Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I'm Thinking About Lately

--I'm coming up on 500 blog posts. I guess maybe I should think about what the blog has done for me, and maybe what it hasn't. How it has changed the way I write, the way I think about writing, the way I think about what it means to make writing for free, and give it away for free. I find that even though I'm not particularly interested in marking certain passages--year marks, large round numbers--I am also compelled to mark them, as evidence. Of something.

--I am ambivalent about everything. Perhaps too much.

--Does supplemental material change the perception of a work of art? I'm thinking about this age of DVD commentary, bonus tracks, and so on. I think about Doris Salcedo's work "Shibboleth," which was at the Tate Modern in 2007. She wouldn't discuss how the crack was made--and that actually made the work less interesting to me. Perhaps because the feat of it was so startling. I'm with her, in some senses--the work stands alone. But...

--Antony Gormley's current work of art, in London, "One & Other." Basically, for 100 days, 2400 members of the public will stand on the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for an hour each. Watching the public use this moment--their 1 hour of a certain kind of fame--has been interesting. People are using it to raise awareness for a certain cause....or they are hanging out, taking pictures, having tea. It's interesting to me to think about use, and identity, and art, and how all these things are crammed in together with activism--which I never even thought about until the public started bringing signs and stuff with them to their hour on the plinth. This brings about the question of visibility, and what that means.

--I used to have a lot of sadness about finishing my novel--only in that you're essentially killing off people who have lived in your brain for so long, your friends in the loneliest of times. But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to me that, actually, in finishing it--you're giving them life, forever. (Or, as least, as long as you remain in print.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 6 of 10

Day Four: Santorini

The “ferry” is actually a huge cruise-ship style boat, carrying about 1,800 people from Athens to Santorini, making interim stops at Paros, Naxos and Ios. Imagine that you’re in a small airport, and every flight has been cancelled due to weather. Everyone spreads out, taking up every corner, every aisle and walkway. They have planned to be immobile for the eight-hour trip, and so every table on every deck is full—card players, smokers, drinkers, elaborate board games and stacks of worn paperbacks. A few laptops drink from the scarce electrical outlets. Some passengers wander up and down the boat, holding their cords and plugs out in front of them, forlorn and wishful, like beggars.

But we have sprung for a first-class cabin—it is perhaps the best money I have ever spent. About an hour after we board—after coffee in the lounge, and the waiter’s light scoffing at me drinking Coca-Cola at 7am—we figure out how to get into room 702, which has two tiny beds, along with its own shower and toilet.

We lay down and I fall, miraculously, asleep.

Periodically, the ship’s crew makes strange, squawky announcements, which emerge from a tiny speaker on the nightstand. Out the window is ocean as far as you can see, then a dark line, then sky.

We arrive at Santorini’s new port, maybe two hundred of us, everyone looking for a taxi, a rental car, a scooter, some even hire donkeys. After a bit of confusion about which car we should get into, we end up squished against some gay guys from…Germany? The Netherlands?…who I decide must be deaf and on their first date—they are full of hand gestures and awkward pauses. Thankfully, we arrive at our hotel first, the El Greco. They put us in room 314, which looks out over the pool on one side, and over the caldera on the other. We open the windows and the breeze blows through the room. It’s so remarkable, and simple, that I use my little camera to take a movie of the billowing curtain—which I later post on Facebook, to the “like” of nine friends. (Logging in from Greece changes my preferred language to Greek, and I start getting emails that say things like: Stephanie Hughes σχολίασε την κατάσταση σας.) We lie on the bed and talk about food, about whether we should venture to the beach today or tomorrow, whether we should get in the pool before or after we walk into town, whether we should order in. We discuss options like we’ve won the lottery.

Santorini, aside from the views, is famous for a dish called Domatokeftethes, which is a tomato fritter seasoned with mint, and for the local fava beans. What makes the fava beans taste so great is the dry, volcanic soil, which—apparently—concentrates the flavor. The restaurant we choose for dinner doesn’t have the fava on the menu, and the tomato fritters arrive soggy and rather tasteless. The trouble with eating in tourist towns, of course, is that you have no idea whether any particular restaurant has any particular reputation. However, the rest of the meal is lovely, and, as it turns out, the soil makes for deliciously complicated white wine—bright, sunny and dry. The artichoke stew is homey and filling, but the grilled pita brushed with olive oil and dill, on that breezy evening on the rooftop restaurant, looking out over the caldera to the West, is the best thing we put in our mouths.

