Monday, September 25, 2006

Endless sunshine of the spotless mind

"It is so simple, the life," Lucky said to me this morning in his famous Santorini falafel and souvlaki stand where I bought my breakfast falafel for 2.5 Euros. "You are happy, you bring many happies."

We are all called to be happy, he said, and to respect and revere a power greater than us, and to love one another, starting with our family and friends but radiating that light out even to those who we may want to distrust, the way the Greeks, Lucky said, sometimes view the Turks or the Arab world may view the U.S. The Turk, he has feelings, a heart, is respectful too, says Lucky.

Fifteen minutes with Lucky while my falafel balls fried, and I got his philosophy on life, 9/11, and why he is lucky to be famous and own this souvlaki stand in Santorini. God called him to make good souvlaki and falafel, he says, and he teaches others how to make it and shares with Greek youngsters his thoughts on how to talk to the people of the world.

One nation united under falafel, here on this island of staggering beauty, one of the top destination spots on earth...

Luckily, and Lucky would be proud, I am happy. My blue eyes bring good luck to others as well, he says, and that's fine with me - I'm happy to share my happiness, the bounty of it all.

The beauty on my travels feeds me and the light on the island feeds my soul. The light and colors, the hot clear sun of day and fiery panoramic sunsets, the light dancing on the water, this is Greece to me - sunset, sunshine, sunrise, white light and gold light, blue and red skies...

The colors of the sky at sunset are red, gold, white, the sun a ball of fire or light pouring through clouds in rays that fan out toward the water, light pouring down and signifying to me a power so much greater than us that lights up the world every day, and the surface of the sea shimmers and dances with light.

This despite the fact that it has been a rainy week! In the interlude between showers it is nothing but dazzling sunshine and endless blue skies until the highlight of every night - sunset over mountains, cliffsides, cities, seas. The best so far that I have seen were in Oia on the island of Santorini, and, unbelievably, from the terrace of Xenia's house in the Athens suburb of Papagos.

I spent the weekend on Santorini and learned more of the history of this place of myth and magic and gasp-inducing views. Along with the island of Crete, Santorini is supposed to be the location of the lost city of Atlantis, the advanced civilization that disappeared into the sea. When the volcano in the center of the once-round island erupted in ~1630 BC, the eruption was so violent that it caused a tsunami in its wake, that destroyed the island of Crete. 2/3 of the center of the island disappeared beneath the sea, leaving the crescent shape that is now Santorini, the caldera of cliffs that now draws visitors from around the world. It is thought to be one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in history.

The volcanic eruptions in Santorini had biblical implications as well, according to Xenia, who as a student of archaeology years ago excavated the lost city in Santorini. The ash blew south and covered the sun in Egypt for six months, thus leading to the seven plagues, and the force before the tsunami drew the Red Sea back, "parting the sea" and leaving a clearing for Moses to lead his people to the promised land.

There was a logical geological explanation for these Biblical miracles, Xenia says, if you piece together this time in history. I get the chills when she describes it. It is awesome, truly, to be in places that have such rich history, places that helped shape Western civilization as we know it.

As a Christian, which I consider myself to be albeit one that practices Buddhism as well and embraces all religions, I am awestruck by the power of holy lands and places, to be where the stories of the Bible originated, not to mention the epic stories of literature - the Iliad, the Odyssey.

Knowing about Santorini's history helps to elevate it as well to more than just another beautiful tourist destination, which the island also is. It is utterly packed with tourists so the island is not about the charm of the locals (although there is Lucky!) but you can't really blame us all for gathering from around the world to appreciate the beauty of this unique destination.

I loved Oia best, the tip of the island famous for its sunset views where I watched the sunset both nights. The cliffs of Oia are lined with charming white, yellow and pink houses and the famous blue-domed churches of Santorini. Here, I dined on souvlaki for 2 Euros - an island bargain! - bought two watercolor paintings of the city for only 28 Euros, and indulged in dessert decadence.

Night one, Saturday, I dined at Lotza's Terrace overlooking the cliffside homes, vegetable stew with retsina wine, then I treated myself to ekmek, which seems to be too sinful to exist. It is sheer sweet lunacy, bread and shredded wheat soaked in syrup with custard on top and whipped cream flavored with cardamom and sprinkled with chopped pistachios on top of that.

Night two I had a crepe filled with nutella and bananas and drizzled with chocolate sauce and a glass of local Santorini white wine from the barrel in what must be the most beautiful jazz bar in the world - I sat on the open air terrace surrounded by white and fuschia bougainvillea, overhead and along the terracotta walls, and took in the color of the post-sunset Oia sky while sipping wine and savoring chocolate.

If you are currently celibate, I recommend nutella loaded on anything to make you swoon. We find ecstasy where we can, no?

