Sunshine and Shadows

I found the following fragment buried in a file of old drafts. I was always going to do something with it, stretch it into a short story or shrink it into a poem, but I never did. Woven from composite memories of love and loss from decades ago, it was a response to a writing prompt, an exercise in blending fact and fiction; it’s the closest I’ve ever got to explaining why I left Greece.
The sun brands your soul with memories…

Athens. Blinding white glare off the pavements and buildings as we walked in the fierce mid-day heat, up steps and through the narrow bustling alleyways of the Plaka, different tunes from every shop, bouzouki strings and soulful singing, brightly woven rugs, strands of leather goods and sandals, carousels of postcards and tourist guides.

We rose steadily, hand in hand past the beckoning waiters and blue and white checked tablecloths at crowded restaurants; everywhere the smell of oil and fish, roast meat, oregano and wine – cutlery and plates, glasses clinking over the babel of laughter and languages. Past jewellery and hand painted ceramics, blue glass and brass, icons, inlaid backgammon boxes and amber beads, we climbed steadily through alleyways of steps worn smooth towards the grubbier, darker alleys where there’s nothing for foreigners to see except scrawny kittens and closed doors with peeling paint.

Beyond the tightly closed shutters of a darkened, rented room, the throbbing pulse of cicadas singing to the death; we lay in the dark, sweat mingling for the last time.

Greece has left me haunted, hating and longing with a love so deep it runs like a drug through my veins, a love crying out with a thirst that only the light from the sea can ever quench but never does. Greece sates the senses but cries out More… love me more. Don’t leave me… ever. If I hadn’t left when I did, I would have died there too, strung out between love and grief, bliss and death, fear and a fierce, proud longing, like the sun-bleached sails of an ancient ghost ship that never reaches Ithaka.

A country of extremes, of blinding light and shadows deep enough to drown in. You pay for its poetry with your soul.


What memories has the sun branded your soul with?

Easter Flowers, Greek Feasts, Seaside Candles and Poetry…

easter bouquet 2

Your job, then, should you choose to accept it, is to keep searching for the metaphors, rituals and teachers that will help you move ever closer to divinity. The Yogic scriptures say that God responds to the sacred prayers and efforts of human beings in any way whatsoever that mortals choose to worship — just so long as those prayers are sincere. As one line from the Upanishads suggests: “People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate — and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Happy Easter! (…or Happy Easter week if you took a break and are reading this a few days after Easter!)

While  I was out shopping for ingredients for a special feast – Easter day and a family birthday – I saw those flowers above and melted. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully for the most part, to cut down on caffeine and wine, so flowers have been my replacement drug of choice. Oh how I wish you could stick your face in these and smell the jonquils; they’re so heady it’s like drinking in  fragrance and they make you raise your shoulders with breathing them in then you sigh out pure bliss…

It’s been a funny old Easter this year. When Greek Orthodox Easter and western Easter fall on the same day, it means that my kids’ candles and presents, sent by godparents in Greece, arrive at the same time as their chocolate Easter eggs from grandparents here. We normally have to have two celebrations. Today’s also a family member’s birthday, yet one of my kids is away on a special county-level music course, an honour and experience we were loathe to ruin by insisting on an Easter weekend spent together. I think God would smile at the sound of children celebrating the resurrection with choral harmonies, triumphant brass bands and soaring strings.

0904100002We have a feast on Easter day, with red  boiled eggs, traditionally dyed and decorated on the Thursday before Easter, and all kinds of salads and a roast. I miss being in Greece on the Friday before Easter as that’s when church bells toll mournfully, the whole day long, on every island and in every village, town and city. I also miss being part of Anástasi  – the Resurrection – on the Saturday night.

At midnight, the first few candles in each church are lit from the holy flame then one worshipper ignites a neighbour’s candle with love and chanted blessings – Christ is risen, truly risen – until everyone’s taper is lit. Happy crowds carrying  flickering candles walk home from church, like riversrust seaside candle of light winding through the darkness while fireworks explode into dazzling bouquets above their heads in a vast black velvet sky.  It’s good luck if you manage to keep a candle lit all the way home then mark the sign of the cross with smoke on the lintel above the front door as a blessing to last the whole year.

pink seaside Easter candleMy kids’ godmothers – who live in different seaside towns and have no contact with each other – both sent them beautiful seaside themed candles that match their rooms.

I’d like to leave you today with one of my favourite poems in the whole world, ee cummings’ i thank you God…

As I said in my post on April 12th last year, “I love the way ee cummings’s mind moves. I love the way he makes me explore the possibilities of my own language, searching for meanings in what’s not there and the why and the where of what is there. I love his delight in words, letters, syntax, symbols and sound and the way he expresses life and love.”

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)



I’m celebrating my blog birthday by reminiscing!

This time last year, I posted….


And the Angels Sang

Cradling a coffee to my lips like a prayer in a begging bowl, I sat alone, half hidden behind a pillar and a potted palm. The owner of the hotel, a friend, kept throwing me reassuring glances. The lights on the huge Christmas tree twinkled and raucous laughter and the smell of beer drifted in from the public bar next door.

A pretty dark eyed Polish waitress and the owner’s son and daughter smiled as they rushed back and forwards from the bar, fussing around thirty elderly residents from a local nursing home who sat at a long table drinking tea and coffee, clinking their teaspoons as they relaxed after their annual Christmas meal.

Some sat very still, their hands clasped in their laps, their eyes rheumy, dreaming perhaps of Christmases past. One dignified man in a tweed jacket and sombre tie smiled and thanked the waitress graciously for every small service. A bald man with ruddy cheeks leaned over to chat to friends who had to strain to hear, their lined faces creased in smiles.

“That’s them comin’, Charlie!” shouted one of the regulars at the bar and my heart started pounding. A group of bustling schoolchildren in school uniform was herded in by two teachers, one anxiously smiling, the other firmly issuing orders in a hushed voice that brooked no opposition.

Tall gangly boys with dishevelled uniforms jostled with nervously giggling girls as they took off coats and scarves and flustered around, gathering sheet music and producing shining brass trumpets and trombones from black leather cases lined in red velvet. One lad heaved from a heavy case an accordion that was almost as big as him. Several of the girls spotted me, smiled, whispered to my daughter, nudged her and pointed: “Look! There’s yer mum!” She saw me, broke into a sunny grin and waved a shy half wave as I smiled back and fought to stop myself grinning like a doting idiot. Her teacher leaned down smiling and whispered to me “You’ll be glad you came.” One of my daughter’s classmates started to announce the short programme. “Thank you for inviting us to come here to entertain you today.”

A short dance routine, a brass band Christmas tune, a boy playing Flower of Scotland on the accordion. I listened with half an ear, clapping loudly at the end of each performance but ever aware of my beating heart and the faces of the old folk. From behind the pillar, I couldn’t see my daughter, sitting on the floor with her friends. Only those who stepped up to perform were in my line of vision. The old folk clapped each child, each performance till their fragile hands must have ached. But one old lady in a pastel coloured cardigan didn’t clap; her face intense and panicky, she searched the faces of the youngsters, stirred perhaps by memories of Christmas concerts gone by, looking for and not finding the face of a child long gone.

And there she was. My baby, standing tall and proud in front of the assembled choir of young people I’d known since they’d played with sand and plasticine at playgroup. Nearly as tall as me now, silver tinsel in her blonde pony tail, the same intense look in her pale turquoise eyes that I’d seen in every photograph of me growing up. My friend Charlie looked over, saw me struggling with a lump in my throat and the throb of unshed tears as my girl began to sing. “It was on a starry night…” and then he looked at me, looked back at my daughter, stunned. He’d never heard her sing, knew only that I was a proud mum, knew that like him, I’d lost my elderly mum before she’d had the chance to know her youngest grandchildren. “And the angels sang for him…” The public bar fell silent. “The bells in heaven rang for him…” As her golden voice wrapped itself around everyone in the room, I felt my mother’s arms around me, holding me together. I saw the faces of those proud old people transfixed and tears streaming down their faces. After her last note had faded away into silence, there was a pause before the whole room started clapping.

The children gathered up their instruments and sheet music, chatting and giggling proudly and my daughter came over to me, her face beaming. She grew anxious when she saw my blotchy face but when I smiled, unable to speak, and pulled her to me, she stroked my hair with a wisdom beyond her years and gave me a huge, silent hug.