When I was twenty-five (1970) I stumbled off a Greek ocean liner named the Queen Anna Maria at the port of Athens, Piraeus, Greece. I was meant to spend a month on a romantic, free-spirited Greek island with friends – Hydra – but ended up spending two consecutive years there, and have been returned since for the past forty-five years. Am proud to announce that a piece I wrote is included with thirteen other delightful remembrances in a new anthology that’s been in the works for quite a while. It’s called – “When We Were Almost Young: Remembering Hydra through War and Bohemians” and is available as a paperback original on Amazon.com and will soon also exist as a Kindle. It’s compiled and edited by brilliant and stylish Helle V. Goldman (whom I first met as a five-year-old on the Isle of Hydra), who has carved out an impressive career as a scholar, anthropologist, editor, writer, woman-of-a-million talents presently based above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway. Following, a description of the anthology hot-off-Tipota Press:
The Greek island of Hydra was once famous throughout the Mediterranean for its prosperous sea captains. When fortunes turned, it became an island of humble fishermen and sponge-divers. In the 1950s and 1960s, word spread of Hydra’s unique beauty and incomparable light, and its unconventional community of painters, writers, socialites and other wanderers. Seeking or escaping, they stepped onto Hydra’s horseshoe-shaped harbour and found something that bound them to the island. Some went on to reap global acclaim for their art. One of these was Leonard Cohen, whom Hydra brought together with Marianne Ihlen, inspiration for his timeless songs “So Long, Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire.” Others never entered the limelight. What they shared was an eagerness to forsake the modern rat-race in exchange for a simple life without refrigerators, telephones or cars.
This anthology of 14 short memoirs, spanning the 1940s through 1980s, offers the reflections of the contributors on their tender younger selves and the exhilaration, heartbreak, light and darkness that transformed them on this island. The contributors include award-winning author Alison Leslie Gold and London Times and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Martin Klein. Additional material includes a collection of private letters sent to Marianne Ihlen by her friend Sam Barclay in the early 1960s, and a bibliography/filmography of books and feature films about or set on Hydra.
Here’s a photo (right) of Marianne, her husband Jan, and myself – utterly unreflective on our “almost old” selves, on Hydra a few years before Marianne died – still having fun, still inspiring each other, still tender and exhilarated. Also (below) a photo of Helle’s remarkable Danish mother sitting with her equally remarkable (Norwegian/American) daughter Zoe on Hydra, in spring a few years ago. Life couldn’t have been sweeter! Oh if we could only have frozen time on that almost perfect afternoon!
Following, an excerpt taken from my piece in “When we were Almost Young” set in Autumn, titled –
What I come back to
Finally the drowsy days of rain end, a rim of sunset can be seen against the soft curves of the Peloponnese. Lemons from my neighbour’s tree have fallen onto my road and steps. Doors have swollen from the rain. The door to the old part of the house won’t open; the door to the front gate won’t close. During the downpour, the leak under the metal spiral stairway to the newish upstairs studio – built when my neighbor erected a second story that obscured my sea view and broke my heart – stopped, but water from the kitchen ceiling dripped onto the table where my papers and fresh bread are.
When the sun has dried everything, I fill in a crack in the terrace above the kitchen with acrylic sealant shot through a tube with a kind of cocked gun left over from the recent cleaning, resealing of my cistern, and listen to goat bells high up in the hills. My neighbour stops by to bring me a sack of fresh lemons. The third in a week; enough lemons for an army. After scrubbing my dirty laundry in the red plastic tub with soft cistern (rain) water and soap, I hang it piece by piece on the line that’s strung across the terrace. A couple of indigo-coloured plastic clothespins crumble when I pinch them, exhausted after doing their work through a long, baking-hot summer. The sun is still strong, though it is now October. If I can get myself to put on my bathing suit, I’ll go for a swim. Almost before I finish hanging the last bits on the line, the first have already dried.
Olympia, the hobbling tabby cat, hasn’t visited once. I’ve seen her at two different tavernas, fat and swaggering, oblivious to my lack of affection at last. Perhaps it is because I still pine for Vigilante, also a tabby, that I haven’t warmed to Olympia, who is most likely Vigilante’s second, third or fourth cousin.
One time I glanced over at Tassos’ café from the Pirate (my latest station of the cross) and saw Tassos’ crusty old father sitting in his usual chair at a side table, sipping something. I commented, “Amazing that Tassos’ father is still alive,” to be told, “Tassos’ father died twenty years ago. That’s Tassos you’re looking at.” Begrudging: After shaking her head – “Tipota!” (Nothing!) – a fatuous smile at the corner of her mouth, the bling-laden, hard-working employee at the post office shrugs and thumbs through the poste restante bins. She finds mail addressed to me from someone who has been dead for at least three years.
Inescapable: The volume of normal meowing increases to a howl, piercing, screeching, bawling, doleful, whining caterwaul. Which cat is this? I peer into the black velvet, polished night, shine my torch, glimpse only a cat’s raised rear end, tail curled, the cat unidentifiable, the grating yowl, frequent, urgent, persistent on and off through half the night. Why not! Cats can always sleep all the next day. …