Summer Searching – Archaeological Travels in the Mediterranean

It has been too hectic of a time to write as I have been traveling since the end of May: first to Portugal to see something of the country for a few days before starting work at an archaeological dig in eastern Portugal. I visited Lisbon briefly before taking the train to Porto and spending a few nights there, exploring the city by day. I met up with an old friend from New York and we had a wonderful chat at a crowded outdoor bar near my hostel.

The next day I picked up a rental car and drove to Spain. On the way I visited a site in Portugal called Citania de Briteiros, where a settlement full of round, stone houses once flourished from around 200 BCE til the Middle Ages.

I continued on toward northern Spain, crossing a beautiful National Park and finally arriving at Ourense, where I’d read about thermal baths along the river. I found one and spent some time there, relaxing with locals in the natural hot mineral water, not far from a Roman bridge which was still in use for traffic until recently.

I went back to Lisbon and there met up with the rest of our dig team at the airport to head out to our home base in a small town called Safara. We were staying in the family home of the dig leader, Mariana’s partner, Joao. They had a toddler and lived downstairs in the newer part of the house, while we all bunked upstairs. Normally we would have left for the dig site before dawn every morning because of the heat, but we had unusually cool weather, so our mornings were surprisingly relaxed.

We ate cheese sandwiches for snack time between hardcore digging sessions. We unearthed slag, beads, and even a spindle whirl. We had lunch each day at a local restaurant which catered to us, serving traditional Portuguese dishes. In the afternoon we would wash pottery and chat before a bit of rest and dinner, shared at a long table to fit all the participants in the dig, which was the first season of excavations at this site, called Castello Velho. On weekends we had field trips to local sites, including a couple of medieval walled villages.

Once the dig was done, I had a full agenda: southern Spain, Malta, Sicily, Southern Italy, and Sardinia. My itinerary was shaped largely by my interest in the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, related groups that originated in Canaan (modern Lebanon) and spread across the Mediterranean during the early Iron Age. Some (surviving) notable cities founded (or heavily inhabited) by the Phoenicians include Lisbon in Portugal, Tangier in Morocco, Cadiz and Malaga in Spain, Palermo in Sicily, Cagliari in Sardinia, Genoa in Northern Italy, and Marseilles in France.

Unfortunately, the more successful and long-lived a city, the less likely it is that we can find traces of it’s foundations, as they are lost under layers of subsequent construction and occupation, with many of the original stones reused in later buildings and walls.

Luckily, at Cadiz a recent demolition in the old city allowed archaeologists to excavate several meters below current street level to find the remains of the Phoenician settlement from the 8th century BCE. Though a theater has since been built on top of the excavations, it is still possible to visit the subterranean site for free and get an idea of what Cadiz (Gadir) was like in the early era of Phoenician habitation there.

They even found a skeleton of a man who died when the settlement was destroyed by fire and genetic testing revealed him to be born of a local mother and a Phoenician father. I stayed in the enchanting city for days and befriended two lovely women at my hostel: one from Belgium and another from Finland. I loved Cadiz, but had to move on for time’s sake, so I rented a car and my Finnish friend, Karin, came along for the ride.

First we visited a site near El Puerto de Santa Maria (on the other side of the Bay of Cadiz) where the ruins of a Phoenician settlement have been excavated. It didn’t look like much, but it was very interesting to see this Middle Eastern-style tell in southwestern Spain. Further south, we pulled off to visit a beach for a picnic and swim and I walked out on a long stony quay or water break poking out toward the island of  Sancti Petrie. It doesn’t look like much, but it bears the crumbling remains of a medieval fort built atop the once renowned temple to Hercules (Phoenician Melqart), which made the region famous in antiquity, attracting even Julius Caesar to pay homage there.

We continued on along the coast to Bolonia, where we stumbled upon a Roman site known as Baelo Claudia – the name alone speaks of its Phoenician heritage, since Baal was one of the primary deities of the Phoenicians (the name means ‘lord’ and the deity was the consort of Astarte, the queen of the Phoenician/Canaanite pantheon). However, the Romans constructed a new city on top of the original settlement around 200 BCE, completely obscuring the Phoenician city except the name and the heavy focus on fishing and maritime activity.

We continued on to Tarifa, where we met up with our Belgian friend, Julie, for tapas in the charming old seaside city, with winding little streets.

Then it was on to Malaga (Malaka) where almost nothing remained of the original Phoenician settlement, though the local museum had much in the way of artifacts and information about the Phoenicians who founded the city. A few kilometers from downtown, a boatbuilding workshop and ethnographical museum called Astilleros Nereo has been working with archaeologists to reconstruct a Phoenician boat based on remains of a shipwreck found off the coast of Spain. Its size and dimensions are very similar to the Spanish fishing boats (jabegas) which were still used for fishing until recently, when prohibitions on net fishing put an end to the trade. They even still have eyes painted on them, just as the Phoenicians used to do!

Julie arrived in Malaga and the three of us went to the Festival of San Juan on July 24. It’s an ancient pagan ritual co-opted by Christianity and given a Saint’s name, but it remains pretty Pagan. A former coworker from Spain told me about the festivals around the solstice and several years ago I attended a rather fateful party on her rooftop in Brooklyn, where we celebrated the festival, with a ritual fire in the firepit, which we jumped over at midnight. The festival in Malaga was huge – thousands and thousands of people gathered on the beach for a concert and general merriment, not unlike New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro.

Julie and I went to a less populated part of the beach and found people with bonfires sitting quietly, some with candles and other ritual implements. We found a fire with a beautiful scooped hearth and chatted with the family who built it. They told us what to do and let us participate in the ritual using their lovely fire. First we had to write three wishes on a piece of paper and burn it. Then we were to jump over the fire. The final step was washing hands, feet and face in the sea, but Julie declined the last step.

I, on the other hand, waded in.

Though I’d have liked to search out more sites in Spain, I was soon on to Malta to see the famous megalithic temples there. I knew there was also Phoenician history on the island, especially at Mdina and Rabat, but unfortunately my time was too short and I had to skip the trip there in favor of seeing Gozo. The archaeology of Malta certainly demanded observation, Phoenician or no. I saw some wonderful temples and visited the archaeological museum at the capitol, Valletta, which had quite a large section about the Phoenicians and their impact on Malta. The museum is full of great finds, though it isn’t a large space and many labels are outdated and even illegible. The sites of Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra on Malta, and Ġgantija on Gozo were fascinating and well worth the visit.

After Gozo I had to make time getting back to Valletta to get my bags and catch a ferry to Sicily. There happened to be a free MTV sponsored summer concert happening in the city just at that moment, so I had to hop off the bus and speed walk to the shop where I’d left my bags and then again to the ferry terminal, by which time I was a total ball of sweat. But, I made it on time and celebrated with a glass of rose and a packet of chips.

We departed at sunset and the city looked beautiful from its glittering harbor: I could just imagine the delight of the Phoenician sailors who came to Valletta and set up camp on the island just off the coast. It was a quick ride over to Pozallo once we left Valletta’s beautiful harbor. Google Maps took me on a wild walk about town and a sympathetic taxi driver stopped to pick me up and offer assistance. When I finally arrived, I was exhausted and ready for the luxurious single room I had booked for the night. I wasn’t hungry, so I washed laundry under the light of the full moon and hung it to dry on the rooftop lines, then went for a beer at a local cafe and wrote in my journal. I was impressed by the activity in the small city, with children and adults alike strolling the boardwalk and playing in playgrounds, though it was after midnight.

After a good night’s sleep, I hung out at my hotel to make arrangements for my next steps. I booked a train for Syracuse that evening and had a flat arranged for my arrival there, though I committed a classic blunder and didn’t check how long it would take to get from the train station to the flat. My train was over an hour late, and it turned out that the flat was an hour’s walk from the center of the city – practically outside of Syracuse! By the time I arrived there, I was quite sweaty and exhausted and since the buses didn’t run very late, I stayed in the area, buying groceries to cook for dinner and then visiting a nearby beach I saw on the map. It turned out to be associated with an old church, now in ruins, called Santa Panagia – the saint of all things – a common appellation for a female ‘saint’ likely related to a goddess in pre-Christian times. I brought a beer and chips and went in search of the sunset, which was beautiful with Mount Aetna in the distance. I explored the ruins and found a good spot to enjoy my well-earned happy hour.

Then it was back to the flat for a rare bath and the chance to make my dinner in a real kitchen – welcome after weeks of hostels.

In the morning, I had breakfast and went back to Santa Panagia for a swim. I cleaned up the litter around the rocks heading to the cove and then hopped in and swam for the little beach at the head of the cove, where I’d read that a fresh water spring flowed. The beach was covered in bottles and other plastic litter, and I set about cleaning it up as well. In half an hour, the beach was largely cleared of rubbish, though I couldn’t get it all. And I even discovered a “globster” – the remains of a sea mammal, maybe a small whale which had died and washed up in the cove some time ago, leaving nothing but a decaying pile of whitish blubber.

Thinking back, I’m reminded of the trip I took with my best girlfriends from college for our 30th birthdays, the August before my sister Erika died. We drove from New York to Maine and spent several days exploring the area around Bar Harbor. Our last morning, I was hungover from the festivities of the night before and threw up even before we visited one final beach. It was a misty morning and we couldn’t see much of the sea, but suddenly a rock emerged from the mist. As it cleared, the rock seemed to move closer until we realized it was a whale. Everyone on the beach stood motionless, awed by the sight of this enormous creature, dead and floating into the bay. Then the wind shifted and we were all hit by the smell of the rotting whale. Sarah moved so fast it was like she teleported to the other end of the sandy expanse, away from the putrid behemoth. Nora and MC likewise moved back to safe distance, gagging all the while. I retreated to the edge of the beach and barfed. It was a strange finale to a bizarre birthday trip.

