It rained today in Lefki, said Tom to the Ithacan-born, South African in a British school-raised, Fort Lauderdale resident, who spent the last thirty summers in Vathi. The grey-bearded Ithacan perked one side of his lip wryly and wittingly responded, We have a different God in the south.
The hero image is of the Isle of Σκαρτσουμπονήσι. Legend has it that Poseidon when learning that Odysseus first returned to this cove in eastern Ithaca casted a menacing spell that transformed his ship into this stone-bed islet.
He sat in the stone-laid alleyway directly west of Vathi’s square on the café-patio, the occasional local stopping or walking by. He tasted the second piece of cake, petite in size, that accompanied his last coffee that was now complete. He preferred biscuits but it was cake that was served. Tom stood up and walked fifteen meters west to the counter at the entrance of the café that was lit only by natural light. The server turned to him as did two customers—one seated, the other standing—inside, both becoming silent. The server smiled at Tom. “Another.” The server’s smile turned mischievous. “Allo! Another!” The server maintained his mischievous smile. “Eísai kalá? Are you okay?” Tom volleyed his own smile, in-kind, “Aye!” He turned and walked slowly back to the table that had full plates of cake if it weren’t for the two bites and would soon finish his third cup of Greek coffee.
The front of the café sat the heavier set man, sunken shoulders, unshaven face, almost a near-completed balding scalp, and opaquely tinted sunglass that were worn four centimeters from the tip of his nose. The hostess was friendly and would talk to Tom. She was a Greek who went to a university in Albania. Gýrna xaná sti douleiá! The owner would yell at her when she talked too much with Tom. The owner tolerated a little bit of talk, not too much, but a little bit that first night because Tom ordered a crêpe. The man lacked the breadth of crêpe ingredients of a grandiose crêpe café, didn’t know what Oreos were, but loved to make crêpes for the tourists. His face lit up when two more orders came in following Tom’s. Grinning cheek-to-cheek in front of the two blackly painted crêpe makers, he exclaimed to Tom, Two more! The next day the girl smiled at Tom as he walked by, Tom paused, and they conversed again. It was University of New York that had a campus in Albania. And she found the United States, Very nice. And the same with London, U.K. Gýrna xaná sti douleiá! The store owner yelled again, having smiled at Tom only moments before when he walked outside. Tom wasn’t in the mood for another crêpe. Good bye, she said to Tom forcing a smile, Good bye.
From Holland, I am, She said to the traveller. Why this island? he countered. Because of love. Ahh, yes, it’s a special island, He conversed. Yes, and a man, She said. Ahh, you fell in love. Aye, She responded. You’re from Holland, living in Ithaca, and met a Greek man? Aye, I did. Love and warmth written all across her face. Me and a girlfriend travelled here four years ago. She was snorkelling and I was bored on the beach. The Dutch-woman raised her right hand and pointed over the hillside, east of Vathy. I was trying to read a book, and that’s when he walked up to me. I’ve traveled the world, then ended up falling in love, here. It was sort of funny, and difficult, telling my family I was going to extend my vacation. It happens when you least expect it, She continued, blushing at the recital of it all.
The hero image is of the sun setting on Vathy’s bay on the Island of Ithaca; sailboats anchored for nightfall.
Over the Hillside is available for purchase as artwork at Ithacabound.com.
The young boys, maybe seven and eight, were high-strung after eating souvlaki. It was time to travel down the streets of Patras some more. The two families crossed the street. The older boys, maybe twelve and thirteen, were to go with the one mother, the younger boys with the other. The one young boy stood frozen, his back to the street, peering into the window of a retail store. The other young boy walked over to him, stood to the left of him, peered through the window too and put his right arm around the other boy’s right shoulder. The two—short, almost identical in height—would peer together at the toys in the shop’s window. The mothers kept talking but were getting ready to go separately. Over lunch, they spoke Italian; now they spoke English. Come boys, the one Mom said to the young boys. Come. The boy loosened his grip on the shoulder of the other and walked steadily to a narrow shelf outside that contained childrens’ books and put his hand upon some and held it still. The other boy, who originally took the initiative entered the toy store by four steps. Come on you two, the mother said. The boy loosened his grip on the books and came closer to his Mom and stood still; the initiating boy turned 45 degrees and stood staring up at the woman in silence. Come on you two. She would say again, intensifying but not yelling nor being menacing. The boy would continue to stand in the foyer of the shop. Come, come on. The boy would finally leave the shop and waddle behind the two of them, ever slowly, not looking down, nor looking up. The Mom and older two boys parted south cheerfully, the Mom with the young boys began crossing the street. Hands, boys, hands. The one boy would clasp her right hand, she would leave her left outward jarred behind her for a few moments as she walked, the two walking for the corner on the northeast edge of the street’s block. They would walk north then east in a dog-leg pattern around the sidewalk, the initiating boy would walk behind them, never taking her hand. She never asked again that day. Both young boys would walk crestfallen.
