issue of Poets and Writers, which always inspires me. A favorite article this time is “And the Winner Is” … Tips from a Pushcart Prize Editor, by Anthony Brandt. What I loved about this article is the way he describes the two very different approaches to writing that characterize himself and his good friend, Bill Henderson. It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my friend and fellow YWG member, Sue Brownlow. Sue’s a purist … she’s of the Bill Henderson ilk. (about painting and writing) All Bill cares about is writing because you love it, but doing it well, again because you love it. Anthony is all about writing as a business… writing for money, where you have to satisfy others first… others like editors. I was wondering why you can’t do both (you know me, I want it all!) and just as I was thinking this Brandt says, “When you write for literary journals and the small presses, you’re writing to satisfy yourself first of all, and not for the money.” Okay. So I’m trying to start out there… but when I get this novel cleaned up, I’ll be a marketing maniac… Later in the article he gives some warnings about the exciting new genre, “creative nonfiction,” … the warning being that the genre encourages a certain amount of self-indulgence with its plethora of personal essays, the most common being about the loss of a parent. Huh. Just as I was putting together my stories about nursing my father and aunt and brother during their deaths. I'll probably keep working on the piece... even if the market is flooded with this type of story... with a nod to Bill Henderson. And Sue. Anyway, there were lots of good articles in the Nov/December P&W, so run out and get it if you’re not a subscriber! (If you’re interested in writing….)

My 2nd, 3rd and 4th cups of coffee fueled three hours of writing after a little time with P & W. It felt sooooo good to get back to serious work after two weeks of traveling. After lunch with our son (still in town visiting) I headed over to Starbucks for more writing… this time outside on their sunny patio. Gorgeous day… and a few more pages… in longhand, my preference for first drafts. I just like the way a good pen and paper feel in my hand… and watching the words follow the pen is much like watching the paint flow from my brush. The image was doubly satisfying today, as I was writing about painting. (creative nonfiction essay... working title is "Painter's Block.")

Tonight (Monday) I traveled all of three blocks from my house in midtown to the “Gallaway Mansion” for a reception sponsored by the River City Writers Series (University of Memphis MFA Program) honoring author Charles Baxter. Baxter is author of four novels, including A Feast of Love (2000) which was recently made into a movie, four collections of stories and three volumes of poetry. Hear an interview with him here. I purchased his latest book (this one is for writers) called The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, which he graciously autographed "with best wishes and good hopes for your work." Tonight he read from his forthcoming book (February 2008) The Soul Thief... based on a brush he had with identity theft. He was thoughtful, entertaining, and personable... and the event was lovely... complete with wine and fancy finger foods... and and introduction by Rebecca Skloot, new director of the RCWS, Creative Nonfiction Writing instructor in the MFA program, and published author. (I didn't snap her picture tonight, but here's one from the net.)

So... that's my artful hat trick for the "weekend" (Saturday-Monday this time)... stay tuned as the week unfolds! And please let me know if you find a hard copy of The Southern Review. (Although they recently rejected a short story I sent them.... no sour grapes here... way to go, Cindy!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Greek Cats and Lesser Creatures (and remember last 4 posts are about Greece)

Before the 2004 Olympics, there were reportedly over 70,000 ownerless dogs in the city of Athens (which has five million people.) The Olympic Committee worried that visitors would be bothered by them, although they are clean and friendly, just lolling around in the sunshine everywhere you go. There was talk of shipping some to Germany. I don’t really know what happened, but during our 10-day stay in Greece, we saw lots of them. Sissy petted them all and took pictures of many of them.
Me? I’m a cat lover. It was difficult leaving our 18-year-old cat, Oreo, (left) home with a sitter for twelve days. But when I found out the sitter was letting Oreo sleep with her, I knew we were in for it… sure enough, she’s been scratching and crying at our bedroom door since we’ve been home. Sigh. It’s good to know she was loved while we were gone!

Back to Greece… the felines weren’t to be outdone by the Athenian dogs… although we saw more cats in Leros and Patmos than in Athens… here are a few that caught my camera’s lens. Like the beautiful black and white number just outside the walls of the Monastery of Saint John on Patmos. She reminded me so much of Oreo!

And this one, on a ledge above Starbucks in the Plaka area of Athens (below).

