Tuesday, January 18, 2011

International Romance - Greek Sojourn

Welcome to the third week of International Romance! Nicole Ducleroir and Katie Bell have already left us some interesting stories and this week we have Jessica Bell (bottom left). Here's a little introduction:

Jessica Bell is an Australian who lives in Athens, Greece, and writes literary women's fiction and poetry. Her debut novel, String Bridge, is scheduled to be published by Lucky Press LLC, in late 2011. She makes a living as a freelance writer/editor of global English Language Teaching materials for Pearson Education, Hellenic American Union, Macmillan Education, Cengage Learning and Education First. A list of other publications can be seen on her website, www.jessicacbell.com. She posts four days a week on her blog www.thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.com

Ok, my post is going to be a little different. I’m not going to talk about my love for my partner (though I do love him to bits); I’m going to talk about my love for Greece.
I travelled back and forth from Melbourne, Australia, to Greece between the ages of two and twenty, until I moved here permanently at 21, almost ten years ago. For some reason my heart has been here all my life. And though the country has given me much bureaucratic grief, I still can’t bring myself to leave. Here’s how it all started …
When I was about six years old, arriving to the Greek island where my grandparents lived was like stepping foot into an enchanted pop-up fairytale book. At dawn, especially, it was a Never land of lush luminescent green mountain, deep purple sea, sherbet orange sky and sharp-toothed cliffs so high you could literally walk on clouds — a much needed change from falling asleep on a vibrating carpeted floor that reeked of old amplifier wheel grease and waking up to cigarette smoke wafting through ducted heating vents. My parents were musicians.
The island’s windy mountainous roads are framed with olive groves and air so crisp you can snap it like celery. The houses are stained with whitewash and embedded with old-style stiff wooden shutters, tailored by the locals to keep the summer swelter out. They are painted blue, red, or green, but occasionally you may come across the odd pink or orange shutters, which are more often than not inhabited by the eccentric barmy type who are color-blind, or the young and loaded foreigner who believes an island revolution should be in order.
Goats meander about the streets, butting each other’s heads senselessly, as they try to escape oncoming cars and motorcycles. The roosters, chickens, and geese fire up the locals at the first sign of sunrise. Birds chirp, cicadas “jijiga” in the olive trees, and dogs bark as the bread truck, a red beat-up Ute, delivers fresh hot bread to each residence and slips the required amount of loaves into hand-made cloth bags hanging from wire fencing.
Summer on this island engraves your skin with a longing to spend sunrise to sunset lying on a small, empty, white-pebbled beach in a secluded cove at the end of a private dirt walking track. At midday, it gets so hot you need to wade through heat waves rising from the unevenly tarred road like kindred spirits before you can wade in the Ionian to cool off — a flat, motionless oil bath which glows with an infinite turquoise glint. Although it may seem you are stepping into velvet, however, you emerge covered in a thin salty crust which you can brush off like sand when it dries.
Most folks have a siesta between two and five in the afternoon, so there isn’t much to do except wander the streets and explore. By about six p.m. the sun still reads midday, and the waterfront cafés fill with shouting teenagers drinking frappé. And there they stay until it’s time to return home, quickly scarf down some homemade mousaka, and get dressed to party until seven the next morning.
By about ten p.m. the sun hides behind a mountain of shrubby arid terrain, and the cool edge to the air is relieving. At the mountain’s topmost peak, a silhouette of an Orthodox church can be seen, accompanied by a soundtrack of owls and crickets. At this time of day mosquitoes congregate for their evening feasts. Shepherds’ voices echo through the valley while their goats’ bells jingle as they steer along their hot dusty trails back home.
In the morning, when glittering sunlight made patterns on my wall through the thin slats of my bedroom shutters, my mother would make me Vegemite toast. I’d eat on the verandah, without a plate, propped up on a whitewashed ledge full of tacky red plastic buckets, where my Nona would hand-wash our laundry. Dad would play guitar in the garden, and mum would sing along as if she were the happiest person alive. Papou would tend to his veggie patch, and as soon as I’d finish my toast, I’d probe the olive trees for camouflaged cicadas.
At night I would ask Papou to play cards with me on the wobbly kitchen table covered in clay brown checkered laminate which matched the wrinkly brown-orange lino floor. We’d sit by the wood-fire oven to use it as a side-table for our flat orangeades.
Papou would show me his clever shuffling tricks with his sun-spotted trembling hands and I would smile and nod at his mumbling despite hardly ever understanding what he said. My father later said he often told stories about the earthquake that initiated the mass migration to Melbourne in 1953.
However, I do recall one instant when I’d understood what he said. It was one afternoon before going for siesta that Papou and I sat together in the lounge room for a while. I was flipping through old photo albums as he picked up the newspaper and sat in his faded maroon armchair facing the window. I glanced up for a second to see him looking from side to side and then patting his shirt pockets.
“They’re on your head,” I said.
His eyes lit up as he removed his reading glasses from his balding and scratched head (from consistently knocking it against the wine cellar entrance), put them on his nose, and said as if he had been touched by an angel, “How you know? How you know what I look for? My God, my God, you have gift!”
At six years old, of course, I believed him, until my mother explained I had just used common sense. At least she’d made me feel intelligent instead of crushing the novelty of possibly being psychic.
I’ll never forget the day my father returned from spear-fishing one morning and had brought home a massive live sea creature as big as his head, thinking it was just an empty shell.
We all gathered on the verandah to take a closer look at the twenty-centimeter thick monster that slowly emerged from its shell like a slimy skinless muscular arm. It was bright red with purple veins and a slippery transparent membrane. But Nona suspected it was a local delicacy and promptly ‘prepared’ it for the grill. She put it in the washing machine. To tenderize. The whole house stank of dead fish for weeks, and thank God the washing machine was never used for its intended purpose. Most of the time it just sat, unplugged, by the toilet as an ‘asset’.
It turns out the creature was deadly. If its poison hadn’t been sucked out during its two-hour cycle in the washing machine, Papou and Nona would have been poisoned to death!