We eat dessert in bed, watching “Greece’s Got Talent,” which is a clone of the American show of similar name. For the most part, at least according to the contestants on this particular episode, the Greeks do not have talent. The act that gets the most applause is an old man who manages to stand on his head on top of a rickety chair. Then, an older gay man, like pudgy Paul Lynde, sings a traditional Greek song. The judges are a goateed man with no discernable sense of humor, a model/actress/princess (?) who changes outfits during every commercial break, and whose hair is an elaborate spray of stiff, shiny black, and the last, another singer/entertainer type, dressed in a light suit with a huge turquoise pocket square, who looks like a less-butch Elizabeth Ashley.

The first night in Santorini, I spend three hours awake, level 3 out of 10—not sleeping, but without anxiety. For a while, I watch the tiny green blinking light on the fixture in the ceiling. Insomniacs, like me, who just lay there—instead of getting up to do something, thus compounding layers of worry on top of a kind of eerie displacement of time—have the opportunity to be conscious with their unconscious bedmates for long periods, listening to their breathing, their murmurings and ramblings.

Jason was a serious sleeper, shutting the world out entirely, motionless, his body becoming heavy and immovable in the night—quite the opposite of his bright, energetic waking self. We slept in the loft bed of his 29th Street apartment, with books stuffed in between the mattress and the bed frame, as if one needed fifty choices at arms length.

Andrea was a sleep talker. She washed her hands at night, holding them above her in the air, rubbing her elbows, and waving conjured cobwebs away from her shoulders. “Did you find the bodies?” she once asked, to no one in particular. “Thank you, Mr. Peterson,” she said, “Add them to the list.”

Mario slept quietly, soundly. He had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. His alarm clock was the CD player, and every morning, for months, out of the speakers came first the Jill Scott record, then the Dixie Chicks record. I listened to those songs over and over, holding his hand in mine under the pillow, wondering if he had any plans to get up.

Meg never used a pillow, and took up little space in the bed. Not only was she a small person, but her movements were always was focused, contained, and she slept the same way. Resting her hands behind her head, or along her sides, always on her back. Even in sleep she was conserving energy.

Kip twitches. He snores. He has nightmares that he either rarely remembers, or rarely shares with me. His body is always relaxing one more muscle at a time, sinking into sleep. Sometimes I lay there imagining elaborate devices to hold open the throat, thinking that if I just had a curved piece of plastic or something, if only I had a tube of some kind, a way to sleep hanging face down, somehow—your mind does strange things in the small hours. He snores into the pillow corner, into the cats’ faces, into my ear as he holds me.

In the morning, I look up the side effects of insomnia: drowsiness, increase in stress or anxiety, headaches, problems with digestion, physical impairment, mental impairment, heart disease, memory loss, weight gain, depression, reduced self-esteem, premature death.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bios that Might Have Been, Vol. 2

For more than thirty years, Lee Houck has taught the most popular elective on the campus of Hoodoo University in Kent, "No, Seriously," which has been profiled in reality-style television on the BBC, the CDC, the DMV and the PCP. His scholarly papers have been given (and received) in more countries that he cares to list, although Sweden is not one of them. More recently, he has produced a line of teacher-helpers, including pointing things, snooty-looking glasses, grade-giving-mechanisms, and advanced bits of technology that allow small felt boards to become large felt boards, at least temporarily. He is currently the Hambone-on-Okra Scholar in Semi-Residence.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Happened on Friday

It took me 19 minutes to get from Union Square to Astoria last Friday night. That's a world record, surely. The avenues were empty, and the bridge was so clear and gorgeous--which is often is, but I noted it, just the same. When I arrived home, in my mailbox was the first check from my literary agent, for my novel, Yield, which is coming out next fall. This was turning out to be the best day of my life. Except that, at sometime between noon and 6:45pm, a burglar had broken through my back bedroom window, swiped my laptop and my jar of change, and then bolted away. When I saw the window the first thing I thought was -- why is my window open? And why is the computer missing? Then it all sort of assembled together in my brain, and I felt numb.

Bean was still cowering in the closet, making the small, scared noises that she does when someone she doesn't know is in the apartment. (This said to me that the person could have been in the apartment even five or ten minutes before I got home, but she is also the kind of cat who would stay hidden in the dark for five hours.)

