The Tale of Two Houses in Greece

My husband is 100% Greek ethnicity, although an American citizen. We have been on vacation in Greece twice since we’ve been married, and over the progression of those two vacations, an incredible story of coincidence and fate occurred.

The first time we went was in 2011. We based ourselves in Nafplio, where Kosta’s aunt lives. From there we took two road trips–one north and one south. On the southern trip I wanted to stop in a tiny out-of-the-way village called Monemvasia. It is a medieval walled city that sits on a rock off the coast and is connected by a tiny causeway.

Monemvasia: The Gibraltar of Greece

Apparently it used to be part of the Peloponnese but broke away in an earthquake in the 600s. The town almost completely died out in the 1970s but it has had a revival in the past few decades. Folks are starting to rebuild the ruins into livable houses and there are a scattering of cute little shops selling local goods, a few hotels and restaurants. Plus the streets have no cars and no bicycles, only foot traffic.

The medieval streets of Monemvasia.

The medieval streets of Monemvasia.

We almost didn’t go. We were due back in Nafplio and weren’t sure it was worth the trip but I convinced my husband that we should do it, even though it was really out-of-the-way. He took two steps through the main gate and turned to me and said, “Oh, we’re staying two nights!”

The door to our hotel room in Monemvasia. Are you dying yet?

The door to our hotel room in Monemvasia. Are you dying yet?

We spent two days wandering around this little jewel of a town. There is an old town, which is all in ruins, at the top of the rock. You can climb up there (and it is a hot, stinking climb) but the views are amazing. When we were about halfway up, I stopped and turned and took the following picture:

This is THE HOUSE in Monemvasia.

This is THE HOUSE in Monemvasia.

We had walked by it on our way up and you can’t see it, but the back door is open. It had been gutted, but had been wired for electricity at one time. We fell in love with this house almost at first sight. When we got home we got one of those photo canvases made of Monemvasia (a different picture, but the house is still in it) which hangs on the wall over our TV. We still look at it everyday and dream of buying it, fixing it up, and living in it.

That’s the first house.

The second house belonged to an Englishman named Patrick Leigh Fermor, although he was known to everyone as Paddy. He was a wild young man looking for adventure that took him all over Europe. During WWII was instrumental in organizing the resistance on Crete after it had been invaded by the Germans. He spoke Greek like a Greek and German like a German and he and Stanley Moss actually kidnapped a German general on Crete and delivered him to Egypt. That in itself is quite a tale, though not entirely relevant here.

Paddy Leigh at his house in Kardimyli.

Paddy Leigh Fermor at his house in Kardimyli.

Paddy settled in Greece after the war. He wrote several travel books and was one of those rugged, live by your wits kind of men who could set off into the bush on foot with a hunting knife and live quite happily. But he did build a gorgeous house right on the water in a couple hours’ drive from Monemvasia called Kardimyli.

Paddy Leigh sitting on his terrace.

Paddy Leigh Fermor sitting on his terrace.

My husband has been obsessed with Paddy and his life, his books, and the house. Paddy died in 2011, just a few months before we were there the first time. He donated his house to the Benaki Museum in Athens, in hopes that it would be turned into a writers’ retreat. Holy Mother of God, could you imagine? But since the Greek economy is in the toilet and has been for years, the house sits empty.

It's a big, sprawling place with spectacular views of the Aegean.

It’s a big, sprawling place with spectacular views of the Aegean.

Now here comes the interesting part. Kosta had heard that some movie director had used the Fermor house to film part of a movie. It turned out to be the picture Before Midnight with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  He was reading about it online and mentioned that when we got the movie in at the library we should check it out so we could get a good look at the house and its grounds. Good idea, right?

One day I am sitting at the Reference Desk. Kosta runs up to me with an astonished look on his face. He asked me, “Do you believe in signs from God?” I said of course I did. Then he pulled out a copy of Before Midnight  and handed it to me:

Before Midnight

Do you see it??? OUR HOUSE in Monemvasia!

I think I gasped and dropped the movie like a hot potato. I still get goosebumps when I look at it. And we did check out that movie and I watched the whole damn thing, and not once, not once, did they show that house in the film. It was just a photo they photoshopped for the cover.

Come on, right? Of all the houses in the world, even all the houses in Greece, and they pick this one. Also, if you notice, the photo is taken in the same damn spot I took mine.

When we went back in 2014 we decided to see if we could peek at Paddy’s house. We peered through the gate, and no one but a yowly old cat was inside. Then we went down to the beach and I had a thought. Wouldn’t there be steps leading down to the water from the house? By gum, there were, and I found them.