In Athens, one cat sat on the chair beside me inside a restaurant! (wish I had photographed him.) These next two are on the island of Leros... where the cans of catfood were set out near the pebble road from our pension to the sea, nearby.

There were a few other interesting animals … like these ducks (below) that joined Sissy and me for a swim at Patmos!

And the beautiful gulls chasing the wake of our boat to Aegina ...

Greece is a beautiful place, and animal-watching was part of the joy of our visit. It's late and I'm too tired to download the pix of the rooster who woke us on Leros or the donkey or the chickens... but you get the picture!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Trains and Boats and Planes... and Amsterdam

October 22 and 23

Our last afternoon in Patmos, as I was walking back to our hotel from the internet café (see my last post) I saw lots of people dressed up (it was about 5 pm) at the town square. As I rounded the cor ner I heard music, and then I saw it (see photo)… a wedding procession coming down the main street of Skala! Musicians led, followed by the bride and groom… the bride’s train was being carried by several “train bearers” and there was a crowd of about 50 people. The procession started at the bride’s home, and continued to St. Nicholas Church, where the wedding would be held. (Louka told me this, as I watched the rest of the procession from his café.) The people at the square joined the procession as it went by. This is an aspect of community that has been lost in most places in America, I think. Later, there would be a line of cars honking their horns and following the bride and groom, in a car decorated with FLOWERS, out of town for their honeymoon. Groups of wedding guests gathered back in the town square to continue celebrating. All evening, as we walked the tiny winding streets, we saw people gradually wandering home in their wedding attire.

In the midst of this we walked again to the bay on the west side of Patmos to watch another sunset before our final dinner and checking out of our hotel. At midnight we caught this boat (the Blue Star Ferry) to Athens. We had a “deluxe” sleeping cabin on the bow, with comfy beds and the treat of being rocked to sleep by the rolling waves of the Aegean Sea. We were asleep by 1 am and up again at 6 am, just in time for a cappuccino before getting off the boat at Pireus (near Athens)… where we grabbed a taxi for a ride to the airport. There we rented a car for our overnight trip to Arohava, up in the Parnassus Mountains near Delphi. Three hours later we arrived… the only problem was we couldn’t figure out how to put the Saab we rented into reverse (not even Fr Paul, who drives a standard and is quite the car guy!)… so, as we missed our left turn into the hotel, we stopped crosswise on the narrow street against a curb, causing a huge traffic jam in the skinny, winding street. It was raining, and Fr Paul got out of the car to push us backwards, joined by two local men, while a local woman directed the other cars and truck to back up and make room for us to turn around in the middle of the street… it was hilarious. I would have taken pix if I hadn’t been so embarrassed. (Later we figured out the reverse, thank God!)

Our hotel, The Santa Marina, was a popular ski resort in the winter… with amazing views … the first snow of the season landed on the peaks during the night. This was just two days after I swam in the ocean in Patmos, but it seemed a season away because of the altitude and temperature drop. After checking in, in the chilly rain, we drove to the Monastery of Ossios Loukas, on a picturesque slope on the western foothills of Mount Helikon, near the ancient town of Steiri.

Several churches in this monastery have well-known icons, like these 11th century Byzantine mosaics of Christ the Pantocrator and the Crucifixion, which are in the narthex of the main church.

Ossios Loukas secretly followed two monks from Rome to Athens and entered the monastery of Pandanassa when he was only 14. He returned to his family later, and with his mother’s blessing, became an ascetic at Ionnitzi. Later he lived at this monastery where he was visited by thousands of pilgrims seeking help for their hardships, as he had also suffered much. He died in his cell here in 953 A.D. Miracles continue to gush forth from his holy tomb, which we venerated next to the small chapel of St. Barbara, where we attended 6 pm Vespers. The icons on the iconostasis in this 10th century church were stolen by Turks, so the ones in the photo are copies, but there are some very old icons in the larger church here.. by the well known Cretan iconographer Michael Damaskines (1570) who instructed El Greco in painting.

Back to our hotel at 7:30 then out for dinner at a local tavern (best lamb Father Basil has ever tasted!) and back to the hotel lounge for 32 flavors of hot chocolate! (Well, we only sampled three of them.) Hot baths, (we were cold and wet) and good night’s sleep under down puffs… waking to first snow on the peaks (behind me and Father Basil in the pix) and sun starting to shine again. Father Basil, Father Paul and Sissy got up early and headed off to Delphi… but I took a “personal morning” to sleep in, shower, and have cappuccinos and posting on my blog. We left around 11 am.