The cops came. We filled out the paperwork. They were very nice. One bitched about their superiors who, he said, were "fifteen years younger than us." "And man," the other one added, "they really bust our balls." I felt bad for them; in that moment they seemed pitiful. One of them was huge, and he looked too big for my little chair and desk. They told me they'd wait outside for the sergeant to arrive, and they probably wouldn't be calling me again. I didn't expect that they would.

When people are burgled, they talk about feeling invaded, violated--as if something from outside of them has moved into their being. But I feel the opposite -- as if a part of me has been taken out of my body and is now wandering the world. Pictures of me, essays I've been working on for months or years, my manuscripts, thousands of emails that I have saved for their important information, or for their sentimental value. The lesson here is, of course, protect and backup. Thankfully, Apple's Time Machine feature saved everything I had except for about two pages of new fiction -- and the second draft is always better.

I spent the entire day on Saturday trying to counteract the negative energy of the theft--somehow feeling the burglar's desperation, that desire, that sad karmic choice--as if it had come from within me, how strange is that? I bought some arty junk from one of the artists on the south end of Union Square. I was ridiculously helpful at the syrup stand--even to the customers that I want to stab in the eye. There was a guy playing electric guitar under the subway at Broadway in Astoria, and I put ten bucks in his hat. I needed to make choices, and I wanted to choose generosity. Do you understand how this kind of giving was about steeling myself against the alternative?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 5 of 10

Two Weeks Later: New York City

Convinced that I have missed something about the Parthenon, curious about the uncertainty that nicks at me from somewhere, I watch the episode of NOVA in which they explore the building’s restoration. I’m sure that if I just get it, something about my experience there will retroactively change. In the NOVA episode, the architects, artists, historians and scientists, they’re all talking about the building’s beauty, its perfection, the feats of mind-boggling skill, effort, and organization that it took to build something to majestic, so long ago, on such a remarkable scale. But it’s all cold, removed and distant. I’m sure the scholars who have devoted their entire lives to immersing themselves in the lives of the ancient culture, I’m sure they have some sense of life contained in the stone.

But where is it?

I spoke with a friend before I left. “Athens is a shithole,” he said, “You get up there on top of the Acropolis and there’s all this beautiful marble and its just brown and getting eaten up by the smog and acid rain, and you look out over the city and its just disgusting.”

I hate that the exhaust made by the machines of modern man are destroying the beautiful marble. I hate that history, and memory, and the glut of tourism has revised and rewritten everything to the point of the lowest common denominator. But most of all, I hate that I stood there, on the edge of the Propylaia, trying to feel the life-force, trying to cull the ghosts right out of the stone, holding my hand against the cool surface, and I came up with nothing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bios that Might Have Been, Vol. 1

Lee Houck is a third-generation milliner with an extensive background in silk, wool and leather, and the recipient of the Ordres des Chevals des Champinioux. A pioneer in the field of butch men's hats, he has created one-of-a-kind red carpet looks for Ed Harris, Francois Sagat, Steve Martin, Sam Trammell, and Prince Carl Philip of Sweden. His trademark styles have graced the cover of numerous magazines in the U.S. and abroad, such as Vogue India, GQ, Hello and Printemps. For her farewell tour in 2025, Mr. Houck produced more than thirty elaborate headcoverings for Grace Jones, including the infamous "Green Spike." His distinctive dress and elaborate mannerisms have been lampooned in The New Yorker, and perhaps most memorably, by Daniel Craig on "Saturday Night Live."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 4 of 10

Day Two: Athens

By accident, we sleep until two o’clock in the afternoon. I wake up once or twice in the night, my usual amount of insomnia, currently stuck on level five out of ten. I don’t check the clock, for fear that it might be earlier than I can bear. Every time I turn over, fussing with the pillows, I worry that it might be three, four, five in the morning, and I will have to lay there, bored and anxious until a reasonable waking hour. It never occurs to me that it could be noon.

At the same corner coffee shop we buy “Greek salad sandwiches” from the same blonde woman. Is she the owner? The waiter? The fill-in? She seems not to recognize us, and I wonder if perhaps we look like every other set of American tourists that stroll through to buy a cup of coffee, or drink a beer and smoke a cigarette. Something about her seems so shy, and she seems to understand so little, despite all the hand-written signs in English, that even my rudimentary (or just rude?) pointing is met with a stare. But she takes our money, wraps the sandwiches in wax paper, and smiles. “Enjoy,” she says, and then I wonder if I’ve misunderstood the entire interaction. The sandwich is a floury baguette with olives, feta and tomato. It makes a perfect breakfast.