The steps leading to the beach at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house.

The steps leading to the beach at Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house and our friend.

Yep, we did it. The gate wasn’t locked so we crept up the stairs to get a better view of the house. It was drool-worthy.

Kosta sitting illegally on the terrace at Paddy Leigh's house.

Kosta sitting illegally on the terrace at Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house.

One more time, side by side.

One more time, side by side.

What does it all mean? I still don’t know. But I take it as a sign that I should keep fighting for my writing career because someday I want to be on the balcony of that house sipping retsina, eating olives, and watching the Milky Way appear in a glittering swathe above my head. I’d even let Kosta come too.

The story’s ending is still unknown. But if I ever get to be a famous author I’ll invite you all over for olives and wine. You’ll know where to find me.

My rainbow girl

imageThis is my friend Tammy. She is a total nut and I love her dearly. I recently knit her a pair of socks. You can see them on her hands here. The reason I chose to make rainbow socks was because Tammy reminds me of a rainbow: bright, beautiful, positive, and something I am always glad to see.

I think she likes them. She was also presented with a matching rainbow sweater vest from our friends Ingrid and Tara.

You go, Rainbow Girl.

Things Found in Library Books: Part 4

Don’t get me wrong, I am not making fun of anyone’s religious beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their own relationship with the Divine (or not). I was just impressed with this pamphlet (© 1974 Leon I. Bates) and its attention to detail. I do feel Mr. Bates believed the Rapture was upon us because of the Energy Crisis of 1973.

I do take umbrage to folks who preach fear and terror, so maybe I am a little gleeful that Mr. Bates’ prediction missed his timeline (as they all seem to do.)

Of course, it was found in a donated Bible.

tribulation map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribuation map 2

I do like how he refers to Satan and his staff, I can just picture the cubicles in hell. I also enjoy the liberal sprinkling of quotation marks. They make it extra special with tribulational goodness.

Tribulation map 3 copy

I wonder if he did the artwork himself.

Tribulation map 4 copy

I love me a good fill in the blank quiz. I really wish I could get my hands on the book “PROJECTION FOR SURVIVAL.” I bet there is some outstanding artwork inside.

Things found in Library Books: Part 3

Do you know about Found Magazine? They take submissions of all sorts of found things: love letters, pictures, shopping lists, ticket stubs, etc. I love scrolling through their finds. They are sometimes boring, sometimes hysterical, sometimes heartbreaking. Do check them out.

Here are my offerings for today. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

I don't have a record of the book from whence this beautiful drawing came, but I think you can agree it is quite magical. THe artist signed it in the corner with initials and a date of '84.

I don’t have a record of the book from whence this beautiful drawing came, but I think you can agree it is quite magical. The artist signed it in the corner with initials and a date of ’84.

Written on the back: "Beth and I getting along really well. One of many wrestling nights. XO, Erika" This one was found in Hot Flash Cookbook.

Written on the back: “Beth and I getting along really well. One of many wrestling nights. XO, Erika” This one was found in Hot Flash Cookbook.

 

After the Storm

Last Sunday morning we had quite a storm rip through Naples, and there were reports of several tornadoes. My iPhone woke me at 5:15 am telling me there was a tornado warning and to take cover.

For those of you who don’t live in Florida this is extremely unusual. The only time we have tornadoes they are usually riding the tail of a hurricane. We always have plenty of warning for that. But we don’t have tornado sirens, we don’t have basements in which to shelter. To be honest, we were totally unprepared for it.

But thankfully nothing happened. The wind gusted up to 85 mph, a lot of trees and tree branches came down, but there was no building damage and no one was hurt. There were pockets of town right on the coast that were without power for over a day, but all in all, it wasn’t a disaster.

I got to go to the beach this morning and I took some interesting pictures of the effects the storm had on the beach.

A palm that fell across Gulfshore Blvd.

A palm that fell across Gulfshore Blvd.

A ficus branch that fell across the beach walk.

A Ficus branch that fell across the beach walk.

The boardwalk over the dune was probably torn up bu the storm surge. Unluckily, the storm came ashore at high tide.

The boardwalk over the dune was probably torn up bu the storm surge. Unluckily, the storm came ashore at high tide.

The sea grass has all been swept away, and look at that bank the sea cut into the sand.

The sea grass has all been swept away, and look at that bank the sea cut into the sand.

Quite a few of these Florida FIghting Conchs washed up on shore.

Quite a few of these Florida FIghting Conchs washed up on shore.

