Torris Travels

The temptation of words: Essays, travelogues and other bits

0 Comments Monday, June 16, 2014 | @ 11:22 AM
A reminder popped up on my screen yesterday that read, cryptically, 'Forget it. You�ll be sorry�just like last time.� My first thought was that some finger-waggling hacker with nothing better to do had been playing in my calendar, but then it dawned on me that I had written this little note to myself a year ago, cleverly predicting exactly when I�d get the itch to make a radical change to my mop.
For half my life since high school, I�ve had variations of the same, classic bob�a style that undeniably works best for my hair type but looks, well, boring. Not to mention unoriginal. What I really want is a drop-dead gorgeous hairdo�I�m thinking Victoria Beckham�that can be washed in thirty seconds and styled in under two minutes. And therein lies the rub, because the only style with a hope of meeting those conditions is a very short cut and there are two reasons why that doesn�t work for me.
The first one alone should give me sufficient pause that I don�t even need to call up the second. I�m tall�so tall that I only rarely encounter anyone at my eye level. Even men. The second reason is that I do not have an abundance of hair, and what I do have is fine. The way it works is this: the taller one is, the more proportion matters, and the sum of tall plus short and fine adds up to pinhead, which is not a look I care for overmuch. But even if I was five foot nothing, the fact remains that my hair, when released of the ballast that a bit of length gives it, refuses to adhere to a part of any location and falls straight forward. No matter how good the original styling was, I end up with second cousin to a bowl cut unless I spend at least half an hour and $15 worth of product on it.
Not everybody frets so much about their hair, for sure. There are people out there in shopping malls and public libraries who don�t struggle with angst about whether their locks look good. Or even clean! But I�m stuck with my preoccupation and am pretty sure I can blame my mother for it. She used to roll a mean chignon and wouldn�t dream of leaving the bathroom less than fully coiffed.
I�ve been around the block a few times, so to speak�the hairdresser�s equivalent of a serial monogamist. My fruitless search for the ideal style has driven me into the hands of countless cutters, but put an end to some promising relationships because there�s just no way to hide the evidence of my infidelity.
To be honest, I�ve only ever had one really awful experience�the time I decided, on a whim, to get my hair cut in a salon near Paris, with the wrong-headed assumption that if the coiffeur is French, ergo, he must be good. Jean-Jacques gave me a two-for one 'do�short on one side and then angled irregularly to finish about three inches lower on the other. Language difficulties might have been a factor but who knew that behind J-J�s mild expression lurked a punk mentality?? Not since my mother cut my bangs within an inch of my hairline had I cried myself to sleep over the way my hair looked.
For those of us who came of age during the feminist movement at its most ferocious, hair talk made us skittish; it was way too girly and unworthy of our status as strong-women-to-be-taken-seriously. But in recent years, the move to public, full-frontal transparency has meant that women can now admit to their deep dissatisfaction with their hair, and some have even spoken openly about their most secret fantasies. Turns out that having a post-grad degree in theoretical physics and being able to do your own plumbing does not preclude believing in fairy tales. Well, one, anyway, and it goes like this: Somewhere out there is the perfect haircut, one so flattering, so easy to manage, so totally ME... that I will be unequivocally happy with it!! This is on a par with believing that the Mafia is a charitable foundation.
All this openness has helped me a lot. It�s a relief to know I�m not the only one who struggles with delusional thinking, and I am fully aware that I may have to protect myself from me with 'don�t-mess-with-it� warnings. But despite all that, I have a sinking feeling that history may repeat itself, even though between now and my appointment with the new guy next week, I�ll give myself every possible reason to keep the status quo.
I can see it all now. He�ll take a long, discomfiting look at me from all sides, run his fingers knowingly through my tired bob (it�s taken a whole year to get back to one length), and then suggest�without actually saying it in so many words�that with some layering here and some choppy stuff there, he�ll make me look fabulous.
And that reminder? Maybe I'll pay closer attention next year.