The hero image above is of the entertainment district of Patras, Greece. Patras is a port city, medium in size in western Greece, situated at the eastern tip of the Gulf of Patras which runs into the Ionian Sea.
At what point does someone become something?
One can do something, but not be that something.
“You a golfer?” I would say to the businessman.
“I golf.” He would respond with a slight chuckle; both of us would then smile in understanding.
Becoming something is a rite of passage. There seems to be a line. With something so personal, it’s counter-intuitive that it has very little to do with the self, but instead, with those responding to the self.
The doctor isn’t a doctor unless the correct authoritative body enshrined by another authoritative body enshrined by another authoritative body told him so.
“Are you a skier?” I’ve been asked many times. I ski, but I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone, ever, that I’m a skier. I may have to practice more, if so.
It’s the response or judgement of others, whether in monologue or dialogue, that illuminates the line.
This morning I was asked if I was a writer. I consider myself one, and have told others that I am. But this morning when asked by the woman at the coffee shop, I responded with a smile, “I write.”
And so it tells me that there is more yet to do.
And I would be happy to practice more.
The hero image picture depicts Lake Ontario, from Harbourfront Centre, with Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in the background.
In Ontario, especially in rural communities, many boys dream of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). To many a surprise, Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport, but hockey is its most populated. There’s a national pride that consumes the country at all levels of competitive hockey. The Summit Series of 1972 was Russia versus Canada, two foes squaring off that would be akin, in a sports-sense, to the Cold War between Russia and the United States in a similar time period. The World Junior Hockey Championships which happen annually, when being played out overseas, will see countless Canadians up in the wee hours of the morning watching Team Canada, a group of rising teenage stars, play their hearts out for Canadian pride on television. And there is pressure too with anything less than a Championship victory considered an absolute failure not only for Canadians watching, but the players themselves. The country brings the same level of expectations to the Olympics every four years where Canada is expected to bring home gold. The Canadian players themselves, usually all of which are in the NHL, take time off from the season to represent the Great North, not for money, but for dignity, both personally and more importantly nationally.
Starting hockey when young, playing lots, and being in the great Canadian hockey system helps many youth eventually make it to the NHL, but these factors are usually not enough for many.
In Wingham, Ontario there once lived a star hockey player in high school. He was tall for his age, had an overly developed muscular system due to bailing thousands of bundles of hay on his family’s farm growing up. He would score 4-6 goals per game, and was fast too, and strong too, and tough too.
Word of this star got to an NHL team and a scout was assigned to visit the Wingham Hockey Arena to watch this boy play. When word got back to the star, he decided he’d go to the local foundry that evening to work and would miss the game. He was the best player Wingham ever had. A scout never did see him play.
In Owen Sound, a 17 year old played in Junior B hockey. He was a fast player, faster than anyone he knew in the league. He would combine his speed with intuition of where the puck was going to be before it got there. This made him a great defenseman but in reality, he could have been an offensive or defensive player. He had a drinking problem too. Him and a few friends on the team would get drunk very often, everyday actually. And when he tried out for Junior A hockey in Owen Sound for the Owen Sound Attack, he was cut because he kept throwing up on the ice. He couldn’t keep his liquor down. And neither could two of his buddies. He became an insurance broker to farmers, made decent money, had five kids and remained a drunk.
In St. Mary’s there was an offense player who played in Junior A. He had raw torque like few others in the league, or that had been seen in years. He was tall and large like a reasonable human resemblance to a freight train. This strength made him formidable that few would dare mess with on the ice. Why bother? Players thought. He would match this strength with a serene articulation when shooting the puck, being able to pinpoint within an inch and a half where towards the net the puck would go. His big day came – the Annual NHL Draft. That day, he went in the 7th round and would be drafted onto the same NHL team with another player who would go on to become an NHL All-Star, hall of famer and club owner. This young man from St. Mary’s never did play in the NHL though. The night after the After Party, he would collide his car, inebriated from all the celebratory beers after the lifetime accomplishment, into the trunk of a maple leaf tree and fracture his vertebrae.
It’s true. Sometimes starting a sport early, working hard and being in a great system isn’t enough.
He once told his dear friend, an Indian woman that one day he would end up marrying her or a Turkish woman he was seeing. The Turkish woman married someone else and the Indian woman and him would end up seeing each other briefly a decade later, but they never did kiss. He found her unreliable and he told her so. In that hiatus, he would fall madly in love with a Caucasian woman that he absolutely adored in company, sex and kisses. To and fro, they would end the relationship with each other, like a game of volley. She would return with a final offer in which he rejected. Over time, he would go on to believe he would marry an Indian or Spanish woman. He met a Spanish woman that reminded him of his Indian friend in every way shape and form, except culture. In that bar in Milano, he didn’t get her phone number but instead gave her his email address because he hadn’t charged his phone with the change in electrical outlet systems travelling from Switzerland to Italy that day. He never did hear from the Spanish woman.