Driving to Athens we went through Thebes… and then COTTON FIELDS (yes, in northern Greece!) with this beautiful, tiny church, which Sissy and I named the Church of the Cotton. Our GPS system wouldn’t work in English, so we got lost a couple of times in small towns, finding various degrees of filoxenia (hospitality, for those who haven’t read my previous posts) from the locals we asked for directions, but finally made our way into the Athens area. We hailed a cab for Fr. Paul and Sissy, who were spending another night in Athens, and Father Basil and I headed for the airport to return the rental car and catch our flight to Amsterdam. I’m in the KLM Lounge at the airport now, finishing up this post. I’ll down load photos in Amsterdam and hopefully post this tomorrow (Wednesday) before we fly home… if I have internet access. Maybe I’ll have time to add a few more photos to previous posts, or figure out a way to link to a larger photo gallery… I’m not really very computer-savvy.

Reflections as we leave Greece? Beauty and holiness everywhere we went, from the busting city of Athens (five million people) to Aegina to the spiritual haven of Patmos to the lesser known jewel, Leros, and the ski-town of Arohova. Inconveniences are accepted more easily by people here … yes, we Americans are spoiled. I already knew this, but I recognize it even more as we start our trip home, because I’m finding myself looking forward to some of the things that spoil me… even in Memphis. But oh, I am going to miss the “Greek light” and the colors of blue in the Aegean that you don’t see anywhere else. And my dear friends and trip buddies from Mississippi, Father Paul and Sissy Yerger! Good thing they’ve got a grandson in Memphis… and a second grandchild due in November. (Oh, yes, and a daughter and son-in-law:-) So, when we kissed goodbye today, it wasn’t really goodbye…

Addendum… Amsterdam, October 23 and 24

I hesitate to even write about Amsterdam… it’s cold and cloudy and dreary compared with Greece…. but maybe a fitting transition as we return to Memphis….

We ride a double-decker train from the airport to Amsterdam Centre, then walk a few blocks to our hotel, the De Roode Leeuw, in the famous Red Light District. (No, we didn’t walk down the narrow streets where the world’s oldest profession flourishes… a sad commentary on the blatant disrespect for women here. ) On the streets, the women are mostly slim, in tight jeans and high-heeled boots. The men also mostly slim here, as everyone walks everywhere.

Sitting at breakfast in the glassed-in restaurant at our hotel on Wednesday morning, the street scene looks like a page in a Richard Scary book for children… those books that offer too much stimuli: there’s a lane for walking, but machines that clean the street also ride on this lane. Then the bicycle lane. Then the metro (train) lane, and finally a lane for cars. Then it all repeats on the other side of the street. At 8:15 am this morning all lanes were going at once, and it was still dark outside, with sunset at 8:28 today. Such a contrast with the sleepy, sunny streets in Greece.

A man is begging, and we watch him approach several people, who don’t stop or even look at him, as they rush to work. He would have better luck in Memphis, where the pace is slower. After breakfast we walk outside to check the temperature and he approaches us and explains, very politely, that he is homeless and it costs 7 Euros for the “hostle.” We give him a few coins and he thanks us, again, politely.

We decide it’s too cold to even walk to the boat rides in the canals, and we don’t have enough time for the museums, which open at 10… so we sit with our laptops and coffee at the hotel restaurant and just watch Amsterdam go by outside the window. We’re really in no shape to keep up with these fit people! We’re ready to go home. Back to the south where everything is slower. Our plane leaves in a few hours. My next post will be from Memphis. I'm actually ready to be there now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Patmos, Island of the Apostle of Love

Saturday, October 20

We visited the monastery of St. John this morning, and were welcomed into the office of the Abbot, Archimandrite Antipas for coffee and a visit before touring the monastaery churches and museum. Again the hospitality was amazing… to sit and “chat” with this man who is abbot of this amazing monastery… and to see him later vested and only a few feet from us among the crowd later tonight. A genuine, warm man, who acted as though visiting with us was the most important thing he had to do.