Oddly, perhaps from all the sweetness, perhaps from the dazzling views or couples silhouetted at every vista point, cuddling and kissing and swooning from the heights and over-the-top picture-postcard romanticism of it all, Santorini was about the only place on my travels so far where I felt alone sometimes as if only "one half" without being part of a complete couple. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to be struck by such a feeling on what is known to be one of the most romantic sites on the planet.

Hey. Whatever. I can always go back to Santorini someday if I choose with my "other half," wherever/whoever he might be, and cruise around on our scooter on the snaking mountain roads with the rush of open air and exhiliration of sheer cliff dropoffs alongside, sip coffee or wine along the cliffs, dance together to thumping beats in Fira's downtown district, etc. For now I am still happy to be alone navigating my way through the world as I wish - it's a privilege and blessing to be traveling this way, too.

Other Santorini highlights included my scooter ride to Fira along winding cliff roads, hanging on to the greasy Greek mechanic Niko whose long curly hair whipped into my face as we rode (he'd offered me a ride to Fira for free rather than letting me rent a scooter, for safety's sake, since I'm an inexperienced motorized-two-wheeler-driver and he said there are many accidents here); sunbathing and swimming topless in the Aegean at the black sand beach of Perissa, where you walk on volcanic rock underneath the surface of the water; eating my falafel this a.m., after my talk with Lucky, at a cliffside cafe with a gentle breeze and breathtaking views of Fira spread out beneath me.

Last night I danced 'til three at Fira clubs. At Murphy's, the crowd pulsed to Vanilla Ice and Sublime. At bar two, I got treated to free shots when I belly-danced to Turkish music with a Greek woman. I will freely admit that I am an exhibitionist when it comes to performing, especially belly-dancing. I do not mind at all when the crowds clap for me!

Thus I was happy when I got cheers of "Bravo!" and "Oh-pah!" when I did my first Greek dancing solo in a traditional taverna where I'd dined with my friend Iaonnis from the Kennedy School a few nights ago, before leaving for the Santorini trip. We were in Psiri where crowds of attractive Greeks throng the streets until sunrise - women in leggings and short skirts and low-slung belts, olive-complected handsome men with five o'clock shadow everywhere.

We quit at 1:30 a.m., which was early, since I had to catch the ferry to Santorini at 7:30 the next morning, which meant leaving the house at 6 a.m. I s'pose when you are traveling sleep is so overrated - but I do need some to keep my stamina up for another two months of travel.

During my night out with Iaonni I also got to try some classic Greek dishes, including dakos from Crete, which is a hard brown bread with thick layers of tomato and feta on top - Greek bruschetta essentially! The bread, which tastes of molasses, crumbles and melts in your mouth.

We had touszakakia, meatballs with red cumin sauce, which were delicious (and yes my vegetarian diet has gone to hell again in Greece - but while in Greece, one must try the delicacies, right?). I danced multiple Greek dances, coaxed and coached by the Greek women dancing to the live musicians in the back of the taverna, culminating in my solo when they beckoned me onto the dance floor late that night.

Iaonni said that night, when speaking of the relations between the Turks and the Greeks, that "the next war will be over baklava." The Turks claim it and so do the Greeks. Of course the troubles between the nations run deeper than this - they still fight today over Cyprus, where a fence divides the Turkish from the Greek side, and there has been a lot of bloodshed and bitterness between the two nations.

"When a Greek talks about Istanbul, their heart bleeds," Xenia has told me.

In Istanbul, Aya Sofia, or Hagia Sofia in Greek, which means "divine wisdom," is something of a pilgrimage site for Greeks, symbolizing the greatness of the Byzantine empire which has Hellenic roots. Aya Sofia was originally a Greek Orthodox church, Xenia said, years before it was a Muslim mosque.

Food unites, food divides, and one could say it ultimately has more power than religion because we need it to survive. As fuel, food keeps us alive, but of course is also a great source of pleasure in life, and I am happy to be eating this way during my stay but also happy to have lots of Greek ruins and cliffs to climb so I can stay in bikini shape for the beaches of Italy - coming next!

First, another few days in Athens... So far here I have toured the neighborhoods around the Acropolis by night, enjoyed a delicious mezza meal of cold salads - caviar, eggplant, tzatsiki - retsina wine and spiced cream cheese, when Xenia and Kostas kindly treated me to a meal at the traditional Plaka restaurant, Stamatopoulos Tavern, where three musicians played traditional Greek folk songs on the open air terrace, that was located right at the foot of the Acropolis which is illuminated by night....

Xenia and her husband are the perfect hosts. I have tried an Athens brew pub with my friend Konstantinos as well, where over red ale and sweet lager we discussed life, work, spirituality and camping out in medieval castles, which he has done here in Greece. Perhaps next time I can add this to my list of adventures as well.

More to report on this historic city and country soon... Oh-pah!

© Lisa Powell Graham 2006


Cindy said...

I wish I were there. Really.

Lisasita said...

Me too babe! We need to travel the world together someday, okay? - thanks for your kind words and for following my journey - Hugs to you, Rik and the kitties.


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