There’s an episode of the Simpsons where Lisa is really depressed. She’s assigned to write a report for her class about what Springfield will be like in 50 years, and after doing some internet research, is horrified by the dystopian possibilities, which she shares with her classmates, terrifying them. One jumps out of a window, screaming. Marge takes her to a psychiatrist who diagnoses Lisa with Environment-Related Despair, and puts her on Ignorital, causing her to see only smiley faces. After a potentially near-fatal mishap, Marge takes her off the drug, and Lisa realizes that she can’t run away from her problems, and decides to face them head on.
This has been the longest stretch of singleness in my half century. J’ai le cafard. “I have the cockroach,” as they say in France. Environment-Related Despair. My doctor put me on Ignorital. I’m not seeing smiley faces everywhere quite yet, but my anxiety has calmed to a point where my navigation of the Bachelor ‘Hood is becoming a bit less overwhelming. There are surprisingly more married guys my age out there looking for extramarital activity than single middle-aged guys looking to settle down, and those of us looking to settle down have pretty much all gone out with each other already, so the pickens are slim. I get frustrated, holding out for some idea of a perfect love that very well might not be possible, but at the same time not rushing into anything.
I had a very tender, but very brief affair with my punk rocker, steering us into friendship when I felt out of synch with what he was feeling. Plus I was really distracted by Jake, the filmmaker, who eventually gave me the boot when he felt out of synch with what I was feeling. Since then I’ve had some nice dates with a sweet Urgent Care man, sweet as the hopes on which starv’d lovers feed, and a dashing Intellectual Gascon. His story is worthy of a Dumas, or Harold Robbins, but it’s his to tell, so I’ll just say that he’s had a life rich with soap opera quality dramas, foreign lands, romance, adventure, and, I would imagine, some really good therapy.
Feeling blue while cleaning out my desk, a postcard from a local realtor fell on the floor. I don’t believe in cosmic interventions, but I’ve had a crush on this guy for years, and thought, what the heck, maybe the universe is actually getting off its ass and doing something for me. So I sent him an email, laying out my appeal as humorously and non-stalkerish as I could, while also taking great care to balance flattery with tact and the possibility of his already being hitched. He wrote back, so sweet and generous, and yes, he’s married, happily, but invited me to say hello and to give him a call if I ever decide to put my house on the market.
I have a few internet inamorati whom I’ve never met, some married, others just lonely. We have very lively discussions about art, our travels, our desires… We send each other titillating pictures and describe imaginary couplings and have even at times expressed love for each other. They’re just pixels, we’ve never smelled or touched each other, or heard each other speak. And yet they make me so happy. I imagine I’m fulfilling some desire that goes unexpressed in their marriages, a virtual courtesan. For me, I’m able to experience an authentically intimate exchange, uninhibited by the distractions of headaches, crabs…
Bob came to visit over the holidays and shed some new light on my Environment-Related Despair. I realized that our complete compatibility has been diverting me away from consideration of anyone deviating from our now blissfully idealized relationship. Despite our compatibility, I left Bob because my desire for something else was too much of an impediment to our continued success as a couple. Since then I’ve been driven by a desire to have it all. I want Bob Hoskins and Bob, complete physical and intellectual compatibility. Sure it’d be great to have it all, but if I can’t have both, passion is the one I can’t do without—I can always read a book. Jake and I have had many lively discussions about not being able to integrate these disparate needs and desires into our relationships. This was the particular problem in our brief exploration of possibilities with each other. He felt like he needed someone like me, but he wanted someone quite different physically. Maybe someday I’ll be Wilford Brimley, but for now I’m but a thin shadow of this particular ideal. I had to accept and respect this. We’re actually looking for the same thing. And, as it turns out, frequently the same guy. We now work as a team, sharing prospective leads.
I’ve committed to 6 months on the Ignorital, actually looking forward to the smiley faces, but also not quite ready to face the idea of 50-something spinsterhood head on.
I had a date last night with a punk rocker. He fronts a band whose name brings to mind an eastern European metal group. His band is actually named after one of the Golden Girls, camouflaged by an umlaut. And despite his bouncer façade, he is the sweetest guy who ever lived. Everything about him is soft, from his body to his touch to his lips to his lilting, almost lispy voice. He busies himself with craft projects and cooking, listens to public radio and answers simple questions with long rambling narratives that steer this way and that, taking his incredulous listener on unexpected journeys that somehow, and long after you’ve forgotten what the original question was, wind back to an answer. A completely delightful date and a firecracker of a lover.