Later we venerated the relics of Saint Christodoulos in the small chapel of the Theotokos, surrounded by frescoes which were damaged by an earthquake in 1956 but still were beautiful. Saint Christodoulos founded the monastery in 1088. The monastery website will be in English (they told us) after Monday, October 22, so I suggest you Google the Monastery of St. John the Evangelist, Patmos, Greece for information and photos, as we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church here.

At the museum I saw the original icon of St. John (Cretan c. 1500) that I used as a prototype for the icon I wrote of him this past year. A huge collection of mostly 16th century icons here. My favorite “style”…. And then I saw it: a much more Western style icon of the Holy Napkin (face of Christ) – the “Weeping Icon of Holy Mandylion” from the late 18th century. It was very humbling because it reminded me that God chooses when and how to show His grace… He is no respecter of persons… or icon styles! Here’s the story:

A woman named Irene Kontouri was abandoned by her husband to the U.S., leaving her to raise two children alone. She told the children she must sell their icon of the Holy Mandylion in order to buy food. They wept and begged her not to… and the icon began to weep. She took it to the church and people from all over Patmos came to see it. Her husband was contacted in the states. He came home to Patmos, repented and returned to take care of his family. The icon was placed in the monastery of the “Holy of Holies” for a time, but later moved to the Treasury of the Monastery (museum) so that many pilgrims could be blessed by it. I sat before this icon for a long time, sketched its setting (no photos allowed) and prayed to Christ for healing for my family and others.

Leaving the monastery we ate lunch at a café with a view of the mountains and sea. Had meatballs with wonderful unusual flavor… jasmine!

Back in Skala (our little village) later I shopped a little, finding some wonderful handmade leather thing sandles from Crete and a few more gifts.

A light snack at Louka Grillis’ waterfront café, and then he drove us back to the monastery for the 3 ½ hour vigil. Many monks and priest (and lay people) were gathered not only for the usual Saturday evening vigil, but also the litia for St. Christodoulos. The bold, beautiful voices brought me to tears… with responsive chanting from two chanters stands … especially on “Gladsome Light” with a procession of priests making a semi-circle in front of the Abbot as 5 HUGE loaves of artos (special bread) were blessed. Louka’s cousin is a priest, and his brother is a chanter, and I watched the three Greek men gathered around the chanters stand and raising their faces, their hands, and their voices together as one. Later Loukas told us, “it’s a family affair.” (That's Loukas and his taverna at left.)

There’s a break after two hours … while some remain in the church reading the life of St. Christodoulos and other prayers, we joined the Abbot and other for coffee in a reception area, then returned to the church for the rest of the vigil. Well, we left at 11:30… it wasn’t quite over but our physical endurance was waning….

Asleep just after midnight, the only sounds I heard before morning was a rare thunderstorm…. And at 6 we were up for Liturgy at the Cave of the Apocalypse at 7!

A cruise ship pulled into the harbor just as our taxi took us to the cave… where the priest-monk, Father Isidoras, was aided only by a 15-year-old boy, Dimitry, and three chanters. The four of us were joined by one Greek family… and then a steady stream of tourists from the cruise ship, who were escorted in one side and out the other during the Akathist and other preparatory services. Thankfully the tours were over by the time Liturgy began.

It was surreal being in that cave where St. John heard the voice of God… saw where he rested, the place in the wall where he placed his hand when getting up… the ancient icons there… and the air of holiness. As the time for communion approached, Father Basil was asked to read part of the service, and then Father Isidoras handed the chalice to Father Paul to serve us. Something none of us will ever forget.

Coffee and refreshments near the cave afterwards with this one family and the priest and chanters was intimate and friendly… we only wished that we spoke Greek! Dimitry was our main translator… he is at the new boarding school in Patmos, but live in Thessaloniki during holidays. His poise and maturity astounded us.

From there the taxi took us to the Monastery Evangelismos (Annunciation) where the nuns had finished Liturgy and coffee hour. Sister Tabitha greeted us and gave a tour of the ancient church, the “new” (renovated) church, and Father Amphilochios’ cell. He was a spiritual son of St. Nektarios, and when he died in 1970, the bell outside the tower in which he lived rang of its own volition for 40 days!

