Tuesday, May 29, 2007

One Indelible Moment

This was taken on the isle of Naxos, on the way back from Zeus's cave (you can see the path on the right), an hour or two before sunset.

We had whole the valley to ourselves, at least as far as humans go. I don't think either one of us will forget the sight of those mountains, with the sun lighting up the distant ocean. Or the symphony of birdsong that underscored the tinkling of the bells worn by the countless mountain goats that dotted the hills.

Add to that the call and response between Zach and those goats, with baaaing back and forth across the valley as we walked along that stone path, and you can imagine how surreal a time it was.

The picture doesn't do it justice.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Flavors of the Trip (So Far)

  1. Saganaki, which is basically fried cheese, which we have had nearly every day. It's kind of like mozzarella sticks, except that it usually comes in a big flat rectangle and doesn't have breading. (Everywhere)
  2. Keftedes, which are also fried and come in several varieties. Our favorite so far were tomato keftedes with some kind of herb that we still can't identify. (Everywhere, but the best were on Santorini)
  3. Fish Salad, something I never thought I would eat. The proprietor of an unremarkable-looking but guidebook-recommended taverna talked us into ordering this dish. It was a skate-like Greek fish that had been marinated for a week, then poached in the skin, then cooked a second time without the skin, then shredded and served hot, dressed in olive oil, dill, a little dried mustard, and some chopped raw onion. So good we went back and had it again two nights later. (Naxos)
  4. Sweets from that same taverna, brought with glasses of ouzo over ice, along with our check. A second unexpected pleasure after a delightful meal. Chilled balls of something like raw cookie dough (or halvah, according to Zach), but even more delicious. Rolled in chocolate sprinkles for extra goodness. And generously portioned, almost the size of a golf ball. The lovely proprietor professed not to know what they were called. He told us his sister made them according to a recipe from Crete. Wish we could detour there for a little culinary detective work. (Naxos)
  5. Summer Salad, an intriguing mix of shredded iceberg lettuce, fresh quartered strawberries, fresh mango slices, balsamic vinaigrette, and shaved pecorino. It was supposed to include honey as well, which we think was in the dressing. Absolutely scrumptious and completely refreshing. Definitely one to try at home. (Mykonos)
  6. Ice Cream, my favorite food and a great picker-upper after lots of walking or sailing in the sun. The best so far: a dense, chewy banana with a little of Zach's chocolate for contrast. (Mykonos)
  7. Naxian Liqueur, another flavor for which we don't know the name. There is a distillery on Naxos that makes a special liqueur called kitron (from the leaves of a fruit of the same name), currently sold only on the island. We toured the distillery and tasted not only the kitron and the house ouzo but also a special brandy-like liqueur made with sour cherries and cinnamon. We are bringing all of the above home with us, very carefully. (Naxos)
  8. Gyros and Souvlaki, classic Greek street food. The best we had were at a stand called Poldo, where we got Greek lessons along with our meals. In addition to meat (pork, chicken, or lamb), the warm, tasty pitas had several de riguer fillings: tomatoes, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onions, tzatziki, and . . . French fries. Weird but truly yummy. Three nights on the island, three lunches at Poldo. (Santorini)
  9. Pork Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, but more like meatcylinders, really. These huge, oddly shaped protein-delivery systems were tender and perfectly seasoned, although they were served, inexplicably, between a stack of third-rate fries and a pile of so-so rice. (Naxos)
  10. Really Local Wine, poured for us -- over and over -- by a charming albeit chain-smoking artist we befriended on our first day in Greece. I'm not sure which made it taste better: the fact that his father had made it or that he served it to us from a racy carafe he had created in his pottery studio. One spout was carved into the face of a man, with the cork serving as almost a top hat. The pour spout, festooned with two delicate testes, looked like a very different part of the anatomy. (Santorini)

How to Feel Young Again

  1. Buy a ticket on an overnight ferry from one European port to another.

  2. Spend the day sightseeing, sweating, dodging smokers, and putting lots of mileage on your legs.

  3. Board the ferry in desperate need of a hot shower, a clean bathroom, and a cool, comfortable place to sleep.

  4. Do without all three.

  5. Sleep across from your main squeeze, each in your own single bunk.

  6. Wake up at 4AM to the sound of a crew member announcing your arrival two hours earlier than you were told to expect.

  7. Wipe the accumulated dried sweat, sunscreen, and grime from the key parts of your body with a hand towel drenched in hot water.