This whale was pretty far gone, however, and aside from a little stench, the globster was nearly imperceptible, covered in seaweed. Otherwise the beach looked lovely cleaned up. Then I walked around toward the back of the beach and found the freshwater spring, trickling from some rocks and down into a stream which flowed to the sea. I drank from it, giving thanks for the beautiful beach and the clear sea, and then headed back to the flat to pack up and leave.

I arrived to find that I’d been given bad intel and I was late to check out, so I packed in a hurry and headed into the heat of midday. Rather than wait for an hourly bus, I walked back to the center of town with all my things, but I had a good sun hat and my parasol from Seville, which served me well.

I forgot to mention Seville, as it wasn’t my favorite stop, but there was a wonderful archaeological museum there, which I entered for free and which contained some fabulous traces of the Phoenicians in the form of the Carambolo Treasure, found not far from Seville. I also learned of some archaeological sites near Seville where the remains of Phoenician temples had been unearthed, but I couldn’t manage to reach them.

Syracuse was full of Greek and Roman ruins, but something about it had the scent of the Phoenicians: they loved to settle islands just off coastal areas to form trade relations, and they loved places like Santa Panagia, where fresh water meets the sea. I walked through the large archaeological park on the way to my hostel near Ortygia, the island of Syracuse. Once I’d settled in and showered off the sweat from that long stroll, I took my parasol and headed to the archaeological museum, where I spent several hours learning about the prehistory of Sicily and seeing countless wondrous grave goods from all sorts of burials. There were also the remains of temples, some of which had once been on Ortygia, which was the hub of the city from the beginning. I was struck by the near complete absence of a mention of the Phoenicians.

Then it was time to see Ortygia. Two bridges connect the island to the rest of the city and boats crowd the canals and marinas. Upon entering the old city, the temple of Apollo is the first things one sees: a cluster of columns remains, a couple of meters below the ground level. Nearby is the market and to the other side, the city’s ancient streets wind in a pleasantly tangled web of churches with stately edifices and restaurants serving pizza and seafood. I went in search of the fountain of Arethusa, which is said to have been created when a nymph sought escape from unwanted advances and was transformed into a sweet spring on the island. Ortygia supposedly means “quail”, possibly referring to the island’s shape. I wasn’t able to drink from the fountain (which was more of a pool) but went for a dip at the small beach nearby, which was most enjoyable. I got a prosecco and some snacks at a nearby establishment, and settled in for the sunset. The streets were crowded with tourists and residents alike and the bustle was pleasant. Once the tangerine sun disappeared, I went in search of food and found a pizza place outside on a main pedestrian street. In spite of asking around, there wasn’t much happening in Ortygia that night, as far as live music, so I wandered back across the bridge and home to my hostel.

In the morning I went bright and early to the archaeological park, and was disappointed to find that much of the sprawling area was closed: I was able to visit the so-called “ear of Dionysus” and a few nearby caves as well as the Greek theater, which was rather interesting because of the caves located just above the seating area, sometimes used as tombs. All in all, I was disappointed that so little of the park was accessible, and moreso because the ticket hadn’t been cheap. There are so many Greek and Roman theaters throughout the Mediterranean, anyway, that unless you specialize in them, they get rather repetitive: I’d seen one in Cadiz, another in Malaga, and there were more to come.

Then I went back to Ortygia to look for a Jewish ritual bath or mikvah, discovered beneath a hotel. I passed through the market on the way and then had a bit of lunch before taking the guided tour to the baths. The guide told us that the baths likely existed in some form long before the Jews of Ortygia modified them, possibly dating to the Greek era of the city, before the Roman conquest. I smelled the Phoenicians, knowing how they held sacred springs which met the sea, but I held my tongue and dipped my feet into the baths before re-emerging to the brightness of Ortygia. I made my way back to the font of Arethusa and took a swim at the picturesque little beach before heading to my hostel and then to a bus for Catania. I caught it by a few minutes and headed north to Catania.

I didn’t have much on tap for Catania, except that it was a good jumping off point for going to other parts of Sicily. The city itself was rather unexciting, though I did find a park with a lovely gazebo that reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting, and as I was walking back to my hostel, a tiny kitten scampered out of the shadows at me and I spent several minutes cuddling it before the park was closed and it was time to go. Kittens encountered in my travels always remind me of Erika and her propensity for feeding strays on her travels.

The next morning I got up bright and early and strolled toward the historic center, where a fountain with an obelisk astride a black basalt elephant is the symbol of the city. According to legend, the elephant has been the symbol of the city for a long time, with the elephant perhaps coming from Libya around the time of the Roman victory over the Carthaginians. The city was associated with elephants long before the current fountain was built in the mid 1700s. I visited the nearby fish market and had a yummy apricot cornetto with a cappuccino for breakfast before wandering back toward my hostel to get my bags and make my way to the airport to catch a bus to Agrigento, the next stop on my tour of Sicily.

Agrigento is famous for the so-called Valley of the Temples, located just outside the small modern town. Until around 300 BCE, Agrigento had been an influential city by the sea, famous for its temples.  I checked into my hostel and made some lunch before walking to the temples. It was a long hot walk and I was grateful for my parasol. Luckily, it was free that day and I got to spend a couple of hours exploring the popular site, which is the largest archaeological site in the world, with temples dating mostly to the 6th century BCE, built in the Greek style.

The Carthaginians overthrew the Hellenistic city and spent about two hundred years in Agrigento, but little of the information at the site mentions them, except as the destroyers of some of the temples when they conquered the city in 406 BC, though there is an area of excavated Phoenician-style settlements not far from the acropolis.

That evening there was a festival in town in honor of the patron saint of the city: bright lights arched over the small main street and sellers of sweets and balloons filled the village square. I ate some dinner at the hostel and then poured some wine and brought it along to watch the festivities, but I found myself feeling a bit under the weather and ended up leaving before the fireworks to fend off my impending cold. Unfortunately, I felt even worse the next day, so instead of visiting the famous Scala dei Turkiye, I just went to the local museum for a few hours and then came back to the hostel to rest.

In the morning I left Agrigento for Marsala, where I stayed in a brand new apartment for practically the same amount I’d been spending on hostels. I was feeling a bit better and my host was a young Sicilian guy who had his friend, Salvatore, come over to make me lunch and show me around the city. We took his scooter to the local museum, which was famous for the remains of a Carthaginian war ship dating to 235 BCE.

I showed Salvatore around the museum and explained things in my extremely limited Italian: the museum itself was located on the site of the ancient Phoenician city of Lilibeo, which was founded after the island site of Motya was destroyed by the Syracusans around 397 BCE; instead of rebuilding there, they’d opted. The museum was small but full of treasures and I enjoyed exploring it. Then we went to the center of the city to see a couple of other archaeological sites and explore the old town.

The next day I visited a sacred spring and bathing pool under a church, which seemed to me likely to be the remains of a much more ancient religious site – probably a “Venus” or Astarte temple.

Then I caught a bus to go to the island of Motya, which was a very special place indeed. Founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BCE, Motya is unique in that the Phoenician city was left just as it had been after its destruction. On the ferry, I met a friendly American family who recommended I visit Erice, a medieval town to the north of Marsala – advice I decided to take. I spent a happy few hours Motya, exploring houses, temples, a fabulous sacred pool area, and the museum of local finds. It was one of the highlights of my journey, being the first large Phoenician settlement I was able to visit without any pesky Roman ruins to obscure it. In antiquity, a road existed between the island and the mainland, allowing carts, chariots, livestock, etc. to access the city. It was a truly fascinating afternoon.

I left for Erice the next day, taking a train to Trapani in the afternoon, and from there getting the bus to the funicular. A mountain juts sharply upward about half a mile inland from the sea, and at the top sits the city of Erice, known as Eryx in antiquity and famous for the Astarte temple that once stood on a rocky outcropping high above the surrounding plains. Funny little pods traipsed by and I got in one and watched Trapani spread before me, the sea washing perfect blue-green against the city’s shores and then receding as I went up the mountain, further and further till clouds enveloped my pod and all I could see in all directions was white. It was unearthly and the journey upward took some time, though we moved swiftly. Wind buffeted the pod, but soon enough I could glimpse the city’s towers and stones through the mist. I had arrived.

I was staying in another apartment, as there were no hostels there. It was still early evening, so I dropped off my things and went off to explore the little medieval town. It was certainly touristy, but I was in a sweet little flat not far from the temple site, so I headed in that direction. White clouds concealed the shape of the castle, called the Venus Castle, which was built atop the ancient temple, using many of the well-hewn blocks original to the temple. After several minutes, the clouds began to clear and the castle emerged from her shroud, shedding veils till the whole of the structure was exposed: the defensive wall and a tower were in tact and you could clearly spot the large Phoenician stones – yellowish in color – mixed in with the grey, small and un-hewn medieval stones. I was able to get into the castle for a discounted rate, thanks to my student status and it was a wondrous place, though I generally care little for castles. One section of wall was thought to have been Phoenician and the remains of Roman baths are also there, but as the temple was probably open air, and the stones of any structures have been reused, it is hard to know what the ancient temple was like.

Astarte, Aphrodite, and Venus were different names for the same goddess of love and war, and the dove was her principal symbol. Libya was another name for her, and it was said that Astarte’s sacred doves would fly from Erice to her temple in Libya and when a red or pink dove returned to the mountain, it was considered to be the goddess returning, and celebrated with great feasting. In Roman times, the temples was popular throughout the Mediterranean and devotees of Venus Erycina were many. It was in the first few centuries of the common era that her temple was destroyed and her worship was curtailed.

After the temple, I went in search of the city walls, which are all that remain of the Phoenician city. I wandered through the arched stone gates and marveled at the well-constructed walls, nearly circumnavigating the city to see them. Winding streets and charming buildings make the medieval city popular, but I was pretty into the walls.