Clearly, the architects and designers involved in building the Parthenon wanted the reveal to be a spectacular event. You hike through the scrubby trees and brush along the pathways up the west side of the Acropolis, emerge from the narrow width of the dramatic Propylaia, to find the Parthenon set back in three-quarter view. Imagine the structure untarnished, elaborately colored, incredibly rich—most importantly, complete. Stories of wars and celebrations were depicted in sculptures along the roofline, some life-size, in stunning detail. For the Greek people, the visit must have been a deeply satisfying, transformative experience.

All around the Parthenon there are huge chunks of marble, as if the entire structure had exploded—at one point it did, under the Ottomans, who were using it as a gunpowder magazine. The area looks like my five year-old nephew’s playroom, building blocks in every configuration of stacked, toppled, and forgotten. There is new marble waiting to be matched and assembled as part of the current restoration efforts, and there is ancient marble—all of it from the famous quarry at Mount Pentelikos—cracked and worn by 2,500 years of wind, rain, pollution, fire, earthquakes, canons, restless infantry, the Christians, the Muslims, the Turks, the Venetians, and the British. Finally, the 20th Century American and Italian tourists wearing high heels are carving divots into the walkways.

On the southern slope of the Acropolis, there is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is still in modern use, seating about 5,000. “Memorable performances,” according to some on-site literature, include the return of Nana Mouskouri after a two-decade absence, and Yanni’s “landmark” 1993 performance. During our visit, the stage is being prepped for a production of Aida, with huge Egyptian obelisks being moved through a deep red proscenium.

Everywhere there are structures, and the remains of structures. There is the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Odeum of Pericles, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Stoa of Eumene—all bearing the enormous crushing weight of layers and layers of history, revised and repaired, rethought and repurposed. We hear this story over and over again in Greece—the Romans replacing the marble or stealing the marble, the Christians dedicating the Parthenon to the Virgin Mary, the Greeks themselves moving statues and buildings, the frescoes buried underground during the war, more fakes on display. I keep wondering what remains of a culture that has re-imagined itself for more than 2,000 years.

On the northern side of the Acropolis, there is the Erechtheum, with its striking Porch of the Caryatids: six women, draped in fabric, holding up the roof with their heads. Some of the original statues are displayed in—so I’m told—helium-filled glass cases, in the not-yet-open-to-the-public Acropolis Museum; the ones on the actual Acropolis are replicas. Lord Elgin, perhaps the most famous looter of Greek artwork, had one of the original Caryatids removed and later displayed at his sprawling estate. At night, they say you can hear the statues crying out, wailing for their missing sister.

But we don’t hear any crying.

Do the replicas cry out? Or the originals, now drowning in helium? I try to get a sense of how the ancient mythology might interact with daily life today—but no one wants to talk about that. They only want to talk about how polytheism is crazy, about what the ancients did and didn’t do on the most basic behavioral level, nothing about what it meant to them, how it felt to be them. Tourism, or maybe plain old capitalism, has co-opted the culture, dimmed it, and arguably destroyed it. Contemporary Greece seems to say, about the past, only: “Here, buy this plastic toy Parthenon for two Euros.” When I visit the Lincoln Memorial—a structure that owes so much to the Parthenon in look and feel and use—I get a small sense of a living idea at work, a striving. In Athens, I can’t figure out why everything around me feels dead.

For dinner, we end up at Estia, a lively modern café in the heart of the Plaka, the oldest neighborhood in Athens, full of restaurants and souvenir shops. I try to order the local sheep cheese, which, as the menu states, comes with honey and sesame seeds. The waiter promises that we won’t like it, and bullies us into the saganaki: fried cheese, not a horrible choice. We eat more grilled lamb, a delicious mousaka, various dips and garlicky things, and finally end with a warm chunk of walnut pie, and shots of cinnamon schnapps.

Across from our table is the entrance to an open-air movie theater, on the roof of what appears to be an art gallery. There is one 11:15pm showing of the Ron Howard-directed “Angels & Demons,” which, in Greece, has been renamed “Something something something Illuminati.” The movie is horrendously bad, a grotesque insult to the intelligence of the audience. (Or maybe I am mistaking the film’s audience.) At one point, Ewan McGregor flies a helicopter straight up into the night, above the Vatican, so that when the anti-matter explodes it doesn’t kill everyone—no, really. It was a marvelous experience: a rooftop in Athens, the glowing Parthenon set back on the hill, the cooling night air, street cats slinking through the holes in the fence, cold beer.