  8. File off the ferry amid backpack-toting twenty-somethings.

  9. Walk in the dark, in a drizzle, following vague directions in your guidebook, in the hope of finding the city's 24-hour internet cafe.

  10. Wipe the cigarette ashes off the computer station, tune out the head-banging American music, and write this post.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pictures Now, Words to Follow

First photos are here!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Here's a Hint

"My dear friend, can you believe your eyes?
The murmuring hall, how luminous it is
with bronze gold, amber, silver, and ivory!
This is the way the court of Zeus must be,
inside, upon Olympos. What wonder!"
          The Odyssey, Book 4, lines 77-81

Does that spell it out for you?

Much of the trip has been left open, so that Jodes can choose between an island, a beach or a ruin on any given day.

If you're not clear yet, then I'll be a little more direct: after a one-night layover in Paris (yes, returning to the place of our first trip together), our next three nights will be spent here.

Days following that TBD. :)

Watch This Space

In less than eight hours, Zach and I are leaving on a much needed, long-anticipated vacation. We'll be gone nearly three weeks.

The catch is that I don't have any idea where we're going.

Zach has planned the whole trip and succeeded in keeping our destination(s?) a secret for months.

Now, I did the same thing to him last year. But in that case, we were only gone for about a week.

If you want to know where we are, check back here: Zach has promised to put up a post with details as soon as we are en route.

I am hoping to put up at least a few of my own posts while we are away. And I now have a nifty (and very tiny) digital camera, so there may actually be photos as well.

We are both thrilled about the prospect of having so much stress-free time together. The trip is nominally a belated-40th-birthday-and-anticipatory-graduation present. But mostly it is a celebration of making it through the past two hellish years and a first step toward the happier times we hope are ahead.

The last time Zach and I went away together on an extended trip was 17 years ago, a few months after we first met. We spent 17 days traveling all around France, putting 2,000 miles on our little Renault rental, enduring a heat wave, and figuring out just how much we loved being together.

We think of that trip often—in many ways, it was the crucible of our relationship. I had no idea what I was in for when we jetted off to Paris on that summer day.

Of course, I have no idea what I'll be in for when we leave home tomorrow.

But I know who I'm in with, and that's all that matters.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Classless (For Now)

I am officially (except for the part where I have to spend the summer writing an entire book proposal on an as-yet-undetermined topic) done with school.

It hasn't really hit me yet, although I suppose that will happen next week, when I go to graduation for the second time without walking across the stage and receiving a degree. How does the saying go? Oh, yeah: always a graduate student, never a graduate.

Well, not "never" (I hope).

At least I don't have to attend any more classes. I can do the book proposal on my own, kind of like an independent study. And I have until September to finish it—assuming that I want to receive my degree in October. (I'll get it in the mail. If I want to have someone hand it to me officially, I'll have to go to graduation number three next May. I'm not ready to lay odds on that happening.)

What I really need now is some time to decompress. I feel kind of like Tom Hanks's character in Cast Away—the part after he's rescued, when he's having trouble reintegrating into the world and trying to get back to his old life.

I'm not quite sure what my old life is anymore, and it's too soon to really have a handle on what I want my new one to be.

One of my classmates from last year said she went through some kind of post-traumatic shock in the few months after graduation, that it took her at least that long to want to go back to reporting and writing again (something she had done—and loved—before school).

I have no idea how I'll feel once I finally finish (or even start) this book proposal, but I know two things so far. First, that I crave both structure and daily interaction with living, breathing, speaking beings, which means that I will most certainly be looking for some kind of job. I'm definitely not hard-wired for the freelance life.

Second, I am itching to teach. Not journalism, actually, but what I'm calling for now basic writing literacy. If you think back to high school, you probably remember a kid in algebra class who said, "Why do I need to know this? I'm never going to need math in the real world." (Maybe you were that kid.)

The class I have in mind is aimed at the kids (or young adults) who feel that way about writing—the ones who never had an affinity for it, never discovered an aptitude for it, and did everything possible (maybe even taking math classes!) to avoid having to do any of it.

I've been ruminating about a curriculum for years now and am just starting to—hah!—write it down. Once I have it together, I'm going to look for a way to try it out, probably by offering it for free (and maybe in condensed form) through a community group or a nonprofit.

