In 2007 I took a trip to Greece. It had been a number of years since I’d visited and I was glad to go back. I think the Greek islands are the most magical place on earth. Prove me wrong. Show me a place on earth that is more magical than Santorini. Go ahead. I’ll go tow-to-toe with anyone who can show me a better place.
Our trip took us through Athens for a few nights, then off to Mykonos, then Santorini. As I mention above, there’s a reason why Santorini is such a popular place. It is insanely beautiful. A fun fact about me: I had never been to a stadium rock show prior to a couple of years ago, when I was gifted tickets to a U2 concert. Took my brother. It was great. I loved it. But I’d never been before, because I don’t like to do things that everyone else is doing. It’s a bad thing to admit, but it’s true! I pride myself on being against popular things. That being said, I’ve softened in my later life. Coldplay. Katy Perry. American Idol. I’m a fan. Love it.
After Santorini we took a ferry to Hydra, an island off the main shipping channel that connects Piraeus to the islands. It’s a jewel of a harbor town, with a rich history of not much. A series of fits and starts through the ages, including a plague that wiped out most of the population, kept the island fairly uninhabited into the 19th century. Hydra is a non-vehicle island, with donkeys transporting washers and dryers up the hills to the houses. The police patrol the island on horseback. It’s backwards, rugged and romantic. The boat docked in the harbor and we knew we'd made the right choice.
An article in Architectural Digest about the new Bratsera hotel was the main reason that we went. We wanted to spend some time in what looked like a very special place. A converted soap factory with a lush courtyard and an intriguing arts program. The hotel lived up to everything that we expected. We checked in to our rooms, got ourselves cleaned up and took a stroll across the harbor to a dreamy bar hanging over the water. A jazz trio was playing, headed up by an Athenian gal who became our pal for our time on the island. From there we had dinner in the village, followed by drunk dancing at a tiny little disco. I’d had enough and made my way back to the hotel, leaving my drunk boyfriend and our friends to rage on.
The next morning I was shaken into consciousness by my man and his friend, jumping up and down on the bed, just getting home and drunk as hell. As they laughed and babbled, I got up and got myself together. It was my 42nd birthday and there was no way in hell that I was going to start it by getting in a fight with a couple of drunk dudes. So I pulled on my swim trunks and some flip-flops. Grabbed my sketchbook, a pack of cigs and a few dollars. And I took off for a walk. A perfect mid-August morning.
I hiked and hiked, through the village, down a path and up a hill. Up and up I went, finally arriving at the top of a mountain. Over the other side I saw a blue cove, a fisherman's boat tipped over on the beach. Perfection. I made my way down, sliding into the warm water. I stayed on the beach for quite a while, floating in the water. It was deserted, and perfect.
I continued my hike, finding my way into a burnt forest. Everything went grey and black. A fire had raged on this side of the island a few weeks prior, burning everything. As I continued through the burnt forest, I marveled at the beauty of the destruction. It was totally cinematic, dramatic. I continued on, the hike taking an upward trajectory. I began climbing small hills, going up and up and up. I figured I'd be taken back to a path that would place me in a direction back towards the village.
And then I noticed that the sun was starting to set. And I was a hundred feet in the air, grabbing rocks on a craggy cliff as moonlight shone on the sea below. A huge body of water laid out in front of me, and I had no water. I remember thinking that I didn’t have the luxury of wondering how I got myself into this situation. Focusing on getting myself off that cliff was my only thought.
The wind was picking up as the night grew longer. Out at sea the water was still. But cliffside, things were blowing hard. I kept on climbing, wondering how many miles it might be to the edge of the island? Two? Eight? Would I be clinging to the side of a cliff the entire way? And so I went on, straddling boulders and climbing further, doing my best to keep balanced. What a good life I led. Healthy, surrounded by family and friends, a job that provided me a more than comfortable life. And there I was- thirsty, tired and cold, with no idea of how to get myself out of the situation. I continued on, grabbing onto rocks and scaling up and down the edge of the cliff as the sky turned amber as the sun set behind the mountains.
The rocky path finally gave way to an open field that had managed to escape the fire. A small white church in the distance sat at the edge of the cliff, with the sea spread out in the beyond. I circled the church in search of water but found none. I turned around and looked towards the mountains, now in silhouette as the sun had set behind. A white stucco house a few hundred yards away looked promising. I made my way towards the house as I tried to analyze how far the mountains continued down the island. Two miles? Five? I had no idea what I might be in for. The mountain was not an option. Too steep, too rocky. Not possible for me to traverse, from what I could tell as I looked at it. I’d have to continue around the entire island, as there was no way I could go back the way I came.
No one was at the house. I climbed the steps on the side of the house and stood on the terrace. The windows had been lashed with canvas, a traditional way of securing the windows from the wind and rain when a house is empty. I noticed a black iron cover on the ground and realized that there was a cistern. I pulled it back and to my delight, the moonlight shone down into inky black water. In that moment I realized that I’d be ok. In that moment I realized that on that night, my 42nd birthday night, I’d been given the best gift imaginable. The gift of clarity. Because on that night I understood that in my search for financial security, I’d left behind a piece of myself. My creative spirit had taken a backseat to my adulthood, with only an annual Burning Man trip as a creative release. So in that moment, laying on that terrace under the moon, I decided to get back to creating.
The night was getting colder so I unlashed a canvas panel from one of the windows and wrapped myself, laying down on the concrete floor. And there I was, on an island in Greece, drifting off to sleep with the distant sound of the waves crashing on the shore. I slept well, knowing that everything would turn out fine.
As the morning sun broke, I laid there for a while thinking about what I’d gone through the night before. Brent and our friends had planned a big birthday dinner for me in town for the night before and I knew that they would be worried that I’d gone missing. But all I could do was do my best to keep myself safe- and alive- as I figured out how to get myself back to the village.
I stood up and looked out at the mountain. And it was then that I noticed a fire trail. Of course! A fire trail had been created for passage so fire and rescue workers could access this side of the island! My safe return secured, I lashed the canvas back to the window and took a final drink from the cistern. And I made my way towards that mountain pass.
The walk over the mountain was everything I needed. Cinematic, majestic and rugged. Reaching the top of the mountain, I looked back at the house that I’d spent the night at, thinking “I’ll come back here one day. It may not be soon, but I will come back. Because this is where I started a new life.” And then I turned towards the village side of the mountain and saw a resort laid out a mile or so in the distance. I continued down the path, passing a church, some humble houses and an abandoned refrigerator. When I finally reached the resort, I walked through the lobby and out to a beach cove, where an older Greek man was standing behind a bar.
I looked at him and said “I’d like a Greek coffee.” I felt like a hero, returning from battle.
He looked me over and said “Burnt forest?”
I looked down and realized that my clothes were torn, covered in soot.
“Yeah’, I answered, not at all deflated. I knew what I'd been through.