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0 Comments Sunday, June 15, 2014 | @ 4:10 AM
Oh, it�s been a while. According to (some) blogger etiquette, I�m not supposed to remind you of that, but I wanted to say that I�ve missed being here. Having been well-occupied with children and domestic Canadian life, writing has dropped to the bottom of the priority list. This is unfortunate but due to be addressed as soon as December 25th is just a memory. In the meanwhile, here�s a little something to stir up your brain cells. If I were diabolical, I would post this on Christmas Night, when everybody�s brain is in a fog from too much food and drink. However, since I will be in the same state and wouldn�t remember to do that, they�re going up now. Each phrase is a clue to a well-known Christmas carol. Good luck! (Answers will be posted�.later. When depends on how desperate you get!) ???????????????? 1. Move hitherward the entire assembly of all who are loyal in their belief. 2. Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds. 3. Nocturnal time-span of unbroken quietness 4. An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good, given to the celestial sphere 5. The Christmas preceding all others 6. Small municipality in Judea, south of Jerusalem. 7. Diminutive masculine master of skin covered percussionistic cylinders. 8. Omnipotent, Supreme Being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males. 9. The first person normative plural of a triumvirate of Far Easter n heads of state. 10. Obese personification fabricated of compressed mounds of crystallized vapour. 11. Geographic state of fantasy during the season of mother nature�s dormancy 12. 12 Tintinnabulation of vacillating pendulums in inverted, metallic, resonant cups 13. In a distant location, the existence of an improvised unit of a newborn�s slumber furniture. 14. Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological formation 15. Quadruped with a crimson probiscus 16. Adorn the vestibule 17. Cherubim audited from aloft 18. Hallowed Post-Meridian 19. Fantasia of a colourless December 25 20. A dozen 24 hour Yule periods 21. Befell during a transparent witching hour 22. Desire a pair of incisors on the day of Natal celebration 23. I spied my maternal parent osculating Father Christmas 24. Joyful Yuletide desired for the second person singular, by us! To all my blogger friends, I wish a joyful Christmas and all best wishes for the New Year.

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0 Comments Friday, June 13, 2014 | @ 8:58 PM
I suspect I�m not the only one here who resists going along with the herd. Telling me 'but that�s the way we do things here� sets off an instantaneous, knee-jerk reaction that probably has its roots somewhere in a childhood where my only siblings were (considerably) older brothers. There�s only so much direction you�ll put up with before the Nope reflex becomes part of your social behaviour. But I�m Canadian, and that makes me, paradoxically, a follower of official rules. I believe that most laws have a basis in reason, and that they should be obeyed. Plus I�m afraid of being found out, which is why I�ll wait for the red light to change even if it�s 3AM and every other driver is in bed asleep. So we�re on dry land, having finished the sailing part of our holiday and on the road headed for the Peloponnese and the first of three destinations. Having previously agreed to a policy of shared responsibility in most areas, MFB and I take turns behind the wheel, and it�s my turn first. Right off the bat, we have a problem. The vast majority of Greek highways consist of two lanes, with a paved shoulder on each side. The speed limits vary depending on how curvy the curves are, and I adhere to them religiously. I�m not always so respectful on home ground, I admit, but in unfamiliar territory I�m prepared to believe they�re there for good reason. And I have been taught, and agree, that the road shoulders are off-limits, unless for emergencies such as blown tires, vomiting children, or an urgent need to pee. But the Greeks view things differently. They�re not the only ones to consider the shoulder as an extra driving lane, but they are my introduction to this unnerving practice. So there�s a car on the shoulder, doing slightly under the speed limit. Do I pass? If I do, do I just stay in my own lane or do I pretend that this is a regulation pass, and move into the oncoming lane? What if there�s somebody coming the other way, and I start to overtake Slowpoke in my own lane only to see an obstacle on the shoulder ahead? So I stick to my Canadian rules of the road. I might be in Greece, but I don�t think it�s safe to pass somebody on the shoulder, nor am I going to move over for the Mercedes SUV riding my tail. (Digression: According to reliable sources, Greece is having an economic meltdown. In that case, why are there more luxury cars per linear kilometre than in France?) So, pass me already! It�s not like I�m just poking along, but after a few kilometres of determined passive-aggression, I have gained a following. It�s not pretty. I can only withstand so much of horn-blaring-arm-waving pressure until my defiance deflates. I move marginally to the right and straddle the yellow line for a bit, but as concessions go, it is ineffective. Finally I cave totally and move right onto the shoulder, only to find that it runs out 100 feet later, replaced by a bridge abutment. After a