I went back to my flat for some wine and a snack and found a lovely park to enjoy the last dim tendrils of sunlight. I thought of Erika and how she would have liked it there and enjoyed this happy hour with me.

I had to go in search of dinner eventually and headed into the winding streets in search of a vegetarian dish.

I searched in vain for signs of nightlife after an overpriced but tasty dinner and went home to bed. I awoke to wander the city, visiting the castle again and then breakfasting on the local pastry: a round fluffy sort of cookie filled with warm custard and topped with powdered sugar. I read my cards and sipped a cappuccino before checking out of my apartment and making one last stop at the local museum.

Again, my entrance was discounted and I thoroughly enjoyed the small but sweet little museum, with an interesting collection of Carthaginian and Phoenician artifacts.

Then I took the funicular back down, grabbed a bus and headed for Trapani. I explored on foot, stopping for a change of clothes and a quick dip in the sea by a convenient door in the sea wall. Little fishing boats, not unlike the jabegas of Malaga, bobbed about in the surf and the sea sparkled just as it always seemed to in these Phoenician port cities: they certainly had refined taste in coastlines.

I grabbed a bus for Palermo where I had booked a convenient hostel not far from the central station. Palermo was another Phoenician city, called Zizi or Sis before it was renamed Panormo by the Greeks. It was a large city, but I made a beeline for the museum and stayed till they kicked me out, absorbed by the remains of temples and artifacts from sites like Segesta and Selinunte.

The next day I went to the airport and rented a car (I’d attempted to reserve one in advance, but it apparently didn’t go through). Luckily I found one for a bearable price and went to Segesta to see some pretty lovely temple ruins in a stunning valley. Then I drove to Selinunte, just south of Marsala. I got free entrance to both parks, for which I was most grateful, since I was spending extra money on the car. Selinunte was so large and complex that I spent hours there, walking to the different areas. There were impressive temples and a sprawling Punic settlement by the sea – I even saw mosaic floors with the symbol of Tanit: a decidedly Carthaginian motif.

After my sweaty wander (during which my parasol again came in handy) I was ready for food and a swim in the sea. I drove to the nearest town, called Marinella, and bought pizza and beer to take to the beach. After my snack, I went for a swim and washed off the dust of the day’s travails.

I drove back toward Palermo, passing through Mazara del Vallo, to see what I’d missed (not much) and then on to the airport. After a bit of petrol stress, I returned the car and found a ride to my hostel.

It wasn’t too late, so I went out for some drinks with some girls from my hostel. It was oddly quiet for a Saturday night, but we went to the plaza near the Museum and the street was full of people drinking, smoking, talking.

The next day I planned to leave Palermo for Taormina, so I went to the train station for tickets and tried in vain to find another train for one final nearby site: Solunto. I ended up paying for a taxi (ouch) but it was a wonderful site and certainly worth it: perched on a mountaintop with temples and a wonderful city plan. White ships sailed in the brilliant blue harbors and you could really see what the Phoenicians saw in the place.

As I left the site, a family turned around to offer me a ride down the mountain. I had them drop me off at the station, but then I realized I had just enough time to go to the beach for a dip before my train back to Palermo, so I hightailed it to the nearest spot with sand and sea and immersed myself for a few blessed moments before catching the train. I had enough time in Palermo for a quick bite and a beer before I got the train to Taormina. I planned to continue to southern Italy from there, but I had a hostel booked for the night at least. Taormina didn’t hold much in the way of archaeological interest for me, but it was said to be lovely and it was a good place to catch the train to Naples, so I headed there all the same. The train from Palermo was comfortable and timely, though we did have a bit of a delay getting to Catania, where I needed to change trains. Luckily, we made it just in time and I got to Taormina a bit after sunset.

As I waited for the bus to take me up to the little city, I struck up a conversation with a couple of French women – sisters traveling together – and they showed me around the little city and then suggested we meet up once I’d checked into my hostel.

It took a minute but I grabbed my meager food and drink offerings – cheese, bread, and wine – and went to meet up with my new friends. We walked together to their Airbnb and there we feasted and chatted in French – I was a bit rusty but it was nice to meet these sisters, traveling together as Erika and I did several times. We enjoyed the rooftop at their place till it was time for bed, as they were due to leave early the next morning. I went home and climbed into my upper bunk, where cold air conditioning blasted me and I awoke with the sniffles.

I spent the morning making arrangements to renew my passport in Naples – booking an appointment and filling out the necessary forms over a cup of espresso and a sad excuse for a cornetto. In the process, I met another denizen of the hostel named Florian and we got to talking and decided to go for a granita, since I hadn’t yet had one.

We attempted to visit a ruined castle located suspiciously on a hill called ‘Mount Venus’ on a tourist map I saw, but we were stymied by locked gates – it was closed to visitors. Instead we went to the sea, as it was steaming hot. In the evening, Florian put on a juggling show in the main piazza, attracting a large group of spectators and awestruck children. Then he had a bus to catch and I a train. We said goodbye and I got the bus to the station and soon a sleeper train was whisking me away from Sicily to Naples.

I awoke when we were close to the city and prepared for a long morning. I looked like death warmed over, so I visited a Mac store in the station and begged the woman there to spruce me up for my passport photos, as I had an appointment that afternoon at the embassy. She did her best and I looked presentable for my photos, even though I had to retake them at the embassy after a slightly sweaty commute. Once I was in and out (and they let me keep my old passport in the meantime), I headed to the train station to get my bags out of storage and catch a train toward Otranto, in the heel of the boot of Italy.

I got to Lecce and my friend, Silvia, arrived to meet me there. It was wonderful to see her after several years since we both left New York, where we met. Now she was living in a beautiful place with her boyfriend, Robbert. I spent about a week with them, exploring the area’s many caves and other archaeological sites. We also went to some of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen – not really beaches, but white limestone cliffs and basins. The rest of our time was spent cooking, chatting, and looking after the Ortho de Lidro – their beautiful farm with fruit trees and arugula and a handsome peach-colored cat. A new kitten arrived during my stay, as well – a little tabby, fuzzy, like my Ivy kitty was when she was small.

It was lovely to be with friends and in one place for a while, but soon I needed to return to Naples to retrieve my passport. I went first to Herculaneum, near Pompeii and resumed some real sightseeing from my base at a nearby hostel. Herculaneum was nice for its small size and fewer people than Pompeii, which was overwhelming in scale, by comparison.

I went to Pompeii in the afternoon, and on the way to the train station, I met a tiny black kitten, filthy and hungry. When I discovered my train was still 15 minutes away, I went back and bought a chicken kabob wrapped in bacon and sought out the kitten, who had scampered down the street after me. I scooped it up and plopped it near the food and it was so hungry, the food was half gone in seconds. I caught my train back to my hostel. In the morning, I moved to a hostel in the heart of old Naples to be closer to the embassy and my passport. Once I picked it up, I was free to make other plans and explore the city. I wasn’t charmed by it, but I did enjoy it, especially dipping in the beaches and exploring the Spanish Quarter, though it was stiflingly hot.

I booked a ferry for Sardinia and spent one last day in Naples before heading to the docks. Unfortunately, my new passport had caused confusion about my ticket, and I had a last minute dash to get a new printout, but I made it on board and celebrated with bubbles.

Well, this post is overdue and long enough, so Sardinia will have to wait!

Love and miss – to be continued!

Kira

 

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The Calm Before

I recently passed my one-year anniversary of moving to Seattle and I’m getting close to the one-year mark for my job at the Triple Door as well. So much has happened in a year – most importantly, I feel like I have made progress in my personal progression and faced down my boogie men, in some ways.

Wednesday we had a gathering in Volunteer Park in honor of Sarah’s impending departure from the city she has called home for three years now. A group of her friends gathered by the blooming dahlias and spread out wine and cheese and fruit and other yummy things on picnic tables. We drank rosé in the fading light and the waning heat of an August evening and released biodegradable balloons with messages of love and well-wishing. The leftover balloons were full of helium, which we sucked after dark, in a circle, singing snippets of songs with our high pitched voices and giggling.

The summer feels like it is winding down already, though we should have another month of sunny days, if we’re lucky.

The beginning of the month was hot and hazy, the skies over Seattle filled with smoke from the wildfires raging in Canada and Montana. On the positive side, the haze made the days less hot and kept things in the 80s instead of the 90s as predicted. It coincided with Seafair, which I recall from last year, when I was still staying with my aunt and uncle in Magnolia and Seattle felt brand new.

This year the Blue Angels roared over my tiny house in Beacon Hill and for three days in a row they made themselves known. After the Fourth of July this year, I’ve realized how much I dislike patriotic displays of war prowess.

Sarah and I have taken good advantage of our time together in Seattle. Since our outing to Victoria, we have gone to The Can Can – a cabaret in Pike Place Market – and returned a couple of times to Capitol Cider for our favorite jazz jam.We even went to Shakespeare in the Park and checked out Rumbar – a place she’d been longing to try.

Tonight we will go to the Triple Door for a cabaret singer I like called Lady Rizo and tomorrow night, Sarah will be on a flight to Columbia.

I sympathize with her feelings of inner conflict – it is hard to leave a job where you love your role and the security and the fact that you’re needed and appreciated. Even if that job isn’t what you ultimately want out of life, it is the end of a certain chapter. I’ve got a bit more time before I’ll similarly be saying goodby to things and this city, assuming all goes well with my visa. So far, so good.

Seattle has been an interesting place to live. I’ve grown to love my co-workers and the environment at the Triple Door, which is such a cool space and which has inspired me in many ways. The people I work with are – in the best possible way – freaks and misfits, in-between travelers, pierced, tattooed, rainbow-haired rebels and youths. Actors, musicians, writers, dancers. There are benefits to working in the service industry. The people are a big one.

