I went on a challenging, strange magical journey the night before we left Italy. Sleep was like a snoozing cat, just out of reach, and refused to come closer. So I went along with the game, and let it lead me where it would.
Before retiring for the sleep that would not come, I’d been talking with Johanna about the house where we’d lived in Millersville in the 80’s, and she was telling me about her frequent childhood visits to a strange structure in the attic. I’d been up there, more than once, but didn’t have a clue about what she was describing. Once I entered sleep’s courtyard, I found myself back in that attic, wondering what else I’d missed.
By then I was in that half-world that lets you wander strange paths, and I started visualizing other places I’d lived, wondering how exactly I could remember them. It varied, but the attempt was fascinating and I continued. I found that I could remember more clearly in some years, less in others, and started wondering about that.
Then I started feeling that I was the sum of a collection of memories, and that fuzzy parts were making Swiss cheese of my personal reality. That sent me back around the track, trying to open more doors. I got such a lot of specifics that at one point I literally couldn’t remember where I lived now. There was a little glow of light in Jo’s room and I could see the roof beams, and I was trying desperately to align that with my present home. No soap.
And I began to weep, quietly, feeling a strange sense of loss, feeling that my personal foundations were not solid. If I tried harder, recovered more tangible memories, would I be more complete? Who are we, exactly, if not the carpetbag of our memories? No one else can come closer to making that complete, so it’s our own choice to find our own stories. And there is no objective judge to say what’s true, and what’s invented.
So I’ve begun a strange project, with no goal, simply to say as much detail as I can recall about the life I think I’ve lived. Already I’ve found forgotten gems, little secret closets of childhood worlds I’d forgotten. I will walk the carpet of memory, weaving as I go.
We are travelers. Travel now is considered fun, but traditionally people have often found it an unwelcome experience. For us, it’s been both. Professionally, I once calculated that we’ve gone well over half a million miles, though never by muleback or camelback. Now it’s only occasional performance tours, but every year we visit our daughter in Italy and then further journeys. This time to Greece. First day here has been a joy, but getting here…
Yesterday, up early, and Fra drove us to breakfast in Pontassieve, then we caught the train to Firenze. From there, the train to Milano and the bus to the airport. Plenty of time until our flight to Athens, decent except for the on-plane dinner: a pasta better employed to glue your grandmother’s teeth in place. Landed, took a 50-minute bus ride into central Athens, where we’d booked a cheap private room. From there it got more challenging.
Our hostel/hotel was at 20 Nikis, just off Syntagma Square, only a couple of blocks from the bus stop. Got there quickly. “20 Nikis, there it is!” The door leads into a lobby with a number of signs, none remotely suggesting lodging. There’s an elevator and a dark staircase. Perhaps there’s a sign in the elevator. I punch the elevator: it’s dead. We dither. Elizabeth digs out our paperwork, sends a text message. No response. Tries calling. No response. What to do?
We climb six flights in the dark, assisted by our tiny keychain flashlight, carrying two carry-ons. One floor has a ceiling light and a half dozen office doors. We try each. Nothing. We descend the stairs. We stand in the lobby.
“It’s the Crystal Palace,” I say, referring to an ancient experience of being unable to find our campground in the night, and trying to say, in effect, Well, we’ll survive. Hey, we have a smart phone: if need be, we can find another room nearby and eat the cost of the one we’ve already paid for. But fortune smiles, as it often does when it decides not to smirk.
A young man comes down the stairs: he’s a guest in the rooms where we’re staying. It’s on the fifth floor (European style). We go back up the six flights. Nothing. But there’s one more floor. Elizabeth goes up as I sit with the bags. Yes, she says, there’s a note on the door. Go to the hotel at 40 Nikis and there will be information. We descend, cursing the dead elevator, hobble up the street, find the hotel. Yes, a young woman has our information, gives us our key and the code for the door. Back to Nikis 20. Third time up the six flights: luggage seems to have gained density.
The door code doesn’t work. Punch punch punch punch, numbers light up, go off. Same thing, different numbers light up, go off. Delving into the realms of the unconscious, I suggest to Elizabeth, “Maybe when the random numbers light up, you’re supposed to punch them.” This makes no sense, given that we weren’t told to do so. She tries it. It works.
We go in, find our room number, force the key—with foul curses—to open the door, and we’re in. Clean, bare room, but a welcome double bed. Stuffy and sweltering. Open the window: it’s hotter outside. Ah, there’s a fan. Ah, it doesn’t work, but it does make an apologetic moan. But after an hour of slow broil in the dark, the irrational thought occurs to Elizabeth (irrational given that we have a fan) that there might be an air-conditioning control. There is. We’re cool, we’re in bed, we’re in Athens. I can sleep.
I lie awake all night. But that’s okay: we’re traveling.