A man’s best friend is not (just) the dog

“One of the most unusual is ‘Cucemoru’, deep purple, grey and cream, the colours of the gris-de-lin that Sir Thomas Hanmer had valued so highly in his Welsh garden a hundred years earlier.”

This is International Book Week: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence as your entry paragraph in today’s blog entry (the rules actually said Facebook status, but I’m changing it). Don’t mention the title. Write anything else you want below. Copy the rules.

I wasn’t much of a reader when I was in school. The last thing I wanted to do after a whole day of studying, solving algebra equations and memorizing text was…to read some more. I was desperate for some activity. I wanted was to go out and feel the sun on my back, walk, breath the fresh air and talk to a friend. The only printed material I read was newspapers and magazines. It was not until I finished school – and with it all the obligatory reading material associated with it – and my parents had given up trying to convince me to read literature (“extracurricular books”) that I discovered how entertaining books can be.

I’m not sure what brought about the change of heart. What I do know is that once I finally escaped the pupil mentality, I decided to start reading writers whose name somehow came across my path. For example, I came across some of Oscar Wilde’s funniest epigrams and decided to read The Importance of Being Earnest. After that, I watched an interesting Russian movie and thought I might read Dostoyevsky. The choices were thus random and I never read more than one book by the same author in a row. I followed this rule for a while, but I broke it when I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. I told myself this was an exception, but I did it again after Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children,  and then again with Nikos Kazantzakis’s  Report on Greco. At that point I dropped the rule altogether and just followed my reading appetite.

There was one rule I managed to follow: I wanted to focus on old and modern classics (thus the aforementioned titles), thinking that since I had decided to read, I might as well start with the best stuff around. Since then, my repertoire has expended to include history books, essays, plays, travel guides, books on gardening, art, architecture, philosophy and a bit of poetry. I’m always reading something – long or short, funny or serious, in English or Greek. 

Lately I seem to have been influence by a trip to Berlin and decided to (finally) read Gunter Grass. I started The Tin Drum in the brilliant new translation by Breon Mitchell (unfortunately I cannot read German). I’ve only reached page 46 but I already know I’m going to remember this book for a long time.  That’s the thing with good reads. You know you’re going to establish a long-term relationship.

Note: My opening paragraph is not from The Tin Drum. The challenge says to grab the book closest to you, not the one you are actually reading at the moment. Mmm, mystery.

Island hopping revisited

As my work has it, I’m currently preparing a travel guide for a few of Greece’s best and lesser known islands. Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Antiparos, Amorgos, Skiathos, Ios and Aegina. Yes, it’s not a bad project to be involved in, considering alternative options would involve stories related to the current recession. While doing the research and writing, I looked up some pictures I’d taken on holidays which inevitably and brought back memories and  led to some realizations. First, I’ve really been around. I saw pictures of a younger me standing under a whitewashed archway, smiling and holding my dress so that the wind would not reveal too much. Others of friends seated around a table, feasting on seafood, faces slightly burned from spending the day at the beach, eyes revealing a generous consumption of wine.  I even found pictures of a tiny me attempting to feed a donkey somewhere in Paros, taken at a time when you had to develop the film before you could see if the exposure was any good. 

The project has been keeping me busy for weeks and will continue to do so for a few more. It is by no means a complete guide, it will just feature what I consider to be the highlights, a first acquaintance to allow one to discover even more. More importantly, I’m hoping to convey, even to a smallest degree, a sense of their uniqueness, a feeling of the atmosphere and the reason why people keep coming back. 

Last year's holiday: Paxi islands in Western Greece

Last year’s holiday: Paxi islands in Western Greece

Second, people make their preferences crystal clear. I haven’t yet met a person who didn’t include Santorini in their bucket list. I see it all the time in Pinterest’s boards. Especially those who consider tying the knot and want to find the perfect romantic getaway. Cheesy, but true. Party animals want to know about Mykonos and Ios and so on. If you ask me, I crave peace, quiet, clear waters and a good meal, so I go for the more obscure islands, the ones where you’re least likely to come across the package-holidaymakers. Avoid travelling during peak season also improves dramatically my travel experience. Don’t be fooled by my eclecticism though. I’ve done the mainstream island tour in my twenties and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Last year, I went to Paxi and Antipaxi, a small cluster of islands in the Ionian sea, right below Corfu, in western Greece. These islands are not exactly obscure. They are very popular with new skippers who want to take their sail boats for a spin, but they have managed to escape mass tourism. If you visit early in the season you will be rewarded with low winds, emerald waters, countless little coves and beaches, captivating scenery and truly amazing food, especially in Logos village. I highly recommend it. 

Do you have a favorite Greek island? Interested in visiting one?