But there’s been nothing to hold me here. Now that Sarah is leaving I feel my ties unbinding. I like being here now. But in my mind, I’m shifting. I do love my little cottage, still, and my patio is comfortable and calming, white spots of light dance reflected from the lazy motions of a string of mirrors. My tomatoes grow and peppers are sprouting, cucumbers fattening and basil in bloom.

I think increasingly of Erika, who had such a charming and effortless garden in California. I wish I had moved to the west coast when she was still alive – wouldn’t it be nice if I could simply drive somewhere to see her? Just a day’s drive away in Napa. But her garden is no longer hers, her condo still features the bathroom tiles mom helped Erika install – no doubt some other traces of her still abide, but fainter and fainter.

Her car sits unmoving on the side of my street as I wait for final confirmation of my studies in London. As I hold onto her Rav4, because it is still, every so slightly, part of her. She put most of those dents and scrapes there; she wrote about her little car in her journal. It will be the end of an era to say goodbye to it. Six years have passed so quickly I can scarcely believe it when I see the years the stretch back to our last trip together in Brazil. To fill out my visa application, I had to list all my travels for the last ten years, searching through old emails for dates, reliving the trip to France when I started this blog, glimpsing emails from lovers past, not read in years, but still surprisingly fresh. Did I come back to New York for him and was it a mistake? Am I going to London for the right reasons?

Erika once studied in London for a semester. My mom and I visited her there when I was 17 – another trip abroad I recalled in applying for my visa. For a city I am not overly fond of, many of my life’s turning point moments seem to center on it. Perhaps living there will be better than I previously thought. Meanwhile, I am looking for a houseboat to live on like Anais Nin. I love having a charming living space – it really improves my quality of life. Such a first-world thing to say. Lol!

I’m looking forward to the eclipse in a few days. I always adore the moon and her mysterious movements. I’ve never seen a solar eclipse before and though I’m not driving out of my way to the “path of totality,” I think it will be 90% visible from Seattle.

Sarah will be gone by then. And about a week later my parents will come visit and then the final countdown begins.  Looking forward to seeing what the future holds and playing my piano as much as possible before I have to let it go.

One last note, as Burning Man approaches and mom and I have discussed what sort of shrine to burn for Erika this year: I recently ended up at a park watching a bunch of grown people doing a very fun and whimsical dance in a children’s wading pool at Volunteer Park. I didn’t know it then, but I recently learned that the performance was to honor the last wishes of a dying artist who lived on Vashon Island. She helped plan the music and choreography and costumes and then these people who loved her came together and performed a joyful, magical tribute.

I’m really glad I went. Joyful dancing is the best answer for just about anything, it seems.

Love and miss,

Kira

 

Sisters in Seattle

I was sad upon leaving Sarasota in January: sad to say goodbye to my family and sad because I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with Skye over my two weeks there. With a continent between us and only a once-a-year reunion, it was enough to make me tear up when it was time to fly out.

So Skye booked a trip to come out to Seattle for a visit. Unfortunately, Florida in March is much nicer weatherwise than Seattle, but at least it didn’t snow!

I picked her up on Friday night and we had plans to go out to a fancy club (her former favorite past time) but she was tired and after we came home and drank some pink bubbles, we instead went to Pioneer Square and met up with the fella I’ve been seeing at the bar where Nirvana apparently played their first show: the Central Saloon. It’s got a kind of seedy old school feel and I introduced my sister to my favorite cheap local beer in a can (the equivalent of PBR or Gansett on the East Coast), Rainier, usually served in tallboys. We had a couple and headed home at a decent hour, her day having been very long.

Saturday was spent exploring Pike Place Market and the shops on Post Alley, shopping for souvenirs and checking out the funky stalls and shops. Then we moved on to Pioneer Square, where we found some South Indian food (miracle of miracles!) for lunch and then did an underground tour.

In the olden days of Seattle, the downtown sloped off toward the Sound in a way that meant the streets were often inundated by the tide shifts and roads had massive potholes, large enough to lose a horse in! Logs cut from the steep hills above were skidded down to the water on what was colloquially called Skid Road. After a fire destroyed the city, they decided to build up the low lying areas and diminish the slope of the hill, but in the meantime, they built new buildings with two first floors: one for the interim before the ground was raised, and the second floor also equipped with a front door and storefront windows in preparation for the day when the new streets would be constructed.

We had hoped to dine at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, but it was all booked up, so we satisfied ourselves with a visit to the gift shop and then went to the bar at the Edgewater Hotel, which I didn’t realize was made famous by The Beatles and Zappa.

We met up with Sarah and went out dancing at Havana till we were done, then we followed Sarah to her salsa dancing club and watched her cut a rug in her element there.

We didn’t have much left on our list by Sunday, but we visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory and met up with Sarah for dinner and drinks. Somehow, I neglected to take Skye to the place where I work, The Triple Door, and instead we went to a place called Vito’s with live music and a swanky vibe.

Skye left the next afternoon and we made a few last stops before I took her to the airport to return to Florida and her family there.

I went back to work and back to trying to earn some moolah to make up for all we spent on our adventures.

I’m finally starting to feel ready to play music out again, after a few years of being rather retreated from the limelight. And I am trying to put my heart out on the market again, though it is hard to trust total strangers! Spring has started to unfurl her tentative shoots and sprouts and I again celebrated the Persian New Year, Nowruz. I had the day off, so I went shopping for the essentials: hyacinths, apples, dried fruit, an orange to float in a bowl of water. I found some fake pastel eggs at Target (perfect because I’m not that into real eggs lately) and Sarah and I each painted one for the hast seen table, which we set on my piano.

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The Nowruz spread on my piano!

Skye’s ex-husband brought back this amazing collapsing basket from Afghanistan and we used that to display several of the traditional items on the table: walnuts, garlic and figs. Sarah found us some sumac and I had some sprouting lentils ready.

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Sarah found a perfect recipe for a soup of lentils with pasta and spinach, combined with a yogurt and mint sauce – a traditional dish for the New Year in Iran. It came out really yummy, if I do say so myself!

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It was nice to have someone to celebrate the festival with instead of doing it alone. Funny to think what I was doing last year at this time: in Brooklyn, in the snow on the first day of Spring. And now here I await the awakening in the Pacific Northwest.

I love my tiny house, though it has recently been inundated with sugar ants from all sides. They seem to have decided to nest in the walls and crawl in to bug the shit out of me. Literally. God, they’re on me now. Die ants. Die. Sigh. What have they driven me to?

The sun shines weakly through the crack in my door, but it’s welcome – the end of winter at long last. Hopefully with the end of the rains my ant problem will also dissipate like the grey skies and the shadows of the past. I don’t want to let bitterness creep into my heart. I have always been something of a nostalgic, but I don’t want to be so backward looking that I neglect the present or the future. I sometimes feel that danger. So I must keep creating and moving and loving. Lately I keep thinking of the Chinese proverb: “If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” This spring, I am garlanding my heart with green. I want to release the old flames that’ve burnt up and burned out. Those people I loved, those shining lights were sparks, not the sun itself.

I realized recently that my trip to the netherworld of myself and my psyche has scraped away so many layers of my external being that I must rebuild. It is a marvelous chance and a massive undertaking to recreate oneself. I have done it before, but it’s been a while. I recall how it feels. The pain and tenderness of new eyes, new skin. We Scorpions shed our shells to stay alive – to grow. Perhaps that’s partly why I’ve stayed single so long. It has been a decade of transformation for me. And it is hard to keep anyone close at such times.

But of course I don’t really ever plan to stop transforming. So here’s hoping I learn how to be with someone while I change!

All for now –

Love and miss,

Kira

Birthday Wish

It’s been a weird stretch of time for me, since September when I moved into my temporary but cozy home here in Seattle. I’m staying with a friend-of-a-friend in a house south of the city about 15 minutes (with no traffic, which is rare). It’s just what I was craving – a fireplace, a yard, laundry in the basement and cheaper than New York. I’d thought before moving to Seattle that it would automatically  be cheaper than Brooklyn, because, really, how could it not be? Imagine my surprise then, when I arrived to find a city with rents skyrocketing from the recent tech boom.

It was through the grace of my good friend Jenna, whom I met traveling in Rajasthan ten years ago (! My, how time flies), that I met Jenn, my housemate. Jenn is very fond of rosé, as am I, and I got to enjoy the back yard in full fruit – a massive grape vine full of purple grapes that hang in heavy clumps, more than we can eat, even with the birds and squirrels helping. I harvested some, as well as some leaves of the right size to make dolmas (dolmades, as the Greek say).

Jenn has clear blue-green eyes, not unlike mine, but bluer where mine go green. She’s blond and pretty, which makes an interesting impression on people, because she probably defies most presuppositions. I like people with hidden depths. We have spent several long chilled evenings by the fire, drinking wine and chatting, or sitting on the patio on pretty days. Traversing the beginning of September is always somewhat challenging, and then it’s gone and October is nearly done, now, too. But not before my birthday.

I hate to say it, but I think I’ve come to dread it. It isn’t my fondest anniversary, in fact. Age is immaterial – it isn’t the issue. Aging is better than the alternative! But since 2014 my birthday has become something of a painful reminder, where it used to be rather a joyous occasion. I loved my sleepovers and parties, dinners and gatherings.

I have to admit to melancholy. Maybe it is momentary – a sense that I was so close to having what I wanted. A sense of the passing of time. I’ve been immersing myself in ancient history of late. Somehow I’m as passionate about it as I am about this sham of an election, but I can’t even get into that here.

Funny, I just teared up a bit, listening to my new favorite local radio station, KBCS. And then the song “Can’t Cry Anymore” by Sheryl Crow comes on, taking me back to high school when I would drive around to her CD – I think I had the single. When you grow up in the styx (sticks?), you take what you can find.