The problem was they were all still inhabited. So back into the water they went!

The problem was they were all still inhabited. So back into the water they went!

It may have been chilly this morning--just 49 degrees, but the air was exhilirating to me.

It may have been chilly this morning–just 49 degrees, but the air was exhilarating to me.

2016-01-20 08.44.35

 

Happy me at the beach! I wish I could come here every morning. There is something about this place that anchors me in place and keeps me from living in my head too much.  It is 100% the best thing about living in Florida.

 

 

 


 

Method Writing: Letting Loose

method writing part 1 copy

 

You’ve heard of method acting, right? Lots of actors use it from Reese Witherspoon and Nicholas Cage to Johnny Depp and Jane Fonda. For those of you not familiar with the idea, it is loosely defined as this:

“Lee Strasberg’s method is based upon the idea that in order to develop an emotional and cognitive understanding of their roles, actors should use their own experiences to identify personally with their characters. The method uses techniques to reproduce the character’s emotional state by recalling emotions or sensations from the actor’s own life.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea and how I could apply it to writing. There is an old adage that one should “write what you know,” but I believe that applies more to writing from your heart and not trying to contrive feelings that fall flat and come across as inauthentic. Because let’s be realistic, if we only wrote about things we were familiar with (i.e. our own life experiences) there would be no science fiction, no fantasy, nor historical fiction, or any other genre but contemporary fiction or biography. And let me tell you that as a librarian, there are already too many memoirs out there and we don’t need more. Unless your life has been extraordinary, no one wants to hear it.

But as is stands, there are a lot of possibilities in broadening one’s experiences to become a better writer. I know a lot of us already live too much in our own heads so it’s good to get out once in a while and try new things.

For the novel on which I am currently working my heroine is a crack shot with not just firearms but also a bow and arrow. I had an archery unit in P.E. in high school (God help me, some twenty odd years ago) and I remember it as the one bright spot for a mostly uncoordinated kid. I was good at it. I excelled at it.

I wanted to remember the feeling of holding the bow in my hand and drawing an arrow. I wanted to think consciously about how it felt, both physically and psychologically. What it was like to take aim and let that arrow loose.

Since I live in South Florida I didn’t have to wait for spring to find a way to try it out again. I found the closest archery range was in North Ft. Myers, which was about an hour’s drive from home. Lee County Archers is a private club but every Thursday afternoon from 2-6 p.m. they offer free instruction for beginners, and even lend you equipment at no charge. I convinced my friend Di to come with me and we went last Thursday. Our instructor John was knowledgable and patient, and a very good teacher.

Taking aim...

Taking aim…

From the moment I loosed that first arrow I was hooked again. We were out there for over two hours shooting. Di was a natural and took to it right away even though she had been a small child the last time she shot a bow and arrow. I was less adept, but I found that as the afternoon progressed my arrow clusters were getting closer and closer together.

The experience will help me tremendously in my writing, I believe. Just knowing the physical sensations will be a huge help when my protagonist picks up a bow and shoots her first arrow. I may never be a dead-eye, but I am going to have fun with it.

Loosed! You can see the yellow fletching of the arrow moving away from me.

Loosed! You can see the yellow fletching of the arrow moving away from me.

In fact, Di and I both loved it so much we are going to find a way to continue without having to drive an hour to North Ft. Myers. It may take some doing, there is equipment to procure, but I think we both want to keep practicing. Our instructor said that someone using a sightless bow would need to practice three times a week in order to steadily improve. I’m sorry, but I can’t make that drive so often.

In case you were wondering, that is a barebow I am shooting. A barebow has the elements of a compound bow but without any sights on it, like a recurve bow. We also tried a regular compound bow and a recurve. The recurve bow was the one I really wanted to work with, but I found that girls with big racks have a problem with their girls getting in the way. No wonder the Amazon women cut off a breast in Greek mythology.

So what am I going to do next? In April I signed up my husband and I for our local Sheriff’s Firearm Safety Class. Four hours of classroom instruction and three hours on the firing range. This one scares the bejesus out of me but that’s kind of the point. Not that I’m interested in owning a handgun, I just want to know what it is like to pick up a pistol and fire it.

But that’s April. Who knows what experiences I will find to enhance my writing before then. I’m always on the lookout…

 

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.

Meh…


An old relic from another life that I keep around like a safety blanket. I’ve been staring at it for years and just now realized it says, “Meh…”

Just like yesterday when my husband looked at the can of Endust and he said, “Oh! Because it ends dust!”

Things can be right in front of our noses and we never see them.