Meanwhile, I can’t seem to shake Jake out of my head. I resist the urge to blurt out that I love him already–hesitant not because I’m unsure of my feelings, and, despite evidence to the contrary (like everything I say), I am aware that love can’t be projected onto someone, that it does need time to develop on its own. But still, I feel, and I feel. My hesitation, and indeed my interest, stem from knowing him so keenly already. I’ve looked at his films, read one of his screenplays, his poetry. In the few works that he’s chosen to share with me, the older man who most passionately captures his engagement is aloof, distant, unavailable. His most vulnerable and articulate character is brutally abused by a younger man, a tragic victim of his expressed desires.
Terry Gross interviewed Woody Allen a few years ago, inquiring about the relation between his private life and his art. He seemed oblivious, firmly denying any connection. In his films, Allen’s characters each show such a keen sense of self, questioning and examining their motivations and desires articulately and passionately. I just wasn’t buying it. Jake’s characters are similarly introspective, yet Jake seems to know where he is in his art in a way that Allen won’t admit to. Jake has spoken of his fears of vulnerability and commitment, but I haven’t heard about or experienced much of his passions. I see them in his art, and thus a sort of ennui has settled over me, as my pitches to be considered an object of his desire seem so artfully deflected.
In early Renaissance painting, the saints are given blank expressions, so that the penitent may project his or her emotions onto the canvas. Jake’s beauty and guardedness present a complex medium onto which I’ve concentrated a lot of perhaps unrealistic romantic aspirations. I honestly don’t know yet what can happen off canvas, but the picture I see beguiles and entrances me.
The Dating Game continues…
It all happened so fast. I had just settled into bed when he texted, said he’d be over in 45 minutes. He arrived, we met, we kissed, he said “Let’s get naked,” and then after an hour and several emissions, he was gone.
I was very nervous, almost trembling as I met him at the door. His dark hair was shiny, like superhero shiny. His round dark eyes looked me up and down as he followed me up the stairs. He beamed this incredible smile at me and said in sumptuously Indian-accented english, “You are really quite handsome. Many guys don’t look like their pictures, but you look better.”
We’d been chatting and teasing each other for months, but somehow the time to meet had never been right. He’s married. His husband doesn’t know that his lover has what I assume are a profusion of playmates. He says they’re happily married, just that they don’t engage in intimate relations anymore. Or, I wanted to add, honesty. But hey, whatever works, I’m not one to judge. Or usually participate in any sort of deception… but there he was, this beautiful Indian man, almost all butt, out of which sprouted soft furry legs and arms and a mini Tom Selleck mustache and a smile that almost glowed in the dark. In short, pushing a lot of buttons.
I’m generally a very nervous person when it comes to intimate relations, preferring to engage in them only after lengthy courtship rituals and detailed examination of all previous relationship experience and film knowledge. And there I was, really enjoying getting to know this delightful man when the “Let’s get naked” comment came. I didn’t even have time to respond, he was suddenly in my bedroom, pulling items from his little bag and arranging them in a row on my nightstand: a bottle of lubricant, a single condom, a bottle of poppers (“I hope you don’t mind?”), and a small towel. He asked about my HIV status, if I was on PreP. He ripped off my clothes and glued his eyes to my central nether region, glued pretty much for the entire experience. When he asked if he could slip his prophylactic on me, I asked if he minded if I used my own, which, I didn’t say, are more comfortable and I know where they’ve been. With a sweet smile he said, “I would prefer if you would use mine, please.” I remembered a demonstration by my friend Kimberly in college, putting one over her whole head, and said with a smile “Sure!”
When kissing, he tasted of Manny, a flavor sensation from 32 years ago. I just wanted to stay there and be in that kiss, to savor the memories from that first taste of my great love, now dead for 24 years. I really didn’t have time to stay in those reveries, for my Indian had a plan, and this plan included twisting and positioning me for his maximum pleasure. I made no objection to his orchestration, I was on a roller coaster careening through an amusement park of sensation. Suddenly, immediately after his second finale, he jumped up, beamed that lovely smile at me and said “I have to get back to my dog,” threw on his clothes, packed up his items from my dresser, hugged me, and was gone.
