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7/18/09

Of Festivals, Summer Dancing, & Solo Travel

To open the weekend, last night we went to the Greek Festival in Portsmouth. It's a biennial event and we have been attending for years --- a great family-centered party of wonderful food and fun and dancing.

The festival runs the entire weekend from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Lots of bouzouki. Heart-stirring, feet-moving music. Families dancing together under the stars: old and young, couples and singles, children and parents with babies and grandchilden with grandparents.

Lots of souvlaki, mousaka, pastichio, pilaf and sweets and wine. An evening for the senses. I danced and danced. A lovely woman of 89 from New Mexico encouraged me to try dances I'd never done before. A sweet gentleman, probably in his early 80s, took me aside to coach me on dance steps. New friends made quickly in the ambiance of sharing and love.

The food. The music. . . . . reminds me of my longing to see Greece. . . . again.

I about to turn 50 when I made a solo journey. I just did it. I wanted to and I did. Packed lightly to move freely and easily. And off I went on a solo adventure. Although my friends didn't understand. Professional colleagues questioned. One even asked if I was afraid. I think he was talking about himself. Don't you?

It was not unusual for me to travel solo. I had been working for a research and training company and was on the road at least half the time to clients in 30 states including Alaska and in several Canadian provinces.

I had a direct flight to Athens from Boston. My plan was to take the bus from the airport to the Plaka; I didn't have a reservation but knew where I wanted to stay. But that day, there was a bus strike. If arriving passengers didn't have a car or someone meeting them, they went to the back of a long, a very long taxi line. It was early September. Hot. And I began to have my first 'wonder why I did this' feeling as I stood without a hat in the noon-day sun, no water, my fingers swelling. No matter. This was Greece. This is what I wanted.

That summer before leaving for Greece, I was driving a little black sports car with a removable top (not a convertable). I had purchased Greek taverna music and played it relentlessly as I drove to and from work and around town. On my first walk up to the Acropolis, I heard the exact same music that I had been playing all summer long. Small coincidence. Big jolt of surprise. A funny kind of welcome!
I spent nearly the entire month of September in Greece most of it on Leros, an island that has been variably owned by Greeks and Turks. It is closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, in the Dodecanese Islands. Originally, I thought to island hop. But in reality I just stayed put and watched the little town of Alinda wake up and go to sleep. Waiting for the bread to arrive. Watching old women dressed in black from head to foot walking to and fro and the men on donkeys -- astride saddles that haven't changed for 2000 years. You might be saying 'but why Leros'. 'Why not Santorini? Corfu? Cyprus? Leros is known as Artemis' island. It just called to me.

"Leros is a reasonably large island - approximately 50 square kilometres
with a population of 8,000 people. In my opinion it is one of the few Greek
islands almost untouched by the ravages of tourism. This is not to say that
visitors to our island should not expect a very warm welcome — the people are
hospitable and friendly, but it is true to say that Leros goes about her daily
business as usual only mildly aware of the outside world. "

I rose early every day . . . walked all over the island until early afternoon when lunch and siesta called. My sweet tiny villa was surrounded by bouganvilla. I brought my lunch to the terrace, drank regional wine, ate feta and tomatoes and olives. And then I napped. Ahhhhhhh. In the late afternoon, I bathed in the warm gentle sea that was steps from my door. And in the evening, a late dinner on a restaurant terrace.

On this island, there were few English-speakers. Few Americans visit there. It is mostly used as a vacation spot by people from the UK and Scandinavia. So, I didn't talk much. My camera was a fine companion. Books were great. But mostly, I just loved the experience of silence.

In Athens, I did the things one should do: the museums; the ruins; sounion; the sound and light show; the folkloric ballet; the shops; just walking and some island hopping to the nearby island.

Last night was rich in enjoyment. Rich is savoring sensations. Rich in memories.

5 comments:

Celeste Maia said...

Great story, Pat, I loved reading about your adventures in Greece. And now the Greek Festival, how fun it sounds. You are brave, and good for you!

Pat said...

It didn't feel brave at the time; at least, not beforehand. I would say the first few hours in Athens .... making my way through the airport, changing money, dealing with bus strike.....but later, no. Later was just .... wonderful. And everything I wanted it to be ....

Pat said...

It didn't feel brave at the time; at least, not beforehand. I would say the first few hours in Athens .... making my way through the airport, changing money, dealing with bus strike.....but later, no. Later was just .... wonderful. And everything I wanted it to be ....

T said...

I loved this story Pat. Being in Laros on your own, feeling the ambience of the place, observing the culture, a gentle presence. Thanks for sharing it.
xt

Pat said...

You are so welcome, T. It was a fine experience and one that I cherish above all over travels ..... solo travel is the best!

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