while I get used to it, and decide that maybe the Greeks are resourceful, not irresponsible. Just because there isn�t a passing lane doesn�t mean you can�t make one up, right? There are a couple of breathless moments when somebody coming the other way doesn�t play the game and forces the overtaking car over the centre line. We now understand why there�s a roadside shrine every couple of miles. We have a map of Greece printed in France, which gives French versions of Greek place names. They do not correspond to the English names that are occasionally shown on the road signs, so this mean we have to decipher the Cyrillic-Greek names and match them up with what�s on the signs�at 80 miles an hour. I am probably better at calculus. This gorgeous bridge crosses the Ionian Sea from the mainland to the Peloponnese peninsula at the port city of Patra. The one-way toll is about 11USD, cash only. I have fully embraced the concept of the cashless society, but that won�t take you far in Greece. Credit cards are unwelcome, not because the Greeks shun indebtedness, but because cash is easier to hide from the taxman. In response to the economic crisis, an army of tax inspectors has fanned out across the country in an attempt to curtail the black market economy, and anyone caught trading services or goods for cash without a receipt is slapped with a 1700 Euro fine (about $2500US). But suspicion of corruption runs high, and many Greeks remain convinced that tax revenue goes straight into the pockets of government officials. A compromise is struck between MFB and me about the route to take across the Peloponnese mountains from Patra to Nafplion, just south of the ancient ruins of Mycenae. He wanted 100% scenic (read 'non-stop hairpin turns), but settles for half-highway, half-scenic. Even then it takes about nine hours to do 250 miles, but the reward looks like this: Me:'Why can�t you smile??� Her: 'Why do you have to have a picture of EVERYthing?� Nafplion (Napflion? P before f or the other way around? Damned if I can remember.) is a pretty coastal town about 55 miles south-east of Athens. Our room at the pension opens directly onto a narrow street in the old town, and the place felt like a movie set. I�m thinking I should swap my house for this one, which overlooks the port and its ancient fortress. We all wish we could stay longer here, but next morning we�re off to � �the dry, rocky landscape of Mycanae, from where�despite its geographical isolation�a great civilization ruled and dominated ancient Greece. Agamemnon returned here, fresh from his victory over Troy, only to be murdered by his wife and her lover. Mycanae dates from the second millennium BC and was destroyed by the Argos in 463 BC � it is a site so ancient that it was already a tourist attraction during the Roman age! The 'Lion�s Gate� (middle photo) is the oldest known monument in existence, and at right is a Bronze Age example of a secant ogive, the single keystone at the apex of an arch, an architectural construct commonly seen in Gothic churches. I marvel at the brilliance of ancient engineering, but the Corinth Canal fair took my breath away. A joint project of the Hungarian and Greek governments, it cut through the isthmus between the Peloponnese and central Greece, taking 13 years to build. If your ship is narrow enough, it shortens the journey from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean by 125 nautical miles. Up next is Delphi, of Oracle fame, and a major site of worship to the god Apollo. In 586 BC the first Pythian games, precursors to the modern Olympics, were held here. And if ever you thought you were the centre of the universe, you were wrong. It�s always been Delphi, where the beauteous omphalos,(navel) of the earth still remains to prove it. The paving stones on the pathways around the ruins are shiny-slippery from thousands of years of being walked on. I�ve decided that my travel wish list should include all UNESCO World Heritage sites. Delphi is the fourth I can cross off my list. Apollo�s temple. Driving from Delphi to Itea, where we spend the second night, we are agog at the immensity of this olive tree orchard. Nothing else grows in the valley, save the occasional errant cedar. They taste the same no matter what the alphabet Another UNESCO world heritage site, Meteora, with its sandstone formations rising spectacularly from the Plain of Thessaly�. �on top of which are Eastern Orthodox monasteries, the first of which was built by hermit monks in the 14th century, seeking refuge from an expanding Turkish invasion. And cats! They are everywhere�on the streets, in restaurants, shops, parks. The country is overrun with felines. Some are abandoned, most are feral, and all are thin. And fecund. I wanted to adopt them all. We leave the next day for Egouminitsa to catch the ferry across to Italy. We get there by mid-afternoon and after check-in, there are still 8 hours to kill. Our friend Jos told us about a hotel-spa at Sivota, 20 kilometres away, where we can lounge around the pool for a minimal fee, so we head in that direction. I�ve had my fill of winding Greek roads but the resort is worth the detour. It�s very upscale, and there I am in the same shorts I�ve worn for the past three days and my hair is clamped to my skull with sweat. It�s hard, but I make myself not care. We swim and read, and drink iced coffee. There is supposed to be a 10 Euro fee for pool privileges but nobody asks us for