I actually had to learn a fair amount about curriculum design in my pre-J-school job, and it's been fun to dredge up that knowledge and apply it to something I'm passionate about.

It's also fun to have a leisurely morning at home with Zach, without an imminent deadline hanging over my head.

Is it a dream sequence? A flashback?

No, wait.

It's finally real.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bad Hair Day

Six years ago to the day was the first time my hair fell out.

I had started chemo a couple of weeks before, so I knew it was coming. I even knew when. The social worker who ran the support group I'd been attending had told me exactly, based on the drugs I was being given. Sixteen days.

I woke up on Day 16, and there was hair on my pillow. Not a hair. Hair. Strands and strands of it.

Then I took a shower, and more came out in my hands.

Zach made the call.

He had recently begun to get his hair cut by someone new, someone recommended by a friend. During his last visit, Zach had told this new someone that I was starting chemo and was going to want to have my hair buzzed as soon as it began to come out. The new someone volunteered to do it for me.

So on that morning, Zach called the new someone—whose name is Dave—and asked if we could come in for a buzz.

That same morning, I went to my first-ever yoga class with a friend from work. It seemed like a good idea: might as well get as Zen as possible before letting a stranger lop off my locks. Plus, if I was going to look like a monk, it was probably wise to learn how to chant like one.

I enjoyed the class, if not the chanting, and headed out with my friend to a nearby Mexican restaurant for lunch. It was Cinco de Mayo, after all.

After lunch, on my way over to meet Zach, I stopped in a cool West Village shop and bought myself a cute little hat, the first in my collection. It was a red-and-white-checked little number, and I thought it had just the kind of jaunty look I'd need to compensate for all that lack of hair.

I headed down to the Lower East Side, to the salon where Dave worked at the time. Zach introduced us, and we got started. Dave's station was smack-dab in the middle of the place, so my shearing turned out to be a pretty public event. It was a Saturday afternoon on a gorgeous spring day, and there were plenty of people around.

Dave turned out to be kind and compassionate but also a lot of fun. He handled the situation—which could have been fraught and awkward—as naturally as could be. He was comfortable, so I was comfortable. Well, as comfortable as one could be while sitting in the middle of a hip downtown salon, surrounded by strangers and preparing to be bald.

Maybe the chanting had helped after all.

Although my hair was relatively short at the time, it was still pretty thick and curly—thick and curly enough that Dave's electric clippers were just no match. He had buzzed about half of my head when the motor gave out.

I liked that my hair was putting up some kind of last-minute fight. After leaving a trail from our apartment to the yoga studio to the Mexican restaurant to the cool West Village shop to the hip downtown salon, I guess it tried to rally in the face of a direct attack.

Dave went and found a hardier set of clippers, and it wasn't much longer before I looked like a brand-new Marine recruit. Except that I didn't look old enough to enlist. In fact, I looked about 12. I think the jaunty new hat took me all the way up to 14.

Dave gave me a big hug and refused to take a penny for his efforts. (Zach and I have been devoted to him ever since.) I put on my new hat, and we walked out onto the street.

I can't remember where Zach had to be afterward, but I headed back to our apartment alone. On my way uptown, I stopped at an annual crafts fair I like to go to that just happened to be taking place that weekend. One of the first booths I passed was filled with dozens of hats, and I started trying a few on.

It felt strange to take off the jaunty hat so soon—I was still completely unaccustomed to the buzz cut—but I tried to be nonchalant about the whole thing. That's one of the things I love about the anonymity you can find in New York: I was able to try out my new near-baldness in the midst of a crowd, and nobody paid any attention to me at all. The universe seemed to be telling me that if I was OK with it, everyone else would be, too.

And then I decided to ask the hatmaker to help me choose a flattering style from among the many choices.

She took a long look at me and my buzz cut.

"Hmm," she said, trying but failing to find a diplomatic tone.

"Do you always wear your hair so short?"

Friday, May 04, 2007


One more class.

One more deadline.

One more full Monday-to-Friday week before we head off on the mystery trip Zach's been planning.

One more renter for the place upstate.

One less reason to lose sleep at night.

One long walk in the warm evening air.

One home-cooked meal that I actually cooked.

One step closer to finally finishing school.

One glimpse of life as it might be again.