I wonder if everyone has that one person they thought they would find eventually? That ideal person you kind of feel out there. I thought I met mine, 10 years ago or so.

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Fresh-faced moi on the train in India, heading north to Rajasthan with my three French boys, met on the set of the Bollywood film.

In fact,  I remember walking around in Mumbai, flooded with the feeling like I was going to meet the love of my life. I had no real idea who it could be, since I didn’t know anybody in Mumbai, but I guess you never know who you’ll meet before you meet them. That is the kind of magic of other people.

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The Bollywood recruiter who hired me for my first gig.

Someone did enter my life, the very next day. We met early in the morning, in front of McDonalds in Colaba – we’d both been dabbling as extras in Bollywood and were waiting for someone to come pick us up, but they never showed. Instead, the two of us wandered around Colaba and wound up by the Gateway to India, playing my guitar and talking till the early morning. Then we went 8 years without seeing each other again. I know we both lived in each others’ minds and hearts, though we both fell in and out of love with other people in the intervening years. In August 2014, we met again, and fell in love for real, or so I thought. Others thought so, too, and remarked on how in love we seemed.

But like all modern romance, it was complicated. Now it’s nearly two years to the day since the last time I saw him. An unfortunate memory to coincide with my birthday. I’m rather strong in the memory department, for better or for worse. It is hard to believe that it is just two short years ago – yet so much can happen in that amount of time.

I wanted so desperately not to be heart-broken again. It seemed such an ignominious ending after that magical Mumbai beginning. I wanted not to mourn as I am sometimes inclined to do. But of course I have. I lost him as a person from my life, but I also lost the fantasy I had that we would travel and explore together – build life into some new, exciting, complete shape. I lost the idea that I had found someone who unquestioningly, instinctively, chose me for me.

I suppose I was waiting to hear that it was all a mistake. That he regretted wedging me out of his life. That he still thought of me.

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t hold my breath.The sad thing is, I’m not even sure what happened to us – he never deigned to clarify, so I am left to guess.

Meanwhile, one of my nearest and dearest is getting hitched in a week! I can hardly believe it’s nearly November, but I can’t wait. Nora and her Scandinavian beau are tying the knot in Sonoma and we’ll all be together soon. Life moves on.

Ah well, a new year is upon me. A new year to be more fully myself and maybe even find someone who appreciates me for it. Wouldn’t it be nice?

I’ll make that my birthday wish.

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Well, since my birthday is now officially over, I’d better wrap this up!

Love and miss,

Kira

Burning, Turning

As Fall approaches and Summer prepares to fold up her many-colored tents, Burning Man is mostly emptied by now. Five years ago I flew to Reno to say goodbye to my sister Erika. She was in the hospital after a catastrophic cerebral edema. She looked just as she had in life, but now her life was perpetuated by machines.

Just a couple of days before, she was doing yoga on the Playa with her boyfriend. She was cooking a curry, drinking a Corona, riding her baby blue beach cruiser through the swirling columns of alkaline dust – to the ethereal architecture of the Temple of Transcendence.

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Erika in 2010 at Burning Man

Erika’s edema coincided with the burning of the Man, occurring on the Friday night of the festival. As she was inundated with water, the man was consumed by flames. Now, every year as Labor Day weekend nears, we think of that desert and the flames and the celebration, which coincides with our memory of the day we got the news.

I’m living in Seattle now. Four years ago, I came West for Burning Man and stayed here for a time in the aftermath. Being here again, on the anniversary of Erika’s death, can’t help but remind me of all I was dealing with then. The specter of an old amour even reared his head not so long ago, but otherwise the past seems to be quiet. It is only in memory that I am haunted.

Friday night I was training for a new job as a server in a music venue/dinner theater. Saturday I took the day off, feeling tired and overwhelmed by all the movement of late. I had the feeling as the end of the month approached that I needed to find shelter and prepare for the coming storm of grief. Like a cloud of dust that swirls around one, causing time travel – whisking one away from the present and into the past.

Saturday night, I bought sparkling rose and cheeses. I bought dolmas, which I remembered my love for at Burning Man in 2012. Sarah came over and we feasted and toasted to Erika with the lovely peach-colored bubbles, of which I’m sure she would have approved.

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Erika the Red

In Arkansas, my mother made an effigy of a cat with arched back for her annual Burning Woman ceremony – she said the theme this year was “the year of the cat.” In Florida, Skye and Erika’s friend Lara burned a paper mache lucky cat in their ceremony. I was unable to have a proper burn, as a friend of a friend was using the outdoor firepit to burn a large pile of paperwork and prevented our making use of it. Ah well, at least some sort of purge took place!

The weather has already pivoted toward Fall here in Seattle and I’m staying in a cute little home south of the city. There are all manner of trees in the back yard: figs, walnuts, even a fruitful grapevine. The squirrels are quite numerous, as are the crows.

But this is just my home for September, as I continue to look for my forever home (or at least my “for 6 months” home!). I don’t like living out of suitcases. Sigh.

I’ve been getting the hang of Seattle, taking the lightrail downtown for work.

Plus I’m living in the same city as one of my best friends, Sarah. It’s been fun to spend time with her and see Seattle through her eyes.

Summer is gone so soon and time flies fast since July when I left New York. I drove through Cleveland and stopped to stay with the lovely Ziegenhagens before heading south to spend some time with my daddio. Mom was in Florida at the time, I’ve been so constantly consumed with “devoirs” – duties. But I had a few days off this weekend to wander some local parks with Sarah and we even went to a movie!

It might be a pattern I’ve set up for myself over the last five years: become exhausted in early September either from travels or fashion week or both. It is a sort of ritual, echoing the time after Erika died when I spent many nights wakeful in her little back yard.

Now it feels like things are clearing up a bit. The storm has passed. I heard the song “The Eye” by Brandi Carlile this year as I was driving back to New York from Florida, post X-mas, having hatched the plan to move to Seattle six months on.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl_eNu4NUVI

I’m glad folk music is making a comeback. I’m hoping it makes a comeback in my own life.

All for now,

Love and miss –

Kira

 

 

The Rites of Spring

I have news! Not only is it the beginning of a new year, with the onset of Spring, but I finally finished my book!

Technically, I wrote most of it by January, but I’ve been working since then to get it down to a reasonable number of pages, since it was 480 at its most bloated.

My book, “Dust and Light,” which is in some ways the culmination of this blog, is about my sister Erika’s death in 2011 at Burning Man, about her life before that point. For the last year, I’ve been incorporating sections of her journals into my manuscript and I finally completed that challenging task, producing a book which, I hope, manages to conjure some of her spirit.

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Erika dancing with abandon in Uruguay – January 2011

It is strange being done with it. To have time that can be turned to other pursuits. Other story ideas have come flooding in of late and I’ve had more inclination for strumming on the guitar again. A couple of weekends ago, I managed to break a glass at my apartment and step on it, barefoot, slicing up a couple of toes and bleeding impressively. Yesterday, on Easter morning, the worst of the cuts decided to heal up and rejoin with its separated skin, which is a relief.

This year, as last, I celebrated Nowruz (nav-ruuz) or the Persian tradition of the spring-time New Year. Still celebrated throughout Iran, Afghanistan, and India, this festival probably predates Zoroastrianism and it bears many similarities to the “Christian” tradition of Easter eggs and candy: the Nowruz table holds symbols of the earth’s bounty. Potted plants, flowers, fruit, sprouting lentils, even eggs can make an appearance, though I haven’t bought eggs in some time, so I skip that bit of tradition.

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Nowruz (nav-ruuz) table, featuring a copy of Shahnameh and symbolic plants, fruits, and other produce of the Earth

I add another more ancient tradition, mixing a dough from barley syrup and spelt flour and honey. It is a variation of the honey cakes devotees used to offer the Goddess of the earth – Bona Dea, Magna Mater, the Great Mother. In our lust to create a more advanced world, we have forgotten our Mother Earth. We talk about climate change in the abstract, but the truth is that we began down this path the moment we decided to sacrifice the sanctity of our earth for the production of human works. We chose to live at odds with the earth, rather than in harmony with her. We are in the process of destroying the very fertility of our planetary home in order to “progress.”

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My table morphed for the full moon / eclipse – but the message is the same – the Star card is featured because the star goddess has always been associated with Spring.

So it is important, I think, to give thanks to the new fertility of the Earth, reborn in the form of eggs in nests and blossoms on trees. The doves on my fire escape have made their nest in an old pot, left to crumble with only a bit of moss growing on the hardened soil inside. But still, a safe haven for young chicks till they grow big enough to emerge on their own.

In a similar way, New York has been my haven as I completed my book (which no doubt could still use some edits) but it is time for me to start thinking of my future. Music, which has been on the back burner, bubbles up again, along with my passion for fictional tales.

I’ve also been spending time with a 5-year old girl named Eve, which is a lot of fun. As the weather improves, I’m excited to have a good excuse to play in a park, and good company.

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Eve did my makeup and I did hers – kinda looks like I have a black eye and def have lipstick everywhere. That’s a flower on my face. Proud of the unicorn princess I made her into!

I also got to meet up recently with a friend and former collaborator who switched coasts, the lady Evangeline. I wish we’d taken pics, but instead we ate vegan dim sum and caught up on each others’ lives. She told me she’s started praying to the Virgin Mary – she was raised Catholic, so that is the apparition of the Goddess with which she is most familiar. I was raised Methodist, so we didn’t have the same emphasis on Mary. I told her that Mary, called the Queen of Heaven, resembles in many ways the more ancient goddess forms like Inanna and Ishtar. I observed the ardor for the Virgin Mary expressed in Greece and in France, and I see how natural it is for us to revere a mother figure.

So happy New Year, happy Spring, happy Easter – celebrate your inner goddess and the outer forms of fertility and growth we can observe in the Earth!