So as you can see, I have plenty to write about. My memories are endless. A lifetime of writing inspiration. And that’s what I love about it the most. This country makes me want to write! Thanks for reading!

Thanks, Jessica!

Don't forget to join us next week for Joanna St. James!
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Unknown said...

What amazing childhood memories in a perfectly enchanting setting. Loved this! And Jessica, I don't know if I've told you this, but I call my grandmother 'Nona.' She's first generation Italian on my Dad's side, and since Nona is grandmother in her parents' tongue, we have always called her that instead of Grandma.

Your writing is vivid and engaging. Can't wait to see your book in print!

Hi Carolyn!! Have a great Tuesday!
((hugs)) Nicole

DL Hammons said...

My wife is a travel agent who has traveled the world over, and she insists that Greece has always been her favorite place to visit. Reading your stories I can see why. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm so jealous of your life. It sounds amazing. You must never want for inspiration.

Oh, and I'm totally putting Meteora in the sequel to my novel at some point.

Avo said...

This a great series, Carolyn!
You've picked an excellent quartet of bloggers!
It's been fun reading so far, looking forward to next week. : j

Carolyn V. said...

Jessica, you've made that my number one place I want to visit. It sounds just magical! (Except for the poisonous sea creature) =D

This is great Carolyn. I'm so glad you are doing these guest spots. =)

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks so much for having me! :o)

Old Kitty said...

What beautiful personal and gorgeous memories, thank you for sharing! I'm quite fond of Papou - he sounds so lovely!! Oh but I do like the poisonous fish in the washing machine!!! LOL!! Amazing.

Take care

Golden Eagle said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing, Jessica!

I'm looking forward to next week's post; this has been a great series. :)

Southpaw said...

I don’t know what it is but it must be a delicacy – let’s eat it and find out! Gads. What was it? You make Greece sound absolutely beautiful.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, those childhood visits to Greece sound heavenly. And I thing the Greek words for grandparents are my favorite of any language... Yaya and Papou... (My best friend married a Greek) I can certainly see why you love it there.

Unknown said...

It sounds like an amazing place. I would love to visit one day. Great post.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like a wonderful place, Jessica!

Christopher said...

That sounds incredible, I think I just fell in love with Greece.

And, what an amazing little story at the end there. I have to say that was two firsts for me. One being that a washing machine was used as part of the cooking process and two that a washing machine saved someone's life. Here I thought all they could do was steal socks.

Shannon said...


I love how you're able to perfectly sting words together. You've invited me into your memories through your craft. Thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Anonymous said...

Just beautiful, Jessica! I love the way you use language, and this is one of my favorite descriptions: "The island’s windy mountainous roads are framed with olive groves and air so crisp you can snap it like celery." Just beautiful!

The washing machine story is amazing--an incredible piece of unique life! I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thanks!

Missed Periods said...

First and foremost, I am jealous.

Secondly, I love the fish in the washing machine story. Was that the first and last time she did that, or was it standard practice?

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks so much for reading everyone! Missed Periods: I'm not sure if she did it again! I think she reverted back to the usual rock smashing :o) Like you do with octapus ;o)

Jacqueline Howett said...

Your hypnotic descriptions of Greece make me want to return there. If I do, I shall look you up. Your writings make me proud to be half Greek. Greece is the jewel of the world. Like you, I have wonderful childhood memories of all that is Greek. However, being proud to be half Greek wasn't always so, as a child, in a time when being half of anything wasn't cool, and I write about it every now and then as a tribute to my Greek Mum who has since passed. I evolved, grew up and now thank God I was born half Greek. The Greeks know how to live. You are so lucky to live there. I like knowing so much of the country is still untouched in many ways.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great stories, Jessica! I could just feel the Aegean sun and sea, reading this...


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