I’m in love. At this point, it’s just the idea of love that I love, but the idea has settled with such theoretical precision on the person of one particular person that I shall momentarily give in to the rush of hormonal giddiness and dance through the fields singing, with Mitzi Gaynor’s voice, of Kansas in August, blueberry pie, and the Fourth of July.
I met him online, let’s call him Jake. He’s an artist, a filmmaker, beautiful–beautiful in the sense of coming very close to a kind of Bob Hoskins perfection: furry, stocky, but tall, handsome, a bearded and bespectacled balding Gary Cooper playing Bob Hoskins, and with a deep baritone voice accented with a slight stoner giggle. Over Burmese food we talked of the current state of queer cinema, our art, the magic of “Moonlight…” We talked of our respective commitment issues–his avoidance of anything remotely resembling commitment and my enthusiastic embrace of committing my life to an eternal single but ever elusive love. We found mutual ground by committing to spending at least the rest of the evening together and proceeded to explore the horizontal possibilities of love in the afternoon.
The right guy just doesn’t come around every day. This guy’s the right guy. Well, except in the many ways that he isn’t. We clicked so instantly and easily. Can he not see this? Or does he click like this with everybody? I can see us having fun for the rest of our lives, I see us traveling and making art together, I see our lovemaking constantly evolving and deepening, I see looking into his eyes every morning…
But, alas, I’m not for him. It’s not so much that I’m not the right one for him, he just can’t deal with the idea of only one of me, for, like Tony Soprano, he likes a nice variety of… well, now that Donald Trump has denigrated the word, I just can’t bring myself to say it. He just likes a nice variety.
I spent the last few weeks in Greece, traveling around with Stavros and his new squeeze. Big Chrissy joined us for the first week, passing a few days in Athens, visiting the Archaeological Museum, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum–musts for new visitors, and for me so nice to revisit Papposilenus, Poseidon, Hadrian and all my other guys.
We attended a staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was a joint production of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia and the National Theatre of Greece, directed by Rimas Tuminas. Greek actors performed the ancient Chorus in Greek, and Russian actors the lead parts in Russian. At the center of the stage was a single rusted steel tube, a little over a person’s height in diameter, that characters hopped onto and off of, rolling upstage and back as Oedipus hollers at Tiresias and Creon and slowly figures out that he can’t escape his fate. Jocasta was played by an actress who almost comically looked like Oedipus’ grandmother, slowly hobbling across the stage in a dynamite performance.
We visited the Panathenaic stadium, built around 330 BC for the Panathenaic games. It was rebuilt entirely of marble by Herodes Atticus in 144 AD, and much later, and after a complete restoration, in 1896 hosted the first modern international Olympics games. At one end of the field are two delightful herms, one of which is double-sided and double-genitaled, representing Apollo and Hermes. Herms were made to ward off bad energy, as markers, for good luck, etc… but I find their stripped down quality, just head and penis, incredibly entertaining–really, just forget about the rest of this guy.
We saw a really great show of sculpture by Ai WeiWei at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Installed in the neoclassical wing of the museum were meticulously hand-crafted pieces that conceptually addressed the current refugee crisis in Greece, various humanitarian crises in China, and a clever statue made in the style of an early cycladic figure dropping a vase, referring to Ai’s destruction of neolithic pottery in his earlier work. Interspersed throughout the rest of the museum were sculptures that visually blended in with the museum’s collection, handmade shards of pottery, ground neolithic pots, etc, made to look old but referencing contemporary concerns.
From Athens we drove through the Peloponnesos to Neapolis and hopped on the ferry for Kythira. Kythira is where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. There are several versions of her origins, but my favorite has her emerging from the sea foam after Cronus chopped off his dad Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea. The first thing you see on approaching the island is a shipwreck. Driving out of the port and across the barren island, it quickly becomes apparent why Aphrodite was only born here, not much to inspire procreative activity, at least on this part of Kythira. Indeed, the island’s population has dwindled from 14,500 in 1864 to about 4,000 today. In the 16th century the pirate Barbarossa invaded the island, leveled the capital, and sold the survivors into slavery. Stavros complained the whole way, “This is terrible, this tastes horrible, that’s fake.”