Sister Tabitha showed us the iconography of Mother Olympia, the nun who trained under Fotios Kontoglou (my favorite) and then trained the other nuns, and they filled the entire church (icon of Crucifixion, below, by Mother Olylmpia) with egg tempera icons. Again, wonderful filoxenia… a beautiful monastery with views of the sea…. more photos later... have to run soon...

Returning to Skala, we ate lunch at another outdoor café … this time the best lamb chops ever! As the others napped, I’m at the internet café writing… hoping to download photos and post this tomorrow. Our boat leaves at midnight tonight….with a sleeping cabin for the 8 hour trip back to Athens…. More later!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Farewell to Athens; Discovering Leros

Wednesday October 17 was our final day in Athens. Lunch at “The Something Else” was fun – our waitress went to the University of Arkansas, then married a Greek and here she is. After lunch, the men took the walking tour of the Acropolis, while Sissy and I opted for a slower pace and a little shopping. Our first discovery was the working studio and gallery of a world-known artist, Takis Moraitis. This pix shows the huge cistern which was discovered in the ruins during renovation of this part of the Plaka, so he just works around it! My favorite piece of his is called “Byzantine Chapel,” but I also liked many of his paintings of doors. (I couldn't make this link work, but you can try if you want to: )

My first Starbucks since we left the States did not disappoint. Our final stop was at a fine jeweler for a special gift… then back to the hotel. Our final night in Athens proved to be an adventure… we were walking to a nearby hotel when we stopped at a corner newsstand for post card stamps. Someone decided to ask the lady to recommend a restaurant, so she sent us on a long walk to the Greek House. We were almost there when a taxi driver stopped, got out of his car and offered to take us to a better place, not so touristy… for only 3 Euros, and then a round trip back to our hotel afterwards. He said it was nearby. So we got in and rode for miles and miles… I had visions of the Greek mafia waiting for us in an abandoned warehouse or something. Finally we arrived at the supposed non-touristy spot, and the owner’s business cards were in ENGLISH…. Duh… but the food and service were good and indeed another taxi driver drove us back, and the first trip was “free”… The young man at our hotel desk said we’d been scammed. I said I wondered if the taxi driver was paid by the restaurant owner. You think?

Thursday October 18 offered opportunities to learn the Greek saying, “What can you do?” (I asked how to say this in Greek many times, but I keep forgetting!) Anyway, we board our plane for Leros, only to be told there is NO CREW, so we deplaned and were told it would be an hour and a half delay. What can you do? We got another cappuccino and relaxed, and were happy when the delay was over in thirty minutes. Back on the plane and off to Leros, where we land only a few feet from the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We arrive at our lodging, the Hotel Archontiko Angelous built in 1895… lovely, country manor, but only a short walk to the sea. Coffee is served on the patio by Lucy, our hostess the owner’s mother. The owner, Marianna, and her daughter, Irene, have gone back to Athens for the school year. We are the last guests of the season.

After lunch only a few feet from the water (small fish, shrimp, Mythos beer) I decide to go for a quick swim while the others rest at our hotel. Floating on the salt water, I take in the scooters rounding the curves by the water, the gulls overhead, the cats everywhere on my walk back to the hotel, and even a man on a donkey who turns to pose and smile as he rides away.

At 4:30 we head up a treacherous road to the Monastery of the Holy Angels, to meet Sister Gavrilia, the nun who is starting a new monastic community here. She has a special devotion to Mother Gavrilia who has a similar reputation among Orthodox Christians as that of Mother Theresa among the Catholics. Here we saw filoxenia at its maximum, as Sister Gavrilia welcomed us with smiles, tears, joy, hugs, showing us Mother Gavrilia’s bed, other personal items, and shared more of her story with us. She also allowed us to do prayers in the main church as well as in the room where Mother Gavrilia’s things are kept. As we were leaving she gifted us with many icon prints and other special items. We all felt a special love for her.

That evening we walked around the corner from our hotel to a lovely Italian restaurant, Osteria Italiana, owned by two professional musicians, da Giusi e Marcello,who often broke out in song as they came and went from the kitchen. Delicious pizza, pasta, salad, and cream caramel on the outdoor patio. Finishing up around 10:30, we walked back to our hotel and reluctantly said goodnight.