it. After a light dinner in the poolside restaurant and a spectacular sunset, we�re on our way back to the port. We leave Anne to sit in the car and wander along the quayside, waiting for the ferry. There�s no security, no uniforms. People and kids pass the time watching ships disgorge their cargo, and small groups of young men�boys, really�emerge from the shadows at the edge of the quay, moving furtively, their faces wary. I�ve seen the reports on the evening news about Afghan boys, some as young as twelve, who make their way through Iraq and Iraq and across Europe to Calais, where they spend months in miserable conditions waiting for a chance to get to England. It hits home that this is real life in front of us, not just an item on the news. What wouldn�t they give for my ease of movement, my right to live in Europe, my security? The ticket in my pocket feels very heavy with symbolism. A thin, handsome dog pads purposefully between the waiting cars, ignoring calls from sympathetic dog-lovers. He�s looking for food, and isn�t interested in anybody�s transient affection. Out of the blackness a behemoth looms, blazing with light. It�s our ferry, just arrived from Brindisi. Loading is faster than on the journey over; and in under an hour we�re on board. As I leave the car deck, I turn back to make sure the car is locked, and see the dog. He must have come up the ramp unnoticed, and now he�s on his way to Italy. He flops down underneath a camper van and rests his nose on his paws. I want to think that he�s headed back home, that he hops the ferry the way some dogs prowl the streets. I hope so. Kalinikta, puppy. Efharisto, Greece.

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0 Comments Thursday, June 12, 2014 | @ 1:46 PM
I was very kindly invited by Marcie and Ginnie to write a guest post for their collaborative photo and essay blog, Vision and Verb. You can find my essay, 'The View From Here� by clicking here. While you�re there, I urge you to stay a while to enjoy the fine photography and essays by the talented women from around the world who are regular contributors to this wonderful place.

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0 Comments Wednesday, June 11, 2014 | @ 6:34 AM
Greece was not quite what I had imagined. Glossy tourist brochures had seduced me into thinking that clusters of white-washed houses with cerulean rooftops would be typical of the island villages, and although this is the case on some of the islands in the Aegean (Santorini, at right) the architecture is quite different elsewhere. Although I like to think I don�t have preconceived notions about the places I travel to for the first time, this is mostly due to not having done any homework. Unlike the serious travelers who do their research in advance (and probably get a lot more out of their experience), I am happy to make my discoveries as I go. But although I had to slightly readjust my vision of Greece, or at least this southern Ionian part of the country. there was much to be appreciated. Leaving the port of Lefkas, we passed through a channel that had originally been dug under the reign and direction of Cleopatra. The story goes that a major skirmish was fought over Lefkas and that when Cleopatra�s troops went down in defeat, their commander abandoned them to run off with his lover, the Queen herself. The worse we had to cope with was wondering whether we would beat this big motor yacht through the narrow channel opening (marked by red and green buoys). First night on board the Maya was spent anchored in a quiet bay, sleeping on a narrow, sloping platform to the left of the hatch absolutely not designed for the purpose. Impossible to roll over without involving MFB. By early morning the sheets were clammy with humidity but waking up to the exquisite sound of Greek Orthodox plainsong drifting across the water was worth all the discomfort. Depending on which side of an island you�re looking at , the landscape is either dry and rocky, or green, but always mountainous. The last major earthquake to strike the area, in 1953, caused extensive damage, completely levelling many villages. The Dutch are well represented here � most of the sailboats we encountered were flying the colours of Holland, including us. Jos, our friend and skipper, is a big Dutch guy with a bigger personality, with a talent for getting himself into � and out of � sticky situations that would fell most ordinary mortals. See that little dinghy near the bow of the boat? Well, the outboard motor quit with 4 of us sitting in it the night before and just my luck to be sitting too close to Jos� right elbow as he yanked the starter cord. I have always promised myself that I would get myself a straighter, smaller nose if ever it needed to be repaired, and thought for a few star-crossed moments that my opportunity had arrived. Next morning we sailed to the port of Sami and Jos, never one to wait around for anyone else, decided he�ll haul the motor onto the quay to do a little fixing. What he neglected to consider is that when you�re in a moveable object and you lean one way, your moveable object goes the other way. By the time anyone realized what was happening, Jos was in 25 feet of water and going down, stubbornly clinging to his motor. MFB mounted a rescue, nearly landing in the drink himself, but Jos and motor were both saved, dried out, and made functional again. Mythos beer is the celebration drink of choice. Sailors