The scenic village of Mylopotomos once had 22 mills operating along a small stream with a charming waterfall. We hiked through the ruins of the mills, most almost completely consumed by the surrounding forest, to the seasonally dried-up waterfall and pesto pond below. We had lunch in the main square, under huge old sycamores, and then made our way to the ruins of a Venetian castle on the edge of town, and the cave of Agia Sofia with its 13th century byzantine frescoes. The current capital was founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and is crowned with a picturesque castle.
We had a fabulous dinner at Taverna Filio in Kalamos, the last customers on their last open night of the season. We ordered stuffed fried zucchini flowers, fava (puréed split peas), horta (stewed greens), lamb and potatoes, and baked eggplant, each dish so flavorful. We also had tiganopsomo, a deep fried flat bread served almost like a pizza, with toppings of cheese and tomatoes. They grow and grind their own wheat for their breads, which are proudly brought to the table fresh from the oven. The house wines are crisp and refreshing. The service is friendly and enthusiastic. All dishes are made with locally grown and sourced produce and meats.
The next day we hopped on the ferry back to Neapolis and drove to Monemvasia, a perfectly preserved byzantine gem of a city built into the side of a solid sheer rock of an island. This was my third time to visit, and my first time to stay within the castle walls. Our hotel was an outrageously fabulous restored centuries-old house, with a terrace overlooking the sea and rooftops and domes of the town. No cars are allowed within the castle walls, so you hear only the occasional donkey clomp-clomping by. It really feels like stepping back in time.
After dropping Chrissy off at the airport, Stavros and I headed to Evia, about an hour and a half drive northeast of Athens, a large island that hugs about half of the mainland’s east coast, separated from it by a narrow channel. Our first stop was Halkida (Chalcis), for a quick walk along the channel waterfront. Because of the length of the island, its proximity to the mainland, and the different flows coming into the channel from north and south, an effect called “crazy water” can be observed. Every six hours strong tidal currents reverse direction, creating strong flows of water in opposite directions. Aristotle spent his last year in Halkida and was among the first to speculate correctly about the cause of the tidal shift.
After a really nice lunch on the waterfront near Kymi, we hopped onto the ferry for Skyros island. Skyros is another of those islands not on the map for a lot of foreign travelers. Stavros and I reserved a house through AirBnB, in the village of Molos, in the shadow of the main town and close to the beach. Our hostess was the most knowledgable Skyrophile who has ever lived, having written books on the cuisine, ceramics and history of the island, the books casually scattered among our room’s furnishings. On Sunday morning, driving into town with Stavros, hours after she and her husband had taken off for church in town, we saw her sauntering back to the house, in her tight dress and high heels and perfect conch of a hairdo. To get to where she was from town, she had to have walked down through the winding streets of town–essentially down a mountain–and then several miles to where we saw her. In high heels. Not a hair out of place. I was in awe. She’s like someone Melina Mercouri would have portrayed.
The main town is perched on the slopes of a steep mountain overlooking the sea. Near the charming folk art museum, there’s a nude statue dedicated to eternal poetry and Rupert Brooke, the english poet known for his beauty and romantic war poems, serenely perched on a theatrical stage set of sea and sky. Rupert was connected to Skyros only through his death. While in the British Royal Navy, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island. He was buried in an olive grove in the otherwise rocky and barren southern part of the island.
Hiking up through town to the castle we were accosted by several sweet middle-aged women, Athenians closing up their houses for the season, one of whom invited us into her home. Eager to show us a traditional Skyrian home, she proudly pointed out her many ceramics and freshly polished copper wares, and served us mastiha, a liqueur flavored with resin of the mastic tree.
The island is shaped like a figure 8, with the northern part densely green and lush. There’s a neolithic settlement on the northern tip and several other ruins scattered here and there along the drive, reflecting the various architectural styles of Roman, Venetian, Macedonian and Byzantine civilizations.
The southern part of the island is very rocky and bare. Near the most southern point, along the main road, are rock formations–either naturally occurring or by human hand, not sure, but they’re very striking in the landscape–forming a (seemingly) natural abstract sculpture garden, with the occasional passing goat or wild pony.