Friday, October 19

The next morning,… we woke to the sound of jack hammers and men shouting in Greek. The power was out due to local cable work, and there were electrical trucks blocking the road and entrance to our hotel. No worry … we sat and enjoyed breakfast on the patio (best French toast ever, fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee) and then we were off to the “castle” that housed another monastery… this one containing the original tomb and relics of Mother Gavrilia. But as we were leaving the hotel, Father Paul noticed the smoky cross made above the doorway as a family member brought home his candle from Pascha one year and made the cross with the smoke… and ancient custom here.

The church at the castle contains the icon of the Mother of God attributed to the Apostle Luke in AD 34. Also contemporary wall scenes of the icon being brought to Leros by boat and received by the town and church. On the iconostasis there are three icons painted in the 14th century and one in the 18th century. Zambetta, a lovely Greek woman who works at the church, greeted us and lit incense so we could do prayers by Mother Gavrilia’s tomb and relics. Zambetta, it turns out, once lived in Houston. We kept finding how small our world is.

As Niko, our wonderful taxi driver all over Leros for 24 hours, drove us to our boat to Patmos, we all agreed that Leros was the surprise treasure of our trip. We met regular visitors there who come back year after year for its unspoiled atmosphere, hospitality, and spiritual treasures. Views from the "castle" were amazing... the water really IS this blue! And the villages and churches below are storybook beautiful.
First day in Patmos...

Our boat pulled into Patmos and we walked from the dock to the Hotel Scala… then back to the waterfront for lunch at the Ostria Café: fried cheese, cheese pies, and “tomato balls” – yummy! Sissy joined me for a swim (brrrrrr) before resting in our rooms for a bit. Father Basil and I took a walk to the other side of the island (skinny part) to watch the sunset at Hohlaka Bay. On our way back to the hotel we found a tiny church of St. Paisius… we wouldn’t have noticed it, but an elderly woman dressed in black with a black head covering walked past it and crossed herself. Treasure everywhere.

A light supper at a waterfront café owned by Louka Grillis, a Greek man who lived for many years in Jackson, Mississippi (co-owner of the Mayflower Café there, for those who know the place) and a short walk back to our hotel finished off our first day in Patmos. Slow. Relaxing. Preparing for a big weekend of services at the Monasteries…. Sunday is the feast day of St. Christodoulos, who founded the monastery of St. John the Evangelist. More about them later! (I'm at an internet cafe in Patmos now, having spent the day up at the main monastery, but will write about it another day....)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Random Acts of Filoxenia… and boat rides and Holy Places

Monday, October 15

Monday morning we rode the metro into the Plaka area rather than walking the whole way. The cleanest metro station I’ve ever seen! Evidently they did lots of renovations around the city for the 2004 Olympic Games, and it still shows. The Men in Black were on a mission this morning, and we wove in and out of the numerous church supply stores until we found just the right place. While they were trying on new cassocks, kontos (vests) and skoufi (hats) I wandered up and down the street until I found the iconography studio of “George” (Evangelos Tsaprounis). He was working on a large icon (egg tempera) of St. Basil the Great, but also had samples done in fresco… “things I just play with while drinking coffee” so I bought one that illustrates the strong Greek Byzantine features of the eyes and nose, especially. There was a large wall piece of Archangel Michael taking the soul from a dead person (represented by the small body wrapped in a funeral shroud which he appears to be taking to heaven.) I had never seen this image before, but George assured me it was “traditional.”

Walking around central Athens we continually saw priests and monks in their skoufi and black cassocks… icons in most of the store fronts. How interesting it felt to be in this country where all the trappings of Orthodox Christianity are so common.

We continued to experience much filoxenia … like from Christos, our waiter at Ithaka, a sidewalk café named for a famous novel by a Russian poet. Christos went several blocks out of his way to show me an internet café so I could post my last blog, as I have having difficulty getting online at our hotel.

I had read in Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, the explanation about how the detached houses were torn down after WWII and replaced with apartment buildings, creating narrow dark street passageways where neighbors who once visiting on each other’s yards and porches now waved across from their balconies… but also how this did not disturb the wonderful sense of community… of belonging which is still evident, as school children walk to neighborhood schools together and everyone speaks to everyone on the streets. (Sofka Zinoieff, the author of Eurydice Street, is an English anthropologist who married a Greek man and moved to Athens. Her observations about life here are insightful and helped me interpret the life around us each day.)
Our greatest challenge came as we walked UP and UP and UP hundreds of steps to catch the lift up to the tiny church of St. George, which sits at the highest peak in Athens. Sissy loved the dogs, which seem to roam free all over Athens. (Again, Zinoieff says that there are over 70,000 of them in Athens!)