Love and miss,

Kira

Someplace State of Mind

It took me a little longer than anticipated to get back to Brooklyn. Dad and I decided to drive down for a visit with my aunt in Miami and I didn’t mind indulging in a few more days of sunshine before returning to New York winter.

I stopped through North Carolina and visited with Mary Caton and her crew for a couple of days. Already, the weather was bitterly cold.

Since returning to the city, January passed quickly and I have been up to my neck in my memoir. I finally got to the end, and then began the process of refining, shaping, editing. It is painstaking work and occupies my endless days while the wind howls outside and the snow visits some mornings, blanketing the world in white for a while and then melting away in the next day’s sun.

I feel a bit like a madwoman at this stage, fiddling compulsively with my manuscript. But I know there is much to be done. Step by step, I’ll help this story emerge from the stone and dust of daily toils.

There was no Fashion Week for me this year as I start to tear free of the ties that bind me to New York. The truth is, I moved back here with hope in my heart and this book on my mind. Now that the book is nearing completion, and the hopes I’d had for reviving lost love in this city have long since dissipated, I can start to see my next steps forward. In July, I plan to go west as far as the Great Lakes and Detroit, and I thought, why not go farther?

I do so love the freedom of the road.

It isn’t a life or a career. A journey rather than a destination and all that. I’m just starting to peep my eyeballs over the setting suns of days past and look into the future again.

It feels refreshing to be on the far side of the last few years. On the edge of newness again. The days lengthen by minutes and the light lingers longer in the evenings.

My freezer bulges with bread and fruitcake from my father, sustaining me through the chill of the still raging winter.

Love and miss,

Kira

Return to My Garden of Eden

And another year gone. I made my annual pilgrimage to Sarasota around the middle of December, driving down to Durham for a night with my bestie and her family in North Carolina before continuing on the next day. I got to Tampa and my sister’s house in time for dinner as Cam worked on his homework and the girls got ready for bed.

In the morning, I drove the last stretch to SRQ. The weather in New York was strangely warm when I left; the transition from north to south hardly deserving of the name.

That afternoon, I was back again in my old familiar haunt at Elysian Fields. It was same, same, but different, as the founding owners had left and so had some of my old friends there, but others had stayed. It seemed almost the same. I got to work, re-familiarizing myself with the spiritual bookshop and the crystals in the bins, their description cards. The checklist for closing and the new products in the personal care section.

I’ve been going back to Elysian for a few years now. Perhaps it will be the last time I return to the store where I learned so much about metaphysics and crystals, about how to speak softly and calmly, about a meticulous attention to detail as a sort of spiritual practice.

On my days off, I luxuriate on the roof, getting a little tan back before I return to the sunless north.

I’ve even made pickle from starfruit and key limes.

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Up on the roof


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Key Lime Pickle!

For whatever cosmic reason, Christmas seems to signify a time of challenges for me: last year, as I drove down from New York, I had the last ever conversation with the man I had, until then, thought I might be spending the rest of my life with. In 2013, an old friend resurfaced like a bad penny, bringing up memories of our friendship and how it had dissolved in Spanish Harlem in 2009. In 2012, just a few days before Christmas, I heard from the man I’d fallen for that summer: he told me he’d loved me, and I thought for a few brief, giddy seconds that my dreams were coming true, until it became clear that he was speaking in the past tense. He had already found someone new.

Somehow, just when everyone is celebrating togetherness, I tend to end up isolated and alone.

This year, however, was a year of keeping others at a safe distance. Turns out I was still smarting from last year’s slings and arrows. I try to be the sort of person who lets things roll off my back, but some injuries don’t heal cleanly: they leave scar tissue, and it’s hard to open up again – hard to let others in.

But the blessing is that I’m not the walking wound I was a year ago. My heart may still be raw, but things are smoother between my mother and me. I’m sad that the love I felt last year has come to so little – the relationship I thought I had, dissolved like so much sugar in the rain. It is as if he simply ceased to be, though he’s made overtures of friendship since then.

But I do not know how friendship can exist without love – trust – honesty. What is there to discuss when nothing is what you thought it was? I try not to be the type who burns bridges, but this time of year seems always to whisper (or shout) to me “let go, let go, let go.”

And so, here goes! I release the sides of the slide and let myself zoom into the future. I resolve that this is the year I get to the bottom of my fears and flush out that barrel till it’s ready to hold something new, without the bad apples of the past to pollute tomorrow’s harvests.

But what about that past? Most of my former loves have moved firmly into the friend zone – the odd ones are the exiles – but even rarer is someone I used to love, whom I’d still consider a potential partner. I honestly didn’t think there were any. But then an old friend rolls back in, and you realize, things never really ended between you two.

I’ll confess: I can get good and stuck on a man. It is easy for me to fall in love, at least initially, since I can be a bit picky. I’m holding out for that teenage feeling, to quote Neko Case – in its absence, my interest flags.

I still love my high school sweetheart, but I think we both feel it is too late to rekindle those flames. I’ve moved thoroughly through most of my relationships, attaining closure – moving on. I’d forgotten someone I used to love. He was my first boyfriend in college, and we went through that intense time of changes together, frequently drunk. When he broke up with me for a girl from back home, I was devastated: up till then, he had been my best friend at Trinity. We managed to stay friends, and eventually became lovers again, but we were never really “together” again. When I was single the summer after college, we’d hook up occasionally. Then he got a girlfriend and I moved away.

Now that it’s been nearly a decade since I last saw him in the flesh, I’d nearly forgotten our friendship entirely. There were some messy parts – bits I guess I’d rather not remember. But up they come, as we start to be friends again. It feels so familiar. Like finding something you used to treasure hidden in a forgotten box under the bed. But is it a lucky charm or a monkey’s paw?

I’m a sucker for a good love story, and how ideal to be with one one already knows of old? Love works in mysterious ways, but I’ve never really circled back around successfully to an ancient paramour. If they didn’t love me the first time, what can have changed now? Better to find someone new. I have certainly been treated better since then. But then, I was in a traumatized state when I got to college. Not to psychoanalyze myself too much, but I had been through a gauntlet of death, sex, and love in high school. I didn’t know how to be casual. I was intense.

Anyway, I begin a new year reconsidering old choices; old friends are the ones I seem to hold the dearest these days.

Perhaps I’m just clinging again to the familiar. This time, I can let it go for real.

New Year’s Eve, I built a fire in the pit out back and we gathered around the flickering flames. We lit a Chinese sky lantern from the dock out by the lake – the dock another old boyfriend of mine rebuilt several years ago, before we broke up not long after my 27th birthday.

My nephew held the bottom of the lantern and my mother held the top until it filled with enough hot air to hover on its own, and then it was lifted above the lake, the trees, among the stars, to disappear, a smoke signal to our loved ones in the sky: we have not forgotten you.

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Cam and Mama lighting the skylantern


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Almost to liftoff!


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Up, up and away!

Love and miss,

Kira

Athens and Istanbul – The End of My Journey

Since returning to the United States after my time volunteering with the refugees in Lesvos, I’ve been mostly obligated to get to work on the business of paying rent in New York City. I’ve also been able to pick up work on my memoir again, and I’ve made great strides since September, when the world turned and brought me back to this city, this sprawling metropolis of concrete and steel and human desire striving ever upward.

From pouring cups of “haleeb” for wet, frightened children, I went to pouring champagne for VIPs in the Lexus Lounge, for Fashion Week. I was too busy to reflect on how much has shifted in my life since last year’s fall fashion week, when the landscape of my life seemed new and magical – full of potentials that have since withered on the vine, disappeared altogether, like a mirage. I have a habit of confusing endings for beginnings.

While last years deaths (mostly figurative) were difficult veils to pass through, I can look back now and see what I might not have done, had things gone better for me, personally. Had I won my romantic dreams of love, I might have stayed contented in New York, wrapped up in relationship with one man, instead of going into the world and embracing the multitudes of desperate brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – whose needs are far greater than mine in this life.

I am fortunate to have been able to afford the time and airfare to go to Greece, as I am fortunate to have been born to a financially and otherwise secure family in a country where, at least historically, human life mattered, and no one was getting killed as a mater of course.

I speak in the past tense, because I am not so sure these things are true of our country anymore, but I digress.

My last few days in the Aegean were spent sightseeing in Athens – it was my first visit there, and time was short, so I scampered like my skirt was on fire to see the National Museum and the Parthenon before catching a bus into the mountains to the northwest of the city, to visit the ancient sanctuary of Gaia at Delphi, where the Oracles made pronouncements and predictions since time immemorial.

Parthenon

Parthenon

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The forested mountains and picturesque towns reminded me of the Alps as the bus wound around the skinny roads till we arrived at Delphi.

The village was very small and I quickly found my hotel, despite my lack of a map, Google or otherwise.

I dropped off my things and set out to explore the city, in search of dinner and water. Lots of water, as I was still dry as a desert from dehydration. Before I’d gone far, I met a local man named Dimitri, who took me down the street on his motorcycle, where we had beer and I devoured half a pizza and drank endless carafes of water.

The restaurant overlooked the steep, impressive mountains, the deep alluvial gorge dove precipitously below us. Dimitri took me to the sacred Castalian Spring, which was below the temple site, spouting into a rock basin before draining elsewhere. I filled up my bottle with the cold, delicious water and drank deeply.

In the morning, I woke early and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the remains of the temples and dedications built at Delphi over hundreds of years. A friendly local pooch walked with me down the road to refill my bottle at the Castalian Spring.A large rock marked the place where the priestesses used to speak their predictions. A dome-shaped rock, representing the omphalos or world navel, sat nearby. I spent an hour or so exploring the site and the site of the nearby Athena temple before refilling my water bottle at the Castalian Spring and going to the museum. It was full of incredible pediments and votive objects I was lucky to see.