There’s a pony that’s native to Skyros, brought to the island by Athenian settlers sometime between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. The ponies may have been used by Alexander in his conquests, and might be the horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The ponies are semi-wild in the southern part of the island, but many have been caught and tamed for use by farmers, ranging across the island until they are needed for the grain harvest.
Driving back to Athens, we took the longer mountainous route through the heart of Evia, a beautifully scenic drive twisting through dense forests, steep gorges, and sweet little hilltop villages. I’m back in San Francisco now, where Autumn is in full swing, a little discombobulated by how swiftly my time in Greece passed, missing those placid Greek waters, souvlaki pitas, and my dear friends…
For my new photo series, Sexting, I set out to create a project that appeals to the kind of viewer who just whizzes through the gallery and spends perhaps a few seconds looking at anything in particular, and the viewer who is engaged by conceptual complexity and really spends a lot of time looking. Hopefully something for everybody.
Sexting consists of large but extremely low-resolution enlargements of graphic images shared over the internet through the course of my recent dating experiences.
From a distance, it’s almost possible to make out what’s being described, but as the viewer is drawn closer, the images fall apart into pixelated near-abstract grids of colored squares. The titles titillate: “Rob in His Bath;” “A Little More of Me;” “Tented Speedos;” etc… but like the process of seeking intimacy on the internet, the viewer’s titillation is ultimately frustrated by the experience of trying to give form to one’s imagination.
You can see documentation of the show here.
Oh good lord, how did I get to be 50? And balding and gray? Bob would make we laugh when he’d say that in his 20s he thought people over 50 never changed clothes. And now, here I am, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, genuinely puzzled about how I got here so fast and really not looking forward to colonoscopies and erectile disfunction.
For my birthday weekend in November I took my bears to the Russian River to celebrate my impending decrepitude with lots of great food, wine tasting, romps through the redwood forest and saunters along the Sonoma Coast. At Dick Blomsters in Guerneville, while savoring the last remnants of Korean Fried Crack on my fingers, our jolly waitress dragged everyone from the bar next door to sing happy birthday to me, a drunken “Happy BIIIIIRTH-daay dear in-dis-tiiiinguishable slurred naaa-aame, HAAAA-py biiirth-day toooo youuuuuuu.”
Back in town, I arranged for my annual physical with a new doctor, as my old one was not available, out of town indefinitely to take care of his ailing mom. When the bushy-bearded bear porn star doctor stepped into the examination room, I audibly gasped. This vision from the depths of my fantasy life was going to examine my prostate? I blushed and giggled through the exam like a little girl, and upon leaving nervously knocked over a file of papers and, both of us reaching down to collect the scattered documents, bumped heads with his and looked deep into his beady brown eyes as we both stood up, rubbing our heads amidst more of my nervous giggling. On returning home, and on a hunch, I checked GROWLr and there he was, shirtless, shamelessly furry, his head on a pillow, waiting to take me in his arms, my Doctor of Love… I momentarily breached doctor/patient protocol and sent him an innocuous text message that said “Hey, you look familiar (winking smiley emoticon)” He replied with a smiley face emoticon. But why couldn’t I have left it at that? I won’t tell you what I texted next, but like a true professional or someone realizing his patient may be a stalker… he responded with silence.
Since then I’ve dated a little, and there’s a new Greek on the horizon, and an Italian, as well as a dashing attorney in the picture, and the eternally out-of-reach Mr. Darcy seems to be single again, and that sexy Republican pops in and out of town every so often, but generally I remain in relationship limbo. Which I didn’t want to be going into my 50s, remember? But actually, it’s sort of hard to find a 50ish year old husband. First of all, and if he even lives in the same hemisphere, he’s single for a reason, and usually it spells trouble, like he’s never been in a relationship, or, like me, he’s been single for so long that any real person must compete with the fantasy man that he’s spent the last decade constructing. And then there’s all that logistical mess, like moving, not pooping alone anymore, his clothes on the floor, and he’s going to break my 100 year old morning tea mug I know.
The swinging bachelor of the 1970’s always ended up a kind of sad figure–alone with his gold necklaces, Mennen Dry look and tuft of chest hair. I would be more than happy to end up with that guy, but I really don’t want to end up being him.
