What is the Real?

 

I’m sure other writers will identify with this—planning a book launch while in the throes of personal circumstances that cannot be circumvented. When Cooking for Ghosts was released, we had just bought a house in a rural area where the usual economical options for internet connection were non-existent, and spotty cell phone service is the norm. We sorted all that out over time, but that first week my first novel came out, I remember sitting in the showroom of a Lowes where my husband was ordering a washing machine, trying desperately to answer emails about book events and appearances, using their store wifi.

And when Spells & Oregano came out, we had house guests–my stepson and his wife, their two adorable small children. That was only the following year, so while planning readings and appearances, I was also looking up locations in our new neighborhood—things we could do with two very young children, and food shopping for a crowd, while trying to answer emails, Facebook messages, etc, in the midst of all that.

Well, wouldn’t you guess? Demons, Well-Seasoned is being released at the end of November, and smack in the middle of planning an important and meaningful book launch event at my dream venue–The RMS Queen Mary–something came up that had me traveling back to Greece, a country where I lived for some time, but have not visited in more than six years.

It is difficult to travel from the west coast of the United States to Europe–the flights are long and arduous, with a stopover somewhere that’s usually long enough to be exhausting, but not long enough to make use of the time to do any sightseeing. The flight to Athens from Las Vegas took me to San Francisco first, where I was cautioned they might bump my flight because of runway repairs. From San Francisco, it was thirteen hours straight to Istanbul. The service was great, and my seat companion charming, but it was like being a magician’s assistant, trapped in a flying steamer trunk for that amount of time. I am 5 feet two and about 128 pounds. I can’t imagine how anyone who is not as compact as I can bear being in that small space for that long. The woman in front of me immediately pushed her seat back as far as it would go, so the top of her head was beneath my nose for the whole flight.

Photo below is near to where I’m staying. I know most people picture cobalt blue water, charming seaside tavernas and bouzouki music when they imagine a trip to Greece, but I am staying at an AirBNB in a residential middle class neighborhood in Athens, that while perfectly fine, there is no sea in sight, and the only music I hear is the endless stream of motorbikes that are as loud as they are tiny. And I don’t know who does more yelling and whinging–the news announcers blasting their opinions from the TVs that are out on everyone’s balcony, the street cats battling out territory, or the women calling out for their children–“Kostaki!” “Nikolaki!” “Pou eisai, pedimou? Meen kaneis saklamaras.” (Where are you, kid of mine? Stop being stupid.”)

I was book launch exhausted before I got on the plane, and I now have jet lag added to that. I’m allergic to something here and my eyes are so puffy I look like a frog. I’m also getting a cold sore on my lip—my body’s reaction to intense stress–and that will be so charming when I meet up with people I haven’t seen in decades.

The AirBNB was not overly clean, and there’s an odd smell coming from the pipes in the kitchen. I have to keep the window above the sink open at all times, and this being Greece, the window is without screens, which welcomes in all the mosquitoes.

I had to bring a new laptop, because the one I work on usually that has all my information–saved email addresses, etc–has an old battery. If I leave it plugged into the voltage converter, it will fry. Thus, I’ve confused all the sites I usually visit and log into–“Wait, is this her? It can’t be. She’s got a very strange IP address and we don’t recognize this device. Let’s put her through identification hoops before we let her sign on. Security, security, security.” I did at lot of swearing at Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter.This morning I woke up and my email program switched over to Greek language. And while I can make my way in Greek, reading the big people words is a challenge. I spent an hour this morning trying to figure out how to revert back to English. (Hint: if this happens to you, swearing at your laptop doesn’t help. I even tried swearing in Greek.)

BUT.

With all that said, the first person to greet me when I landed was my son. He is delighted that I’m here, charmingly so. Last night, he cooked me a fish I love and haven’t had since I left Greece. He is an excellent cook, and that fish was so fresh and tasty, it was as though Jesus had just made it materialize. We sat out on his balcony overlooking the city, along with everyone else in the surrounding buildings who were doing the same. The night was clear and the lights looked beautiful over the mountains. We had a wonderful conversation. Earlier in the day, we went food shopping and the fruit vendor insisted on giving us cookies. There are people here besides family who keep telling me how glad they are that I popped in. They want to make plans with me to go out to dinner. to come to their homes. At least three times, I have been blessed with the words, “I’m so happy that I get to see you.” Yesterday, I posted a question about food markets. Four people who live here told me just where to shop. I have only met one of them, once, decades ago. The others are readers, and how beautiful is that? Friends I made eons ago are pushing aside their usual schedules to make room for me. And strangers who easily guess by my broken Greek that I am a visitor, ask, “How long are you here for? Kαλως ΗΡΘΑΤΕ.” (Welcome)

This is the real Greece, the Greece I have always loved and still miss.

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