Back at the hotel, we watch an episode of “America’s Next Top Model,” with sections dubbed into Greek, and CNN, with Anderson Cooper interviewing Ani Difranco about her visit to Myanmar. There are advertisements for cream-filled croissants in various flavors, which are made, it seems, by cartoon bumble bees with giant eyes. There is “Scandal” brand ice cream in square boxes that old ladies eat with wooden spoons. There are 6:00am morning shows with goofy hosts, dressed ready for a nightclub. There are cheap exercise machines sold along side cellulite creams, with manicured hands massaging thick, pasty thighs. Then there is Jessica Alba selling some kind of watch, or was it just a piece of jewelry? This, I think—advertising—is the language that I will never understand.

When I’m awake at 4:40am—insomnia on 6 out of 10—I wonder if maybe it’s the jetlag, just my confused internal clock. William Gibson wrote that jetlag was the slow-moving soul trying to catch up to the body, which had crossed the globe at higher speeds. This sounds about right. I entertain myself by trying to remember each item in the minibar from left to right: milk chocolate Toblerone, that purple-wrapped candy bar with the white goop inside, two cans of Coca-Cola, one can of Coke Light, one box of orange juice, one bottle white wine, one bottle champagne. The door is filled with tiny bottles of liquor, amber and clear and one that looks like pale blue antifreeze. There seemed to be one more thing. What was it?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Do You Want from Air Travel, or Miracles Do Happen

"It's raining, can you believe it?" my mother asked at about 5:45am this morning, when I had staggered out of my bedroom. Everything was still dark and quiet. The weather meant that my plane was about an hour late getting out of Chattanooga--the worst kind of late, the kind where you're all sitting on the plane, buckled and stowed, and yet the weather has you grounded--so no getting up, no moving around, no getting off and rethinking the whole idea. "Maybe we could just drive there," says the guy in the other row--ha ha, never heard that one before!!! Eventually, they re-routed us over Nashville (who would have known?) and we made it to Memphis, where I had missed my connecting flight to LaGuardia. (None of this part of the story is that interesting or original. I know.) However, there was a flight to JFK that was to depart about 25 minutes after I found myself at gate B1, and the nicest of the nice, "Ms. Anna B.," as her name tag said, was kind enough to put me on it. Hence, I'm on en-route as I write this long rambling post. A miracle!

The woman sitting in the seat next to me on the ground in Chattanooga was quite impatient, making huffing noises and glaring at the flight attendant, as if she had something to do with the rain, or something to do with NOT making it go away. I'm always amazed at these people. Because the pilot--whom you just have to trust, like surgeons or cab drivers or, you know, literary agents--is trying to make the best decisions possible. Because the alternative is, you know, death.

The 4th of July holiday has "become my Christmas," my mother also said. These days, it's the only time our whole family gathers together. With my brother and his family in Orlando, making their own Christmas traditions and rituals, and me having 11 years of being stranded in Birmingham, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis, and even Philadelphia, I try to avoid flying in the snowy months as much as possible. But I like to come down and see everyone, eat bad food that gives everybody strange bowel movements, and watch my dad run in fear from a canon.

The older you get, the stranger your family becomes. Rather, the more you get to know them, and hence, their eccentricities float--dramatically, quietly, hilariously--to the surface. They were weird to being with, most likely. I began thinking a lot about this over the weekend in Tennessee, where the whole American suburbia thing started to make more sense to me--actually, not "make sense" as much as "reveal.". When I say "the whole American suburbia thing" I mean whatever Sam Mendes is always trying to work out in his movies. (See American Beauty or Revolutionary Road, or even, god help you, Away from You, or was it Away We Go, or something.)

Your neighbors grow up and become frail old people. They introduce themselves to you, forgetting that you are the tiny child that they once invited to eat popcorn and watch a movie. They forget that you are the tiny child that was disappointed to find out that the movie was "Around the World in 80 Days," and not something that had been released in the last two weeks--like maybe about Ninja Turtles--let alone his lifetime. It was not as fun as he had hoped, and perhaps as you had hoped, but he remembers it fondly--and I suppose that's the most important thing.

Also, things that happened to you when you were smaller, and that you will never ever forget even if you live to be 200 years old--like the handle bar of your brother's bike jamming up into the side of his mouth and taking off a layer of his gum, followed by your mother rushing out of the house with a bottle of cold water and making him drink and spit, drink and spit, the water rushing red out of his mouth, then pink, then red again and again, screaming--you may learn that your mother, for example, doesn't even remember it happening. "There were so many," she said, meaning injuries, meaning tiny, urgent emergencies.