I’ve been back in San Francisco a little over a week now, walking the dogs, meeting a few new dating prospects, getting caught up with my work, listening to Lana del Rey’s depressing new album and Rodriguez’s sublime Cold Fact from 1970, but my thoughts return to my final days last week in Greece, traveling through Elis and Arcadia. I believed myself very near heaven during those languid days in [Dimitsana]…
Our trip began in Olympia, where the original Olympic games were held every 4 years from the 8th century BC to the 4th AD. In the Temple of Zeus was a 43 foot tall statue of the seated god, made of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, the work of the sculptor Phidias, who also designed the 40 foot statue of Athena in the Parthenon. His statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, vanished completely in the 5th century, now in some Bond villain’s subterranean retreat somewhere.
Olympia itself completely disappeared for about 1,000 years. After a series of earthquakes, Theodosius II enforced a ban on pagan festivals and destroyed the temple. Then came plague, more earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, so that by the 7th century the entire site was abandoned and eventually completely buried.
The artifacts on display in the Olympia Archaeological Museum form one of the world’s greatest collections of art from antiquity. The friezes from the two pediments of the Temple of Zeus, created during the first half of the 5th century BC, are displayed in the central gallery, facing each other across the vast room, and surrounded by metopes depicting the labors of Hercules, as well as lion-headed water spouts from the temple.
The eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos. Pelops, after whom the Peloponnese is named, and the mythical founder of the Olympic games, wanted to marry the daughter of King Oinomaos, but to win her hand he had to beat his future father-in-law in a chariot race. Oinomaos had killed the previous 18 suitors after defeating them, fearful of a prophecy that he would be killed by his son-in-law. Pelops went to the sea and appealed to his former lover, Poseidon, reminding him of “Aphrodite’s sweet gifts” that they once shared, so Poseidon gave him a chariot drawn by winged horses. After winning the race–and of course, as prophesied, Oinomaos was thrown from his chariot and dragged to death by his horses–Pelops staged chariot races to thank the gods and as funeral races in honor of his slain father-in-law. From these games the Olympics were born.
The frieze from the western pediment lively illustrates the abduction of the Lapith women by Centaurs at the wedding at Pirithous and Hippodamia, hooves and arms and legs and breasts entwined in a tour de force of sculptural narrative. The centaurs were invited to the wedding, but not used to wine, tried to rape the bride and carry off all the women and boys. The battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs is referred to many times in Greek art, metaphorically referring to the conflicts between Greeks and barbarians, or wild nature in conflict with civilized behavior.
Viewed from the large central room is the Nike of Paeonius, from 420 BC, dramatically installed in a room of blue walls, the blue of heaven, the Nike descending triumphantly from Mount Olympus.
Nearby is a delightful terra-cotta sculpture of Zeus carrying off the young Ganymede, from about 480 BC. Zeus strides confidently forward, a satisfied smile on his face, little Ganymede tucked under his arms holding a hen, a common gift at the time associated with pederasty. Actually, Ganymede’s arm sort of disappears behind the hen down into the front of Zeus’ tunic, perhaps the source of Zeus’ bemusement.
And then you turn the corner and there’s Hermes in all his polished contrapposto exquisiteness, the infant Dionysos perched on one of his arms, reaching playfully for a missing cluster of grapes dangling from Hermes’ missing other hand. My lips trembled and a single tear rolled down my cheek. The museum attributes the work to Praxiteles, created around the mid 4th century BC. The attribution is based on a remark by Pausanias two centuries later, but it was found exactly where he described seeing it, and the museum accepts it as the only original extant work by the master sculptor.
That night, after driving through scenic little village after scenic little village, we stayed in Dimitsana, a scenic little village of stone built on the side of a mountain overlooking the plain of Megalopolis. The next day we visited the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Podromos, dangling precipitously from cliffs, then on to the paltry ruins of ancient Gortys, the Byzantine bridge at Karytaina, and finally the Temple of Epicurean Zeus.
The temple was built about 450-400 BC, set atop Mt. Kotylion at 1,130 meters and has been under a big white tent for the past few decades while being restored. It was designed by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon, and contains examples of all three of the classical orders used in ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The single Corinthian column at the far end of the naos is believed to be the first use of the Corinthian order. The massive limestone columns of the temple feel both heavy and light, porous, as if they’re about to crumble at any minute. The exterior was minimally decorated, but the interior had a continuous frieze depicting Greeks in battle with Amazons, and Lapiths trying to save their women from those Centaurs again. The frieze metopes were removed by the British in 1815 and are now in the British Museum, displayed near the other Greek cultural treasures plundered by the British in the tumultuous years of Ottoman rule.