Omphalos at Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi

Delphi surroundings

Delphi surroundings

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

Delphi

Delphi – the stone of the priestesses

Moi at Delphi

Moi at Delphi – in front of the Apollo Temple

I checked out of my hotel and got my things before shopping for lip balm for my lips, which were dry and chapped to the point of cracking. I ran into Dimitri on the main street and he bought me a Greek coffee – thick with the grounds. Then my bus came and I headed back to Athens, driving the winding roads down from Mount Parnassus.

I had hoped to visit Eleusis, the ancient site of the mystery ritual that was popular throughout the region until paganism was outlawed and the temples destroyed. However, I learned that it was closed on Mondays, so I was thwarted. I got my things from my hotel and got a text from some of my fellow volunteers, who were also in Athens.

I told them where to find me and waited for them outside the hotel. Maya and Kristof – a father and daughter from Berlin – found me and decided to take a room at my hotel, which was only $25 euros. We caught up and smoked a few cigarettes before I got the subway to my new neighborhood.

I was staying my final night near the Acropolis in a hostel, where I thought I might meet some interesting people, and I was right. As I was at the front desk to check in, a couple came in and got a room.

I found my dorm and encountered a French girl called Lea, who spoke perfectly unaccented English – or close enough. We decided to go out later, and in the meantime I figured I’d do some sightseeing in the area. It was late afternoon when I wandered along the base of the Acropolis, in search of the Agora.

I followed my nose (though I had a map, in case of emergency) and found the Agora, bordered by a large museum on one side and a train track running in front. I wandered through the museum and the grounds in the burning sun. I located the Eleusinian temple, which was only foundation stones, and visited the Hephaestus temple, which was beautifully preserved – even down to the colors!

Hunger pangs clanged in my empty belly and I headed back toward the hostel, stopping along the way for souvenirs for my family.

Once back at the hostel, I feasted on cashews and a tin of dolmas and drank a beer in the courtyard. The couple I’d seen at the reception came in and we began conversing. The man was Dutch and his companion was Belgian. I told them about my experiences volunteering in Lesvos, and they listened with great interest.

The man told me that he was ashamed that he, a European, had not done anything to help the refugees, when an American had. It inspired him to do something.

Lea and I went out for drinks to a place recommended by the front desk attendant. I had a feel for the neighborhood now and we walked back toward the Agora and found the rooftop bar, with a view of the Acropolis, where we talked for several hours about our pasts and our upbringings. Lea and I had a lot in common, though of course I was older than she by a decade, since I’m long in the tooth, I suppose, compared to your average backpacker. Nevertheless, it was one of those meetings that makes you glad to travel alone, so as to facilitate encountering strangers.

We went back to the hostel to find the room had filled with my fellow Americans. I packed my things and got ready for the next day’s flight to Istanbul. Someone in the room had set an alarm that went off in the wee hours, interrupting everyone’s sleep – except the culprit, who just kept snoring. There are definitely downfalls to hostel life.

In the morning, I checked out and walked to a nearby square where I got the metro to the airport. While exiting the train, I ran into Kristof and Maya one last time. We said our goodbyes and I changed some money into Turkish Lira before going through security.

I arrived in Istanbul in the late morning and took the train to the tram to get to my hostel. My Greek phone could no longer help me, but I remembered the directions to find the hostel and managed to make it there. I was out of sorts after the crowded tram, in which a man had inappropriately brushed against me, but there were a couple of fellows at the cafe/reception who shared their lunch with me and improved my mood.

One was a Turkish guy, Baran, who the same age as me, and the other was an English chap called Charley, a bit older. They wanted to see my guitar, so I showed it to them and we took turns playing songs for each other.

The two of them were going to the Asian side of the city that afternoon and invited me to come along. Despite my lack of sleep, I said yes. When in Istanbul. . .

We took the ferry across to this other half of the city and walked to the house of some friends, a couple who received us with hospitality. They had two small dogs and a cat running around their sunny apartment. I was allergic, but happy to be with these friendly people and animals.

We took the dogs for a walk to nearby Small Moda Beach, and I brought along my guitar. As the sun set, we sat on the rocks by the water and performed songs for each other. They were a good audience, and some other friends joined us, so we had a bit of a crowd, all drinking beers and eating chips, talking and smoking and singing.

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

It was after 10 when we headed back to our part of the city. Baran and I went back to the hostel, where the fellow in reception invited us for a drink before we called it a night.

The next day, I was on a mission to see what I could of Istanbul: I took the tram across the Bosphorus and walked up to the Hagia Sophia – the famous former church and mosque that is now a museum open to all.

In front of the Hagia Sophia

In front of the Hagia Sophia

However, the line was huge, so I decided I’d come back around lunch time, when I hoped fewer people would be there. I visited the famous underground Basilica Cistern, leftover from the time of Emperor Justinian (and a pleasant respite from the hot sun).

The Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul

From there, I went to the archaeological museum, which had a great section on Cypriot and Syrian ancient history.

After that, it was time for the Hagia Sophia, which was finally relatively easy to get into. I wandered around the cavernous, domed building, exploring its nooks and crannies. From there, I got lunch in Sultanahmet before going to see the famous old bazaar. It was a beautiful sprawling network of hallways will high, vaulted ceilings, full of stalls and people buying and selling, bartering and bargaining.

I made my way back to the tram and back to my side of the Bosphorus. Baran was waiting for me, as he hoped to record me playing music in a nearby cafe. However, it was not to be: I discovered I’d lost my credit card and went into panic mode.

Once I’d settled things, we got dinner and took it up to the top of the hill, overlooking the water and the lights of the city. There, we sat playing music and talking till it was almost 2, and time to turn in.

In the morning, I went to the beautiful old Cemberlitas hammam, to get scrubbed clean of the dirt that had been building up since the archaeological dig in Cyprus, and no doubt increased exponentially while I was volunteering in Molyvos. The building was beautiful: a tall marble dome covered the bathing room, a large heated slab of marble was dappled with circles of sunlight, filtering down.

I rinsed off with soap and warm water from marble basins and went to lay on the slab, enjoying the serenity and silence. I had the place to myself, until a woman came in to scrub me. I recalled my visit to my first hammam, in Morocco in 2012. A visit to the hammam is many things: it is about cleanliness, of course, but it is also a ritual performed before praying or religious holidays.

She used soap and warm water to cover me in lather before commencing to scrub me with an exfoliating mitt. My favorite part of going to the hammam is watching the dead skin appear as if by magic.

When the scrub was finished, I rinsed off and returned to sprawl on the warm marble slab for a bit before showering and getting dressed. I tipped my scrubber and headed off toward the hostel on the tram. It was a beautiful blue-skied morning and the Bosphorus was full of boats.

I packed up my things and had one last breakfast with Baran at the cafe. Charley joined up and we walked down to the tram together. I said goodbye to my new friends and headed to the airport.

That afternoon, I flew to Zurich for a long layover and took the train into the city. I had a bed at a New Zealand-owned hostel in a nightlife district only about 15 minutes walk from the central station. The glowering sky let fall its cargo of gentle rain as I made my way across the bridge and past the military grounds.

The hostel had a bar/cafe downstairs and after I checked in, I sipped my glass of complementary rose and wrote about my experiences in Lesvos. A band set up to play a concert and I stepped outside to smoke and ended up talking with a couple of locals about my trip and the refugees. They told me about conservative political views in Switzerland, making it sound not unlike Texas in its stance toward guns and immigration.

I had a few more beers (and a falafel from a nearby Lebanese spot) and chatted with people who came for the concert. Finally, it was time to retire to my upper bunk and get some sleep before heading home to New York the next day.

I flew back to the city on the fourth anniversary of my sister Erika’s death. September 4th is a date that will always have significance for me, though this year the end of my journey had to suffice to mark it, where in previous years, I drank pink bubbles, at the very least. But I think my volunteering also was something I did to honor her, in a way. I try to honor her by living.

My return to the city has been both easy and odd. It is the same old city, but I don’t feel like the same old me. Lighter somehow. Happier with what I have and more grateful.

As my birthday nears (it’s tomorrow!), I’m reflecting on this year and what I’ve gone through. I feel in some ways that I’ve skimmed over the waters of loss without getting pulled in, which is a considerable feat for a Scorpio. I don’t love lightly, and letting go isn’t easy. But I have evolved through change and pain and my perspective is different now. I understand myself better through the difficulties I wouldn’t have chosen to face. The earth must be plowed before it is planted. I hope this next phase will be about that fertility – that loss is behind me for the time. But time will tell.

To quote Casablanca, the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

All for now –

Love and miss

Kira

Greek Island Adventures

My last day in Cyprus was spent in Nicosia, the capital of that country. It is divided in two at the border between the Greek speaking part to the south and the Turkish half, to the north. I visited the museum there before heading back to Larnaca to say goodbye to my hosts there and catch my flight.

I left behind Cyprus – the island of Aphrodite – for Crete – the land of the Minoans. I’ve been interested in the Minoan civilization ever since looking through a book about them from my father’s library when I was a girl. I was instantly fascinated by this strange culture of bull-jumping acrobatics and bare-breasted priestesses.

On the flight from Larnaca to Heraklion, I was seated next to a couple of friendly guys from Crete, who live on Cyprus, but were returning to their home island to play traditional Cretan music at a village festival in a town I’d never heard of. Antonious was the one with better English, so we conversed the whole way to Heraklion and he told me about his studies in marine archaeology on Lesvos (aka Lesbos, but “b’s” and “v’s” are a bit mixed up in Greek). When we landed, he said his sister was picking him up, and she could also give me a lift to my hotel!

They kindly waited for me while I waited for my backpack, which I’d had to check, and then I used my magic phone to help navigate to the hotel, by the beach in Amoudara, just outside of the city proper.