get snarky about their parking spots. We had been told off at an earlier port for having inserted the Maya into a space considered much too tight by the boaters on either side, who launched an energetic volley of Italian at us amid much throwing about of arms. Our skipper tried to placate them but they were having none of it, and a few minutes later, a man on a scooter pulled up on the quay. He was clearly an official of some sort, with a serious-looking badge on his nicely-pressed blue shirt, so naturally we invited him on board. Under the glare of the neighbouring Italians, we adopted our most ingratiating behaviour until a closer examination of the badge revealed that it said not 'Greek Port Authority� but 'Family Restaurant Tomorrow�. Not a word was said about our moorage, and our expansive relief resulted in a reservation for four at 8. Next day it was our turn to be shamelessly hypocritical, raising objections as the sailboat (above left) manoeuvred between us and the sleek yacht in the background. To no avail. There were, nevertheless, advantages to having Italians as neighbours: the language is a delight to hear, and the men�.well, there�s a lot to be said for their sense of style. Sometimes a girl just has to sit back and enjoy the view. Greek men, I�m sorry to say, are not as pleasing to look at. On the way to Nydri, a piece of hardware at the top of the mast gave way, and once we were in port, a repair operation was mounted. MFB, volunteering his lesser size and greater knowledge, was hoisted up the mast, secured by two ropes and three nervous crew. After it was all over, he admitted that his only previous experience � as a thirteen-year-old � had resulted in his being dropped on his head during the descent. The food was always good. I love tzatsiski, saganaki (fried cheese), stuffed vine leaves, and feta. Eating out is cheap and portions are very generous. The four of us shared appetizers and two main courses, and with wine and coffee, our total bill was usually under 50 Euros. All the ports we visited had restaurants lining the waterfront, and while the views weren�t always as good as the one below, the ambiance was always lively. Although there has been much in the news recently about the sagging Greek economy, it�s evident that Greece has always been a poor relative to the more prosperous EU members like France. Abandoned construction projects are a common sight, as is the neglect of lamppost alignment. The government has sent forth an army of tax inspectors to ensure that shopkeepers and restaurateurs issue receipts to their clientele. The income tax coffers are now filling up nicely, thanks to a 1700 Euro fine that discourages businesses from operating 'under the table�. Daughter Anne arrived midway through the week, fresh from the other side of Greece (the part with the white villages and blue roofs) and quickly dubbed the Maya the 'ESL Boat�. With English native to only two of the five crew, there was a lot of 'what did you say?�s" Miscommunication is never a good thing, and especially in winds like this one (below). The sails of the Maya were so taut that we couldn�t reef them in to reduce our tilt. Two of us loved it, two were slightly apprehensive, and one went below deck to stick her head under a pillow. This beauty easily won the prize for Most Elegant Boat. A few random Greek scenes. An early-morning fisherman. An old lady filling up a wine barrel with sea water. I managed to understand that she wanted to use it for drinking water, but I couldn�t figure out what she was going to use for a desalination system. MFB explained later that she was simply using sea-water to expand the dried-out wood, thereby tightening the metal rings around the cask, at which point it would be refilled with fresh water. Ah. I wish my brain worked like his. On the last day together we climbed a big hill to a resort hotel and spent the afternoon recuperating in front of this view. There are worse ways to kill time. A last tranquil evening in the port of Spartochori. But wait, how did we miss the news about the end-of-summer party on Zulu Beach? I can�t remember why sound carries better over water than land, but I can confirm that it does. At 3AM, I lowered the gangplank and took myself over to Zulu Beach to ask the party-goers to turn down the volume. Let me put it this way: that music could have kicked waterboarding out of its spot as the CIA torture of choice. I�m open to a lot of different kinds of stuff � Turkish pop, marching bands, Russian male choirs, bagpipes, Gavin Bryars and the occasional heavy metal � but never have I heard anything that so strongly suggested the pain of having nails drilled into one�s head. The supremely unco-operative Greek fella in charge of the sound system grudgingly promised to tone it down, but it took him an hour to find the right button. Early next morning we walked up to the village to have breakfast in a Greek pizza joint specializing in omelettes. With an distant island that might have been Ithaca in the background, we watched an early-bird sailor head out to sea. This part of the world isn�t known for its strong winds, and it�s more common to see sailboats under power than sail. A little bit later, it was our turn to lift anchor and head back to Lefkas and the dry-land part of our Greek holiday. Even though I wasn�t looking where I was going, we got there in one piece. More later!

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