And so my summer closes, suddenly single again, but ready for love, adventure and my impending fifties, due to arrive next month.
Stavros, Dean & Mike, and I spent a few days on Tinos last week, one of the larger islands in the Cyclades. Tinos isn’t on the radar for many non-Greeks, and perhaps because of this, the island feels somehow less corrupted by tourism. The Venetians controlled it until 1715, long after the rest of Greece had fallen to the Turks, and a legacy of the long Venetian presence is a mixed Catholic/Greek Orthodox population and elaborately designed dovecotes that dot the entire island. There’s a thriving marble folk art industry. Every door and window on the island has a carved marble transom, each house incorporating some marble decoration or detail.
Most people make the pilgrimage to Tinos to visit the church of the Panagia Evangelistria, or Our Lady of Tinos. It was built on the spot where a miraculous icon with healing powers, thought to have been made by Luke the evangelist, was found in 1823. A few years earlier, Our Lady appeared to an elderly gentleman, telling him to wake up and dig up the icon. He told a local priest of his vision, but they both agreed that it may have been the devil in disguise, so best to proceed with caution. Mary kept appealing to this guy, disrupting his sleep to no avail. She finally moved on to a local nun who was a little more receptive to her directives, and bingo, she led some guys with shovels right to it. The icon was found the day after the creation of the modern Greek state, so Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the emerging Greek nation, and the construction of the church was its first large architectural project.
On the feast day of the Dormition of the Virgin (August 15), penitents crawl from the port up the hill to the church on their hands and knees as a sign of devotion, many seeking to be healed in some way. There are carpeted crawl-ways leading up the hill, and, at the top, a ghoulish statue of a crawling believer with outstretched arm and no face. It really freaked me out, the statue, reminding me of the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who finally spooked Ebenezer Scrooge into buying that Christmas goose and new legs for Tiny Tim. The icon is displayed in the church under a mound of glittering jewels. I stood in line to photograph it, everyone in front of me kissing it and praying feverishly, but when I finally got there, I just sort of stared at it, not really able to comprehend what I was looking at, a mound of shiny baubles under glass. Beyond the reproduction icons and plastic holy-water bottles of the main town, ah, the magic begins. Great food, villages unspoiled by time, dramatic landscapes, fantastic beaches, charming little museums, and people living off of and sharing the bounty of the rugged landscape.
We stayed in an apartment overlooking the bronze-age acropolis of Vryokastro. Starvos and I ascended to the top of the acropolis early one morning, to see the sunrise, and got in the way of a humpy hunter chasing a cute little bunny, who seemed annoyed to see us in what was clearly his domain, shotgun shells strewn here and there along the path, his hounds barking and howling, just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I like to think that we saved a bunny that day.
In Kambos is a museum devoted to the work of Costas Tsoclis, an artist who creates paintings and sculptures saturated in antiquity and nostalgia, and that often extend beyond their frames. Outside he’s created a fabulous and whimsical large-scale semi-abstract depiction of St. George slaying the dragon. Inside are several room-sized painting installations. The museum is so well designed, that even the bathroom window frames a poetic installation, a single cross leaning against a corner of the empty back courtyard, blue skies and a single cloud above. The only restaurant in town was run by a man named Stefanos, an older gentleman with a wide and toothless smile, who served up cuisine of ingredients entirely home grown, including these fantastic fried wild herb “horta” balls. We ate at his son’s restaurant in the main town a few nights later, and it was just as delicious.
Driving north across the center of the island, we turned a corner and suddenly it seemed like we were on the moon. For as far as we could see, the entire landscape was filled with giant boulders, as if someone dumped a bag of giant rocks everywhere. In the center of this tremendous cyclopean rock-scape was a quaint village, Volax, with all of its houses built into, onto or around these massive stones. An artist covered the doors of vacant houses with handwritten transcriptions of various Greek poems, giving literal dimension to the weirdly poetic experience of the village.
