Tomorrow will mark one week since I departed the United States for Greece. I am on the island of Thasos attending a travel and food writing workshop in what could only be considered a love affair between Henry David Thoreau and island life. I had envisioned isolation, relaxation, dedication and focus. And maybe a Greek man offering me a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants moment.
Instead, I’ve ended up with 20 other females, two males, a Lord of the Flies type of carnage minus the pig on a stick and outright forms of aggression, because we’re dealing with women here, after all. And all of this is set on the most ancient of holy grounds, surrounded by a sea that changes from teal to blue to green with the changing wind, on a ground so fertile that the plant leaves cause bread to rise. Life on this island is not what I expected, but it satisfies every desire I had when I signed up for the workshop. Despite occasionally feeling caught between solitude and MTV’s Real World, Thasos is a place where time stands still yet simultaneously speeds forward, an unfamiliar place that somehow feels like the only home I’ve ever had, a place that inspires me to write and reflect on the truths of men’s souls, yet I can’t even complete one blog post in under a week. This, to me, is what it is to be in Greece.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
All of this began with a flight from Boston to Istanbul.
I was flying on a redeye that departed at 11:45pm, my first experience with Turkish Air. The first thing I noticed was the swath of cultures woven together on a single airplane. There was everyone, from baseball cap wearing Bostonians to women fully dressed in burkas. I took my place in the middle seat of the middle row at the back of the plane* between two gentlemen who didn’t speak English. The first looked like the guy in The Mummy who was eaten alive by scarab beetles, and he greeted me with a smile.
*this is not an ideal place to sit
The second man had Einstein-like hair and was deeply involved in what I assumed was a prayer ritual. He was repeatedly bowing to the seat in front of him (covered by a jacket)–bowing for two seconds, rising for two seconds, bowing, and rising–and every third round, he would lift his hands in the air. He had started this pattern before I sat down and he continued until the plane began to taxi, at which point, he stopped, sat upright, and offered me some Raisinettes.
On the other side of him was a kind-faced older woman wearing a colorful hijab. She and the Einstein-haired man shared several conversations in between his prayer rituals, which happened at least three times while I was semi-conscious on the flight, and the two of them seemed to get along well in the broken language they had found in common. She and I (and the Einstein-haired man) shared hand sanitizer, and it was a beautiful moment of strangers coming together with smiles and kindness to kill bacteria.
And completing the row was me, the disheveled American girl who performed contortionist acts while trying to sleep during the flight. If there had been an aerial camera pointed at me, I would have ended up as the poster child for Restless Leg Syndrome or those in need of a Serta mattress. It was the most struggle-ridden attempt at sleeping I’ve ever had.
Of course, sleep was the last thing I’d planned to do on the flight. I was 24 hours behind in writing a paper I was supposed to bring to Greece (in hardcopy) to serve as my first workshop piece, but I thought maybe I could print at the Istanbul airport in–all I’d have to do is write the piece en route. It’s only 800 words, I thought. Surely I can do that during a nine-hour flight.
I fell asleep immediately and woke up with one hour left until descent.
I use the word “wake” loosely, as it implies that at some point I was actually asleep. I spent 7.5 hours the state between sleeping and wakefulness where one can move one’s limbs with enough intention to swaddle oneself into a blanket cocoon with a military level of fortitude, but one cannot open one’s eyes for more than a millisecond because the need for sleep is so strong it’s painful. Therefore, in the midst of trying to sleep, I remember noticing several things:
-it got really cold
-it got really hot, to the point where I felt like Henry Miller in The Colossus of Maroussi when he was “lying unconscious in a pool of sweat”
-the lights were on interminably
-the flight attendants served a full meal at 3am
-the Einstein-haired man bowed for an extended period of time
-in desperate for neck support, I consented to using my airplane pillow, even though I fear the pillow germs. However, Einstein-hair had unintentionally moved it beyond my reach, and when I realized this, he was sleeping with both legs straight up in the air, propped on the seat in front of him. I decided not to wake him.
-I accidentally pressed myself up against the call button and kept ringing the flight attendants to our row.
When I finally came to, I was being served breakfast. The Einstein-haired man was already awake, and he had lowered my tray table so they would deliver food. After I finished eating, he offered me Raisinettes, and when I accepted one, he also offered me Rolos. I really liked that man.
I pulled out my laptop for the first time the entire flight, wrote two-and-a-half sentences, and was told to put my tray table up and turn off all electronic devices.
And that is the leg on which I began my writing retreat.
But all is well now. I will return soon (hopefully) with more stories and pictures, but for now I leave you with the view from my balcony. Its magic is seeping into my bones, I can feel it…