Monday night we met Sophia and Demetrios and their lively three-year-old Charalambos for a memorable evening at Acropol Café on the Plaka. As we walked in, I realized I had left my camera in the taxi! Sophia and the restaurant owners went into action, calling our hotel, getting in touch with a taxi company, and within thirty 30 minutes the driver returned the camera to us at the Plaka! More incredible filoxenia. Later we discovered that Sophia was a member of the Athens City Council and joked about making a run for Mayor some day. We believe she can do anything … as evidenced also by the three Greek dancers who had been trained at her dance classes, which she teaches after she finishes her day teaching physical education at a high school! Demetrios was charming, also… he does public relations for a company in Athens, and they choose to live in the inner city rather than out in the ‘burbs. Of course they wouldn’t let us pay for our meal, and Sophia gave us gift bags full of special items, including an icon of St. Luke the new physician for Father Basil and one of Saint Charalambos, patron saint of their son, for Sissy, who had become so attached to him… missing her grandson, James, who is also three and a half. She had only met us the day before, but seemed to know just the right personal gifts. Sophia for Mayor!

Tueday, October 16

We rode the Metro to the port of Pireus to catch our boat to the island of Aegina. More random filoxenia in Pireus… a lovely man saw the confusion on our faces as we exited the Metro, and walked with us several blocks to the pier! As I turned to thank him, he smiled, waved and was off.

As we boarded our boat the sun was shining and it was 66 degrees… gulls flew along with us, searching our wake for fish. We drank cappuccinos and soaked up the sun and sites… perhaps my favorite part of our trip so far. The deep azure water turned a brilliant turquoise as we neared the port at Aegina, our destination. A few steps off the boat we found a tiny white church of St. Nicholas, patron saint of, among other things, sailors. Along the docks are rows of sidewalk cafes, so we stopped for more coffee and delicious flat omelets with cheese, ham and tomatoes. And for a cowboy hat for my collection (my other two are from Seaside, Florida and Chicago.)

We took a taxi up to the monastery of Saint Nektarios. Sissy and I planned ahead, wearing skirts and taking head coverings with us. Then we laughed at this sign (below) just outside the chapel where St. Nektarios’ relics are kept. We felt a sad contrast at the monastery, compared with the filoxenia of the people who had helped us in Athens. No one invited us to visit with the nuns or meet the abbess or have a cup of coffee or anything. In fact, the woman who seemed in charge of the small chapel (she’s not a monastic) hurried us through, as though we were tourists in Disney Land… but finally Father Paul asked her if he could pray a short service of healing in the chapel, and she reluctantly agreed, but told us to “be quick about it.”

So we prayed, the four of us, and a visitor who seemed glad for the prayers joined us. Afterwards we were allowed to go into the cell where St. Nektarios lived… a tiny apartment full of icons, a very small bed, and a receiving room, where I imagined the life-changing conversations people were blessed to have with him. The grounds of the monastery were beautiful… immaculate, colorful, full of flowers in bloom and views towards craggy cliffs with small hermitages on them. It was hard to leave. We stopped in the monastery bookstore to purchase some holy oil before taking a tax back down the mountain. We had an hour or more before our boat would leave. Walking along the docks, I purchased some huge, sweet fresh figs and we found another café for coffee and drinks. Then I briefly explored a few “back streets” and found a wonderful little shop called IZA where I bought this bracelet, perfect with the blues and browns which I have chosen as my wardrobe staples this fall.

The boat ride back to Athens from Aegina was magical… we were filled with the joy of Saint Nektarios and the beauty of the islands… and watched the sun begin to set just before we arrived at Pireus. Back in Athens, we found a quiet restaurant, Diogenes, and enjoyed the best whole grilled bream and “cream Diogenes”… the chef’s own special recipe for Crème Brulee. Returning to our hotel I found myself thinking about Urania in this land of her ancestors. Surely she would feel, walking around here, as I do when I return to Mississippi…. “these are my people!”

(Tomorrow is our last day in Athens before we fly to Leros and take a boat to Patmos for there days. I’ll post again the next time I’ve got internet access.)