I climbed Mt. Exobourgo one day, site of a crumbling Venetian fortress, the administrative center of the island from the 13th to 18th centuries, while Stavros slept in the car. Standing for 500 years or so, the fortress and town inside were dismantled by the Turks in 3 days.
Pyrgos, on the north central side of the island, is one of the island’s largest villages, with several museums devoted to marble art and production. The houses and streets seem to be interconnected physically and visually, as if carved from a single block of marble. There are so many villages to tell you about, each with its own unique character, charm, and history, but enough already.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Stavros and I had decided the week before departing for Tinos to be just friends. Once on Tinos, we further decided to start seeing other people by seeing the same guy, and at the same time. His name means “sugar” in Greek, and he is as sweet as they come, a sort of furry Greek Mighty Mouse: short, muscular, carpeted in fine hairs, laughing and smiling. He’s married, to a woman, and has children, but he eagerly jumped into our four arms. He was tender, passionate, and talked to us for hours, so free with the details of his life on the island. I remember looking at Stavros across our Mighty Mouse sandwich and seeing someone different, someone I hadn’t seen before, my boyfriend being passionately engaged by someone else. I felt for a moment as if I were an intruder, but then Stavros looked into my eyes, kissed me, and suddenly I felt like we were celebrating not the end of something, but a new beginning. Remember Audrey Hepburn at the end of Roman Holiday, returning to her duties as a princess? On the plane now back to my life in San Francisco without Stavros, invoking Audrey when asked about my favorite island, I say “Tinos,” Tinos without hesitation, glassy-eyed and with memories that I’ll cherish forever.
The boys, Stavros, and I took a little day trip to Marathonas last week, just a little northeast of Athens. It was here in 490 BC that the Persians were crushed by a considerably smaller contingent of clever Athenians. In a pivotal moment in European history, the victory proved that the young democracy could appoint the kind of political and military leadership necessary to repel such an ambitious empire while at the same time avoiding a return to tyranny, leading to the eventual rise of Classical Greek civilization and its continuing influence today.
Near the site of the battle, in Nea Makri, are the remains of a sanctuary and bath complex dedicated to the worship of Isis and other Egyptian/Hellenic gods. It was built around 160 AD by Herodes Atticus, the Roman consul of Athens and buddy of the Roman emperor and total heartthrob Hadrian. As far as I know, it’s the only such complex found in Greece. Herodes was inspired by a similar complex that Hadrian built at his villa in Tivoli, in turn modeled after an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus on the Nile Delta.
On the site are replicas of the statues found there. The originals are located in the Archaeological Museum of Marathonas, a wonderful little museum nearby, which also includes finds from the area going back to 4,000 BC. The statues combine characteristics of Egyptian and Greek goddesses, and, as if designed for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are very theatrical and seem oddly not of their time. One statue holds in her hands three small roses, symbols of both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite. Another Egyptian-looking goddess holds a sheaf of wheat, symbol of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, closely tied to the change of seasons.
A few days earlier, at the Museo Archaeologico in Athens, I had seen a statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, as an Egyptian god. Antinous was associated with Osiris after he mysteriously drowned in the Nile and was deified by Hadrian. The wall label indicated that the statue was found in Marathonas, so I’m assuming it was part of the temple complex there. But Antinous was pretty much everywhere during that time. The sad obsessed Hadrian not only declared him a god after his death and commissioned thousands of humpy statues of his likeness, he also built a city on the site of his death, Antinopolis. He also identified a star in the sky as Antinous, a rosy lotus that grew along the Nile as the Antinous flower, and proposed a new constellation of Antinous being carried to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila. Remember Ganymede was swept up to Olympus by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to be the gods’ cupbearer).
Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.
I have such a crush on Hadrian. First of all he’s exactly my type with his big face and wavy hair and beard. Secondly he turns his boyfriends into gods. He wrote an autobiography, unfortunately lost, that I am hoping turns up someday.
But anyway, back to the little Archaeological Museum of Marathonas… in addition to the Egyptian-Hellenic god statues, there are many interesting grave stele and funeral monuments, including a herm unusual for having a penis and not a head. I’ve often wondered if one day archaeologists will find a hidden room somewhere filled with all the gentle-talia that have been hacked off of old statuary. I can imagine some modern-day Shemp opening the door and all the marbles spilling out around him in a river of white willies.