My nephews are glorious little specimens of humanity. It's good that I do not have children. Children to me are simultaneously the most fascinating subject one could turn his attention to, and the most boring, repetitive robotic weirdos you could meet. Why do they do what they do? I guess, why do any of us? They are lovable little terrors and joyful little bunches of personality.

Miracles do happen! In the Memphis airport, and in your very own family. Okay, miracle may be the wrong word to use--particularly when all "Ms. Anna B" did was her job. But this plane is being battered around quite a bit by the wind outside it--and if you are reading this, then it means that I survived, and made it to my boyfriend's house in Brooklyn, which is pretty miraculous. The nephews, too, are pretty miraculous. If you want proof, here it is:

Friday, July 03, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 3 of 10

Day One: Arrival in Athens

Airplanes always look like fish to me, swimming themselves up to the gates, vomiting out beleaguered passengers, hundreds of Jonahs with rolling suitcases. There should be a better way to arrive in a new place—one airport gate looks like the next, no matter where you are in the world, the same refrigerated air, the same shiny bottles of liquor for sale at duty-free shops, the same gaudy perfume, boxes and boxes of cigarettes. There should be a way to shrink the distance between the traveling self and the experience. Couldn’t we arrive on the beach directly, without customs and baggage and bureaucracy? Couldn’t we reform—magically, molecularly—at a pre-determined rooftop happy hour? Outside the airport, through the layers of tinted glass, is the bright, empty sky.

Here’s how you hail a taxi in Athens: You stand on the street corner, and when a yellow cab pulls up slowly near you, not exactly stopping, you yell your destination out at them, as loud as possible, into their open window. Except that I don’t know this at the time. So, Kip and I are sitting in the back of the cab, dizzy on no sleep and warm air, and suddenly, Greek women in their work get-ups are screaming into our window. Larisis! Syntagma! It’s like that perfume commercial, with all the models bursting through the French doors to their balconies—Egoiste! I wonder: Are the citizens of Athens welcoming us? Are they hurling abuse? Why are the drivers pulling away so quickly, not even responding? If they can’t get a taxi to stop, how are we going to? I later learn that the taxis will generally pick up other riders, if you’re both going in the same direction. Thus the slowing down, the speeding away. This would never work in New York. Can you imagine if suddenly you were veering toward 1st Avenue because someone else got into the cab?

The Divani Palace Hotel is modern, clean and unhurried. The woman at the desk wears bright purple eye shadow, and lipstick in a darker shade of the same color. She installs us in a tidy, fifth floor room with a balcony that overlooks the pool, and has a splendid, unobstructed view of the Acropolis. Finally, despite what everyone says you should do to combat jetlag, after being awake for almost thirty hours, with all the lights on, I sleep.

A few hours later, we walk through the neighborhood. Everywhere are the trinkets and tchotchkes of tourism: tiny Parthenons, tiny statues of Athena, reproductions of vases and amphorae in every color, in terrible and wonderful colors, the white and blue trademark of the islands in shirts, hats, coffee mugs, ashtrays, toothpick holders, shot glasses, Zeus playing cards, Athena notepads, Apollo serving dishes. Postcards and postcards and postcards, aisles of them, like a library.

We land in a tiny corner coffee shop, eating flaky dandelion and feta pastries—rich, fatty and sharp. The street dogs lay wherever they can find shade, looking dead. A German woman sits at the table next to us. “I am café,” she says to the waitress, pantomiming a tiny cup of espresso.

We return to the hotel, and another nap follows. The air conditioning is turned up too high in the room, and after an hour, I slide open the doors to the balcony, to let in some warmth, some light. We get up, wander through the blocks again, and take the tiny elevator to the roof of an apartment building, for dinner at Attikus Restaurant. We eat tzatziki, tomatoes and peppers stuffed with rice and pine nuts, lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, saganaki, more lamb, this time stewed with lemon and potatoes. We order a bottle of Retsina, piney and green, and I get the feeling that the servers there wouldn’t dare drink it—but I like it. We talk and laugh, a bit drunk, overfed. The olives, dark spots on every plate, are spectacular. The Parthenon is perched on the rocky hilltop behind me, golden light shining out from the inside, white spotlights hitting the columns. We take a few pictures as the sky fades from blue to darker, until the waiter brings candles to our table.