Antonious’ sister was called Elisavet (emphasis on the “sa”) – Ellie for short – and she surprised me with her strong Irish accent. At first I thought I must have misunderstood about her being Antonious’ sister, but it turned out she had been living in Dublin for the last 8 years, so came by her brogue honestly.

They dropped me at the hotel and even helped me inside with my things, before leaving with promises to be in touch, and an invitation to join them for the festival in a couple of days.

It was nearly midnight by the time they left and I decided to go for a stroll, just to get a feel for the place. It reminded me a bit of India – I guess mostly Goa, as people were on scooters and it had a similarly tropical vibe. It was pretty calm, though there were some bars on the Amoudara strip playing dance music. I let one of the barkers convince me to stop for a beer at his bar and made small talk with him till I was ready to head home for bed.

I was to stay in an Airbnb rental that night, but in the meantime, my hosts were at work, so I left my things at the hotel and got a bus into the city center.

Heraklion Center

Heraklion Center

Heraklion center was charming and compact with small streets running at odd angles to one another. The city had been conquered by the Venetians, back when they were the major force in the Mediterranean, and they had fortified it with massive stone walls and arrow-shaped gates leading into the old city. I visited the large Greek Orthodox Church of St. Minas – the patron saint of Heraklion – before heading toward the harbor. There, I stopped into the Historical Museum, which was mostly concerned with the Byzantine and Venetian periods of the city (more recent history than really interests me, but it is interesting to see how the ancient traditions carry over, especially in funerary markers and columns).

I continued along the harbor and met a couple of French girls, whom I helped find the bus to Amoudara, as they were in search of the beach. The Archeological Museum of Heraklion was near the central bus stop, so I spent the rest of the afternoon there, steeping myself in the Minoan artifacts there. Among their burial relics were ritual bathtubs, very like the ones I had seen on Cyprus at the Aphrodite Sanctuary in Paphos and elsewhere.

Some of the earliest artifacts were stone-carved fertility goddess figurines, also reminiscent of those on Cyprus.

Once I’d seen everything at the museum, I met up with my Airbnb host at her apartment nearby and got the key before heading back to Amoudara to get my bags. It was a hot afternoon and I dallied at the hotel a while, swimming in the pool and chatting with some of the other travelers there before catching the bus back to the center.

Eiline, my host, had recommended a cute area with tables set up in the tiny cobbled streets. It was charming, indeed, though it felt a bit odd to be there alone, when everyone around me was gleefully talking amongst themselves and sharing the plates of mezze.

Greeks eat rather late, since the day is so hot and there is usually a sort of siesta period in the middle of the afternoon. I didn’t get back to the apartment till after 1 a.m. and I realized the I’d lost a coin from my favorite pair of earrings. I quickly recalled hearing the sound of a coin dropping as I walked toward the restaurant, and when I went to search for it, I miraculously found it on the street!

The next morning I caught the bus to Knossos, one of the famed “palaces” of the Minoan civilization. Though I arrived early, it was already crowded with tourists and difficult to enjoy, but I was able to see all of it except the so-called “King’s Chambers” or throne room, as the line to get in was ridiculous!

Knossos

Knossos

I made it back to the apartment and spent the afternoon packing for the trip that evening, when Ellie and her father would pick me up for the festival in Kamilari, south of Heraklion and on the other side of the mountains in the center of the island. My host, Eiline, came home and we shared my leftover salad from the night before, because I’d ordered way too much food and had barely been able to touch it!

Around 7, Ellie and her dad, Kimon, met me at the main square of Heraklion, and we headed off to the festival. We stopped along the way to pick up some friends of Kimon’s, Ileni and Lambrous, and share some raki with them – the traditional drink of Crete. It’s a strong, clear liquor made from grapes and we had two nips of it, with peanuts to help soak up the alcohol, before driving the short remaining distance to the festival.

The small town of Kamilari was full of people and tables were arranged in tight rows in the village center. A large space was cleared for dancing and in the meantime, everyone shared food and wine and beer and made generally merry. Antonious was there with his friend and musical partner Niko, and they began playing not long after we arrived, around 10 p.m. From then on, the music barely stopped and soon everyone was dancing, holding hands, first in a circle, then spiraling inward to the center of the circle.

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Dancing

Dancing

Dancing in Kamilari

Dancing in Kamilari

Traditional Cretan dancing

Traditional Cretan dancing

Kimon speechifying

Kimon speechifying

Antonious and the band playing - Kamilari

Antonious and the band playing – Kamilari

Ellie and a local friend - Kamilari festival

Ellie and a local friend – Kamilari festival

Ellie taught me a couple of dances and once I got the steps, it was a lot of fun! Antonious was singing and I would occasionally hear my name being called out amidst the lyrics. We danced and drank and chatted till after 4 in the morning and finally it was time for Ellie to drive Antonious and Niko to Chania to catch an early morning flight. I went back to the house of Kimon’s friends in a tiny village called Agios Ioannis – St. John – for a few hours of much needed sleep.

In the morning, I awoke with Ileni, for a quick breakfast of coffee and toast before dressing and walking up the mountain behind the village to go to another Minoan site known as Phaistos or Festos. It is less accessible than Knossos, so there was hardly anyone there when I arrived and I could get a better feel for the place without all of the imaginative reconstruction perpetrated at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, who discovered that site.

Phaistos

Phaistos

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos

Phaistos selfie

View from Phaistos

View from Phaistos

From the site, I could see the entire surrounding valleys, covered with olive trees and vineyards. I walked back down the mountain after and hour or so and met up with Kimon, who was giving me a lift to Paleochora, at the far southwestern tip of the island.

Since it was high season, I decided to eschew the hotel search and instead found a campground walking distance from the town center where I could rent a tent with a cot and mattress right by the beach!

Kimon dropped me off and we were both tired to the point of exhaustion. I checked in and headed straight for a swim at the beach across the street, where little juniper-like trees offered shade for the lounge chairs. I went into the crystal clear water and paddled around for a while before heading back for a snooze on my lounge chair, but it was barely a minute before I heard a splat and then another and then it began to rain! I had noticed the dark clouds over the mountains as we drove into Paleochora and asked Kimon if it ever rained there in the summer, to which he responded with a decisive “no.”

Yet rain it did, so I went back into the water and floated on my back, letting the fat drops pelt me softly and wet my tongue. There were just a few of us swimming – a girl called Rania who was working at the campground told me that I must be good luck, because she’d never seen rain like this.

I wrote for a bit that afternoon and met a small kitty near my tent who befriended me immediately. Kitties always feel like they are sent to me by my sister Erika, who was the patron saint of cats.

Beach near my camp - Paleochora

Beach near my camp – Paleochora

Me n Kitty - Paleochora

Me n Kitty – Paleochora

That evening I walked into town to meet Kimon for dinner at his cousin’s restaurant, but the place was packed and I had seen a vegetarian restaurant en route, called The Third Eye, that I was dying to try. Kimon, reminding me of my father, would have nothing to do with the food there, but I ate a curry and samosas with relish, accompanied by a small pitcher of rose. I was just about as happy as I could be.

The owner had lived in India for ten years and told me I looked like Joni Mitchell, traveling with my guitar. He said she’d lived in Crete for a while in the 70s, which I hadn’t heard before, but as I love Joni, I definitely took his comparison as a compliment!

After dinner, Ellie joined us at the family restaurant and I played some music for them on my guitar, attracting some locals to hear me. Before I knew it, it was 1 a.m. and Kimon drove me back to my campground.

I planned to go to bed, but there was traditional music being played in the restaurant there, so I decided to go for a raki and write in my journal for a bit. The manager of the camp brought me some snacks and somehow it was 3 by the time I went to bed!

Music at camping Paleochora

Music at camping Paleochora

The music kept going, though, but I’d had enough raki to knock me out.

The next morning I was feeling the edges of a cold start to take hold, from my many nights of too little sleep. I went for a swim and did some writing and napping before walking into town to meet Ellie as we’d planned to try out the main beach in town. Though it was sand instead of pebbles, I found myself referring the beach by my camp, which was less crowded and had slightly warmer water. Ellie helped me get some medicine to fend off the oncoming cold and then she went home for a nap.

I went back to the Third Eye for a different delicious curry and, afterwards, met up with Ellie and her cousin, Tonia, at a local beauty salon, where Tonia was getting mani-pedi’d. We’d talked about going to the beach club by my camp that night, but Tonia had other plans, so Ellie and I had a glass of sparkling at a place nearby and then she dropped me off at my campground.

My last day in Paleochora, I spent a lot of time talking with a friendly fellow camper named Lisia, who was Greek and a very kind and open person. We talked about many things and I told her about my sister, Erika. She said she’d always wanted a sister, and couldn’t she be my sister? She was very sweet.

Lisia seeing me off - Paleochora

Lisia – Paleochora

I did some much needed laundry and spent some more time in the delicious water before walking into town to have dinner at (you guessed it) The Third Eye. It had been so long since I had proper veg food, I couldn’t get enough! I had yet another kind of curry and then found Ellie and Tonia at the family restaurant, Finakis – The Palm Tree.

I finally left Paleochora and returned to Heraklion by bus to get my ferry the next morning to Santorini. I spent a whirlwind day there visiting the volcanic island and the ruins of the ancient town of Thira.

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

A kind local gave me a ride to the ferry at around 2 am and I continued to Kos, where I saw many refugees there, living in tents and some without even that comfort were just in the shade, whole families with small children.

I took another ferry to Bodrum that evening and spent a night in a backpacker hostel where very unfortunately, my iPhone was stole in the night, as I slept.

The next day I got the bus to Selcuk, where I visited the ruins of the Artemis temple – one of the ancient wonders of the world – and the remains of Ephesus. I stayed two nights there and got the ferry the following day to Samos and then on to Lesvos, at last.

In Lesvos, I had to stay one night in Mitilini, the capital, and again the refugees were everywhere.

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira