Blue Crete II

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Dusty sapphires, sacrificial lambs, trembling grapes, war stories, shrimp-colored shifts, fat blue birds with red eyes, stolen goats, close shaves, purple thymus & Crete.


The first time I see Stavros, it is near dawn in the Chania airport. He is on his way from Crete to Frankfurt with an ancient Greek artifact.

That airport is tiny and boring, but even at that early hour, it’s alive with good-byes, shouted instructions, kisses up close and blown across the room, the scent of fresh coffee and the sound of bags dragging along the cement floor. Stavros sits in a chair, calm and handsome, with a padded box on his knees. I don’t know what is in the box and don’t ask, on purpose. I have my own fantasies: a collar of hammered gold leaves from the fourth century BC, a Minoan cup of terra-cotta with the design of a black octopus gripping its sides, or a primitive child’s toy of a clay bull on wheels with a bit of dried leather still threaded through its nostrils as a pull.

Archeologists the world over seek out Stavros for his expertise, and, I imagine, women everywhere because of his good looks. He is tall and voluptuously featured, with a silver beard and a head of thick and curly silver hair. But most of all he has pale-blue eyes and always wears something to set them off—a white polo shirt with a band of turquoise around the collar and sleeves, for instance, or a thin Egyptian-cotton dress shirt the color of a dusty sapphire.


I splash bright-green olive oil over everything on my plate as Christos dusts his cheese with salt. We talk about easy things: the bird, the beach, how delicious the honey tastes.


Stavros is a friend and colleague of Christos, the man I am in love with. And through Christos I learn that Stavros has a lot to say about his experiences in Crete during the war.

I’m eager to listen to Stavros, but he keeps canceling appointments we’ve made for him to tell his story. I’m aware that what Stavros is coming to say is loaded with emotion, and in New York this would be called “acting out.” But in Crete appointments are sometimes given up—the heat, the wind, a broken wheel, a family emergency. Living among Cretans, I consider them fearless, inside and out. In Crete I often hear the word pallikari, which means “a real man”: brave and strong, able to resist pain and, specifically here, ready to defy death in a struggle for the island’s freedom. By listening to Christos and his friends, I learn about the suffering of the pallikares and the Cretan women and children, as they all fought passionately and courageously for their freedom during the Nazi occupation.

Christos and I wait for him on my balcony at the Hotel Nana. The table is spread with mezédes, melon cut into chunks and piles of pistachios. Tsikoudia, sodas and mineral water, ready for glasses and ice.

At last Stavros arrives. He is eager to talk, as if his memories have ripened and grown too large to fit inside him any longer.

Waiting for Stavros on those warm summer evenings, it never occurs to me that the stories he is bringing will take all his courage to tell.

Compass Rose

Stavros was six when the Germans came.

His war memories are a child’s memories.

He tells me: “The city of Chania was luminous and alight as if fireworks were exploding to celebrate a special occasion. In my childish world I didn’t feel a grain of fear; my heart was swollen with excitement at the splendor of the sky. It was only by watching the terror, alarm and tears in the eyes of others that I knew my joy was not real.”

Stavros recalls: “An English war plane was on fire, about to crash right near our house. I ran out with a pot of water to extinguish the blaze and save the pilot’s life. I had just turned seven.”

Compass Rose

On our way to the beach, Christos and I stop for breakfast at a mountaintop taverna. Across the road, a grove of olive trees with silver leaves glitters softly in the morning light. Ahead, a panorama of enormous peaks, sky. Below, deep valleys of green, rolling patchworks of farms, dark forests. Roads cut into the red earth, slithering like giant snakes up and down the mountainsides.

I stand at the table, feel the lightness of love and a good night’s sleep and the weightlessness of my sheerest cotton dress, billowing out in the warm breeze, caressing the back of my thighs.

Inside the restaurant, I discover, in a roomy cage, a fat blue bird with red eyes. It pecks lettuce leaves and corn kernels from a little dish. I say, “You are so beautiful.” It winks with a rosy lid, taps the greens more.

Christos tells me it is a perdika, a rare mountain bird that is almost extinct. A prize to catch, a great delicacy to eat.


In Crete I often hear the word pallikari, which means “a real man”: brave and strong, able to resist pain and, specifically here, ready to defy death in a struggle for the island’s freedom.


My interest shifts to breakfast, Christos’ smile and the trembling grapes on the loaded arbor above our table. Our food arrives: a huge plate of puckered black olives; strips of cucumber so pale they are almost white, their seeds caught at center by glistening gel; thick-cut tomatoes, red crescents of vegetable flesh rocking against the white plate; a loaf of hot bread; a slab of yellow cheese with irregular holes; an open jar of local honey; and two tiny cups of dark-brown foam that steams its coffee fragrance up, up. I splash bright-green olive oil over everything on my plate as Christos dusts his cheese with salt. We talk about easy things: the bird, the beach, how delicious the honey tastes.

Local people sit at the next table: a white-haired man with a katsounia walking stick, in full native costume of high black leather boots, baggy britches and a black shirt; next to him, a weathered woman with short grey hair wears a shrimp-colored polyester shift, open-toed slipper shoes, wedge-heeled and plastic, and a cross on a thick gold chain. The couple with them looks almost identical. They all drink coffees and sodas, smoke, talk and joke. They relax back into their chairs, then move forward in unison, listen intently, heads bobbing like four birds stabbing at the same piece of bread.

Across the dirt road a white lamb rests in the back of a pickup truck. It stands up. It lies down. The olive tree behind it sways in the wind, dapples both the lamb and the truck with sunlight and shadow.

A young man walks toward the truck. He wears stylish clothes: sharply creased Levi’s, coral-colored Lacoste polo shirt and leather moccasins. He has a good haircut, a gold watch and a close shave.


“I ran out with a pot of water to extinguish the blaze and save the pilot’s life. I had just turned seven.”


I eat the tomatoes on my breakfast plate, rip the bread, swirl the last of the coffee foam around the bottom of my cup. Christos eats slowly, leans back in his chair, watches twin black dogs asleep in the road, nods to other customers.

The lamb stands again. At the same time, the blue bird keeps pecking lettuce. Farms in the valley below glow green as they have for centuries, and olive trees shimmer. I consider a second cup of coffee.

The man in the Levi’s lets down the tailgate. The lamb stirs and stands up taller, steps backward. The man’s face changes, is dark, tense. He quickly reaches in and yanks the lamb by one slender leg, drags it across the metal floor, out of the truck. The animal falls onto the ground, hard.

The man bends over the lamb, his hand a fist clutching a knife. He stands up. The hand is covered now, up to his gold watch, in a glove of orange pudding. Hoofs kick spasmodically into the air. Once, violently. Twice. Higher, faster. Weaker, closer to the dirt.

I stop eating and press my eyes closed, tight.

“OK. It’s dead,” says Christos softly.

“It was so fast,” I say. “It happened too fast for it to make a noise.”

“If there were other sheep around, they would have known. They would have made the sound for it,” adds Christos.

“I sensed what was coming,” I say, “when that man reached into the truck. The lamb did too.”


Local people sit at the next table: a white-haired man with a katsounia walking stick, in full native costume of high black leather boots, baggy britches and a black shirt; next to him, a weathered woman with short grey hair wears a shrimp-colored polyester shift, open-toed slipper shoes, wedge-heeled and plastic, and a cross on a thick gold chain.


A fat man in a cook’s apron comes from behind the restaurant, carrying an old-fashioned bicycle pump and a bucket of water. He meets the man in the Levi’s and they look down at the dead animal. Christos tells me that they will inflate the lamb now and skin it.

As we leave the taverna, the skinned animal hangs from the olive tree by its legs, low. Its neck contorts roughly to one side; its delicate, bony head rests on a patch of grass.

Christos takes my hand and leads me to our truck.

“It’s OK, Pameliki. It was good and fast. It didn’t suffer.”

But I know it did, in its terror.

We spend the rest of the day beyond the farms and olive groves, at the ocean. I try to get the killing out of my mind, concentrate on my surroundings: turquoise water lashing rocks on a beach that is a sandbox for naked German children playing pirate in its coves. But instead I stare intently into the distance, as if I expect to sight Libya across the sea.

Christos tries to cheer me up. On the way back, we stop to pick clumps of purple thymus from the side of the road. Marvel at its fragrance. Fill the back of the pickup. But I’m still quiet.

We pass the taverna, empty now. I promise myself not to look at the spot where the lamb was. But I can’t help it. When it’s almost too late, I crane my neck out of the window to see that only the bloodied length of rope hangs limply from the tree.

Compass Rose

Stavros’ eyes fill with tears as he remembers:

“We all suffered from starvation. We in the villages fared better that those in the towns. We had vegetable gardens, maybe a chicken. Townspeople walked miles to beg for a tomato, a pumpkin, an eggplant.

“We couldn’t get salt, so we boiled gallons of seawater and used the residue for seasoning.

“Our most valuable possession was our goat, which my mother kept in our bedroom. One night we left it in the kitchen and it was stolen through a hole in the wall.

“I vividly remember my mother giving me a spoon to remove as many worms as I could of the hundreds floating on top of her olive oil.”

Stavros says: “After all the Jews in Chania were arrested and shipped off the island, destined for Auschwitz, the Germans collected all of their belongings and kept them in the museums. The cunning Cretans contrived a sly way of stealing the clothes, through the roof with the means of a hook, without the Germans realizing it. Once the Germans discovered the deceit and stealth, they reinforced the guard inside the museum, but to no avail. Even such measures were not enough to keep the Cretans from cheating the Germans in front of their eyes. It is said that once they hooked even the jacket of a German soldier.”

Compass Rose

It’s a vacation within my vacation when Christos takes time off from his job at the museum. We ferry to some of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean for a few days.

On Mykonos, summer visitors crowd the popular island where wild bouzouki music blends with disco as packs of foreign students chugalug to boisterous hoots.

Christos and I spend our evenings exploring the island’s twisting maze of white-dusted cobblestone streets. These quiet, traffic-free labyrinths often end abruptly in a sheer drop to rocks and the sea. No warning. No next street. Turquoise waves lash the place where a crossroad should be.

The islanders live inside boxy stucco houses with blue shutters and doors, hunkered down against the fierce gusts that beat the island and churn the surf.


As we leave the taverna, the skinned animal hangs from the olive tree by its legs, low. Its neck contorts roughly to one side; its delicate, bony head rests on a patch of grass.


The windswept lanes lead us back to our modest hotel in the noisy tourist district, ablaze with all-night life: clubs, bars, boutiques, blaring music and excitement until well after dawn.

Our surroundings vanish as we rush toward each other in the Spartan privacy of our room. Spent, we doze in each other’s fragrant arms, oblivious as the thumping disco downstairs blasts Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

The next morning, in the peaceful hours after the bars close, we walk past a small church built in the rugged island way: a low, pale cube, dazzling in the brilliant sun.

In front, a gathering of fishermen in tall rubber boots and weathered women in cotton housedresses talk together loudly. There’s tension in the air.

Christos gestures to a copper coffin lid resting near the door.


“I vividly remember my mother giving me a spoon to remove as many worms as I could of the hundreds floating on top of her olive oil.”


“The family’s inside the church. They sat up all night with the dead. Burial this morning,” he says as he pulls his shirt away from his skin.

I walk past the gathering to examine the lid.

He takes my hand and tries to pull me away. “How about a swim?”

We hear muted singing inside the sanctuary.

I let go of his hand and take a place near the back of the crowd.

“Let’s watch for just a moment, please.”

Christos shakes his head and stands next to me.

The heavy church doors creak open. I get up on tiptoes to see inside. The stark chapel hides splendor, like a secret cave—candle flames glow gold on the jewel-encrusted icons as crystal chandeliers swing from filigreed chains—all bright inside the dark protection of thick plastered walls.


“Even such measures were not enough to keep the Cretans from cheating the Germans in front of their eyes. It is said that once they hooked even the jacket of a German soldier.”


A group emerges in tears: the mourners. All in black.

Then the widow, an ancient woman with a face of twisted leather, catapults out as if pushed by some great force.

She stumbles and falls to her knees. The crowd gasps.

She screams “Adonimou! Adonimou!”

She gets up.

The widow, dressed in raven shades from the house slippers on her bunioned feet to the kerchief tied tightly beneath her chin, tries to hide her torment behind a matching net fan.

She runs to the somber throng, shouting. “Adonimou!”

I ask Christos, “What’s she saying?”

“‘My Adonis.’”

The mourners open their arms, draw a tight circle around the widow. She cackles and babbles frantically inside the human barricade.

Out comes a priest in a long ivory robe, chanting softly as he holds high a gleaming gold cross.

Six solemn men wearing mourning bands around their arms follow, carrying the open coffin on their shoulders.

The pallbearers set the casket down to fit the domed copper lid in place.

The dead man’s face: the color of a bruise. His shroud: a blanket of wilted wild flowers.

“Adonimou!” The word breaks against the bleached walls of the church, cracks the sky.


The islanders live inside boxy stucco houses with blue shutters and doors, hunkered down against the fierce gusts that beat the island and churn the surf.


I move closer to Christos as the procession passes us and I shove my cold hands into a pocket of his jeans.

He holds me tightly and says, “We come to the island that’s for partying and you must watch a funeral and get sad. You are too curious about everything, Pameliki! Crazy lover,” he whispers through a big smile.

The long box passes the wailing bereaved, who shout with anger, keen with grief, cover their faces with their hands; they beat their fists into the air as they follow the cross, the priest, the coffin, the widow on the path to the cemetery.

The grief-stricken press so tightly together that they become one, like a giant dark animal moaning in pain. They lumber away from the church. For a moment I take my eyes off them. Above, the heavens glow bright blue as trees bend and sway in the endless island wind.

Compass Rose

Stavros tells me: “Late one night, a Scot and an Englishman, both very drunk, knocked on our door. Women feared the English as molesters, worse when they were drunk. My father ordered my mother, my aunts and my sisters into another room. Offended, the Englishman grabbed my father and brought him to the ground. The Scot joined in. The women broke the legs off the kitchen table, beat the soldiers unconscious.”

Stavros remembers: “I used to have an extremely brave aunt who belonged to the resistance. A real daredevil she was, for she would intrepidly carry ammunition for those in the resistance on her bicycle, or she would hide the invaluable top-secret documents in an armchair in her house.”

Stavros recalls: “We were surprised that not all the occupying German soldiers supported the Nazi vision. Most were mere soldiers, struggling with their orders. The ones camped near our house gave us food and sweets. One found that I was an orphan. He took me in his arms and kissed me. Showed me a photograph of his wife and two small children. He sobbed openly as I sat on his lap. For the entire occupation of our village, he treated me like a child of his own, helped me grieve over the death of my father.”

Compass Rose

It’s all happening very fast: I’ve met Christos, moved into his villa. I think I love him, and he’s invited me to the wedding of his best friend.

Marco, as a teenager, jumped ship from a Greek freighter, then met Nancy, a seventeen-year-old waitress, in New York’s East Village. They fell in love. They had been married at city hall seven years ago and then moved to Crete to raise their family.

Today they’ll have a proper Greek Orthodox wedding, set for the traditional time: late Saturday afternoon.

This morning Christos and I visit Marco to wish him luck. We drive to an out-of-town taverna, just off one of those roads where the turquoise water licks and foams at its shoulder. One of those many sights that amazes and delights me. For Christos, these are simply part of everyday life.


On Mykonos, summer visitors crowd the popular island where wild bouzouki music blends with disco as packs of foreign students chugalug to boisterous hoots.


The leaves of two gnarled vines with bright-green grapes form a canopy over a group of tables and chairs. Bunches of the juice-heavy fruit swing as their delicate leaves tremble and shadow the earth around our feet.

We wait for Marco. A million locusts play the same song…louder, louder, louder, faster, faster, faster as the day heats up. Christos jumps, catches an insect, holds my forefinger to it. The vibration is electrifying. “And this is for females only to do. Only the female locust—”

Suddenly, Marcos emerges from the back of the taverna looking depressed and disheveled, not his usual self. The men hug. Speak rapidly in Greek.

“I killed the lamb,” says Marcos. “I never killed anything before. It was awful. I hated doing it to that little guy.”

He leads. We follow down a short flight of stairs to a small, windowless room off a restaurant-size kitchen.


The widow, dressed in raven shades from the house slippers on her bunioned feet to the kerchief tied tightly beneath her chin, tries to hide her torment behind a matching net fan.


The butcher, stationed behind his chopping block—the stump of a once-immense tree—wipes his cleaver with a rag and shakes my hand.

Now the scent of the space hits me: past butchering remains, rancid, in the air, on the streaked walls. The smell of fresh blood overwhelms. The words “abattoir” and “Chicago slaughterhouses” pop into my head.

The occupation of the sweating man in the stained rubber apron is unmistakable. Short and massive, he has a black-dark countenance, a round head with a flat, high-cheek-boned face. Swaths of thick, matted hair make their way from his knuckles over his wrists, up his powerful arms, across his broad shoulders, and get lost inside the narrow straps of an undershirt splotched with bits of flesh and fur.

I look at the face of Christos: concerned. The face of Marcos: sad. The face of the butcher: exhausted.

Down on the floor of pounded earth, shards of bone sit close to my sandaled feet. I take it in. Try to imprint this scene. I know I will never experience this again, and try, try to hold onto it forever.

Christos calls time-out—“Raki, raki for everyone!”—and waves us all up the narrow stairs.


“Adonimou!” The word breaks against the bleached walls of the church, cracks the sky.


Beneath the grape arbor, in the music of the locusts, in the warmth of the sun, in the freshness of the breeze from the turquoise sea, Christos changes the mood as he raises his anise-scented glass: ”To Marco and Nancy. To long life together.”

Christos and I leave Marcos behind so we can shower and change for the ceremony.

I’m expecting a wedding hall with bouzouki music and Jordan almonds in little net bags. But Christos is always full of surprises.

“We’re going to the ruins, at Aptera. You know, in mythology…you studied in school, for sure…the muses and sirens musical battle…it happened where the wedding is. Aptera means ‘wingless,’ like the losers, the sirens who fell into the bay and became islands.”

My skin tingles.

“You’ll see those islands today, Pameliki. And we’ll be at a place that’s been a site for sacred ceremonies since pre-Christian times: the Temple of the Muses.”

Christos laughs. “You see, everything here is very old!”


Now the scent of the space hits me: past butchering remains, rancid, in the air, on the streaked walls. The smell of fresh blood overwhelms.


After a long drive over miles of dusty road, flanked by low, dry bushes, we come to a group of crumbling structures the same color as the sandy ground they rest on. Beyond the high plateau, a panorama reveals itself: the whole blue of Souda Bay and the Cretan Sea, the green valley below, neatly planted with rows of crops and groves of olive trees, and the purple-hazed White Mountains.

People stand together in a crowd, their colorful clothes whipped by the wind. There’s the bride, young enough to be my daughter, and yet the mother of five, in a flowing dress and pretty sandals. Wildflowers scatter at random throughout her waist-length hair. It sweeps against the back of the groom standing beside her.

The late-day sun creates a golden spotlight as Marco and Nancy circle the altar three times, their identical wedding garlands connected by white satin ribbon. Their children look on. An elder one holds the sleeping infant; two others hold the hands of a restless toddler boy. We cheer the kissing couple. And even though I haven’t understood one word of the ceremony, I have deeply understood what took place. It makes me cry.

In this ancient place where prayers and rituals have met with myths over thousands of years, the tan children in their summer clothes watch their parents’ love take another step. The fantastic surprise of Christos and all he has given me in a mere few days, the physical beauty that surrounds me and the feeling of freedom I have, perhaps for the first time in my life, overwhelms me with happiness.

On the way to the truck, I spot a little chapel inside an enclosed ruin. I have to bend low to enter the doorway. Dimming sunlight filters through missing stones, the last brilliant rays almost as bright as the flames of candles studding a tray of sand.


The grief-stricken press so tightly together that they become one, like a giant dark animal moaning in pain.


I stuff a few bills into the basket, touch a new taper to one already alight. A burst of fire. I close my eyes, very tight, and pray, “Dear God, please let me come back here.” I open my eyes for a moment, spot Christos back in the doorway. Pray again, “And let me spend more time with this man I love.”

“Ela, Pameliki,” interrupts Christos. “We are the last to leave. Darling, I am very hungry.” He play-pouts as he takes my hand, leads me to the pickup and boosts me into the high seat.

We drive down, down. Then up, up another mountain so steep our truck is almost vertical as we head for the strings of party lights glowing around the taverna at the top.

It’s almost dark. I have a moment of anxiety: how will we ever get back down after a few rakis? What if we catapult? The truck turning over and over, our limp bodies thrown through the doors…

We arrive. Greeted by the scent of lamb. The lamb. Roasting on a spit, turned by a boy standing on a stool.

All the other guests sit at a long, long wooden table not yet laden with food.


Swaths of thick, matted hair make their way from his knuckles over his wrists, up his powerful arms, across his broad shoulders, and get lost inside the narrow straps of an undershirt splotched with bits of flesh and fur.


I notice the men. The most gorgeous collection I have ever seen. All healthy and tan, not an ounce of fat in the group, with sets of excellent teeth rendered whiter by the dark mustaches above. Several have those unusual eyes that I’ve seen only in Crete, a shade that combines brown with turquoise. Like the sea and the earth, I think.

And they’re all dressed traditionally, in voluminous jodhpurs, shirts dark or black that fit close to their muscles. High, tight boots. Thick leather belts circle their trim waists, with knives or pistols—not the modern ones, but old-style buccaneer types with fancy handles—shoved in. There are even a few who wear the traditional black mesh sariki scarf tied low above brows; tassels swish as seductively as a woman’s dangling earrings.

These are dashing fellows. No matter. My lover looks toward Italy and not the White Mountains as his style guide. He’s impeccable in navy linen trousers and a block-printed silk shirt that mark him a modern man in this crowd.

“We think of Christos as ‘the Alan Alda of Crete,’” says a bookish-looking American woman as he seats me next her. After our brief introduction, Marnie continues: “Isn’t he lovely? Not like the other macho guys here. He’s smart, and funny. And he’s nice to women! All of us…”

She smiles at him.

“He even looks different—fair, like a Dorian, with his sandy hair and bright-blue eyes,” offers this ex-pat who came to Crete on a dig and stayed on to teach English.


He smiles back, black tassels dancing above his eyes. I soon realize that he has a gun at the side of his plate, in place of his salad fork.


I nod, and say “Kalinikta” to the man sitting on my other side. “Good evening, madame,” he smiles back, black tassels dancing above his eyes. I soon realize that he has a gun at the side of his plate, in place of his salad fork. Then I notice that the man across from me with the green shirt has one too. And the old guy with the gold tooth—him, too. Now I’m speechless.

First comes the eating. Stacks of steaming cheese pies and great bowls of tomato and cucumber dices swimming in deep-green oil scented with fresh oregano come out from the kitchen. Then the lamb, carved up, on platters. Its roasted head, honored with its own wooden tray. Christos whispers something about the eyeballs and good luck, but his words are lost in the festive shouting around me.

Dancing begins when the musicians fill the air with exotic sounds that hold Arab wails, the palpitation of Turkish ouds and Italian court songs within their notes.

The male dancers grip hands in a line. The first holds onto a handkerchief gripped by the next one. It all begins with a teasing, agonizing slowness. The musicians pluck their lyras, strum their lutes and blow haunting cries through their klarinos. They proceed freeform, like jazz. Taking the tune from each other as the dancers take turns too, at the front of the line.

The first moves slowly, deliberately, teasing with his steps. The pace quickens, the feet move wildly. The musicians are out of their chairs now. The dancers become a wild snake as the leader leaps into the air, slaps his thigh, his boot. The next man tries to jump higher. The crowd goes mad with encouragement. The lyras and lutes, crazed like the locusts, play louder and faster as the party heats up.

Then, shooting into the air starts. The men at the table drink more and more. Make louder and louder toasts. Whooping, yelling. Drinking and shooting. Bullets fly into the night; the smell of gunpowder remains.


It all begins with a teasing, agonizing slowness. The musicians pluck their lyras, strum their lutes and blow haunting cries through their klarinos.


My palms sweat. “American Tourist Shot to Death at Cretan Wedding.”

“We told her not to take that trip, but she did…you know…a single woman traveling alone…”

“Don’t go with strangers…”

Christos, bless him, picks up on my anxiety. “Oh, don’t worry, darling. That’s only the balothies, shooting to celebrate.” He clutches my inner thigh with one hand and with the other feeds me little baby sips of tsikoudia. Homemade. Passed around in plastic soda bottles. “What’s in this stuff?” I ask.

“Anything grape: skins, seeds, stems. I’ll bet a few leaves, too,” Christos says before he resumes, “Come, my little darling. Sip. Sip.” The brew, at least ninety proof, has no flavor whatsoever. It bypasses my taste buds and rushes directly to the “off” switch inside my brain.

A “veddy” English woman leans across the table and, over the gunshots, shouts loudly to me across a mound of honeyed walnuts, “Oh, my dear, do you think this will get out of hand?”


Bullets fly into the night; the smell of gunpowder remains.


The tsikoudia has done its work as I get up to bravely join a complicated women’s wedding line dance that I have never seen before. I pass Lady Tea and Crumpets’ seat and whisper into her ear, “Nothing to fear. These men are experts. Remember, we’re on the side of the guns. We’re safe.”

And we are. On top of the mountain, parametered by simple strings of lights and levitated by the incessant strumming of lyras, we’re lifted up off the earth to take our rightful place, tight against the blackened heavens. Around us, stars twinkle and wink. The spirits of all those who have gone before dance beside ours as morning cracks pink somewhere in the thyme-scented air.


Pamela Manché Pearce’s poetry chapbook Widowland was published by Green Bottle Press (London) in 2018. In addition to Nowhere, her poems, essays and short stories have seen print in such diverse magazines as Samba, The Widows’ Handbook Anthology and The Brooklyn Review. She lives in New York and is poet-at-large on “Planet Poet: Words in Space” on WIOX radio in Roxbury. This story was a finalist in Nowhere’s Fall 2019 Travel Writing Contest.

Lead image: Alex Azabache

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