|Me at the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis|
BY GAYLE LYNDS … What do you do when your life has a big hole in it? If you’re me and have a daughter with a silver tongue, you take a vacation.
Please understand that I don’t take vacations. I don’t like them. They bore me. My only trips back in those days were to gatherings of authors and readers. Book tours. Conventions. Research. You get the idea.
But then in 2005 my husband died. He was Edgar-winning author Dennis Lynds. We’d raised our children together, wrote novels side-by-side, lived in each other’s pockets through the thick and thin of life and publishing. With his death, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Enter Julia, my daughter. “You need to go to Greece. We’ll go together. Get your passport updated.”
As you can tell, Julia is a force. Besides, I was in a weakened state. Dare I say she might be right? I bought flight tickets.
With this blog, I begin the next series of Rogue Women posts – “A Vacation that Changed Me.” You won’t want to miss these insightful stories. To get your personal subscription to our blog, just click here.
Flying into Athens International was like landing on another planet – not only a strange language, but a strange alphabet, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. It was March 2006. Julia was young and energetic; I was feeling old and tired. She found the puddle-jumper that would fly us into Mykonos.
After sailing through a radiant blue sky above a turquoise Aegean Sea, we landed on magical Mykonos, born of the petrified bodies of giants. Really. Hercules killed them. The landscape was dry as bones. Considering the island’s origins, it wasn’t unexpected.
|The magical island of Mykonos|
What is it about impossible terrains? They either conquer us, or we nestle in and find the beauty.
That’s what Mykonos turned out to be. White-washed houses with gemlike blue shutters dotted the brown hills. In the town of Mykonos, the shops, churches, and houses were also white-washed, so clean my grandmother would’ve let me eat off the stoops. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder with hardly a breath between, like close family members.
We rented a motor scooter, and Julia drove us up into the hills on winding dirt roads as narrow as ribbons. We passed goats, family chapels, horses, scrub, and wild flowers. The vistas were panoramic. The island’s peace began to seep into my soul.
We returned to our hotel, which clung like an act of faith to the side of a steep, rocky incline, and checked our email (well, some things never change). Julia spotted a sweet young cat on a rescue website who needed to be adopted. I fell asleep in my clothes.
The next day we flew back to chaotic Athens International. The constant hubbub was starting to seem almost rational. Still, I was grateful that Julia took charge, found us a real taxi, and we were off in a blaze of contrails.
Where Mykonos radiates peace, Athens thrums with motor noise, sirens, screeching tires, shouted voices. And those are the quiet moments. Still, there was something wonderfully invigorating about the place, of people fully alive with dreams for the future and
every intention of achieving them.
|The Hotel Grande Bretagne|
We stayed at one of the world’s great hostelries, the Hotel Grande Bretagne, located next to the parliament building on spacious Syntagma Square in the heart of the city. Revolutions were plotted here.
The Nazis made the hotel their Greek HQ during World War II. And today it’s the embodiment of modern luxury. Want a eucalyptus-scented shower? Hand-painted wallpaper? Pillows filled with the down of angel geese? (I’m kidding about the last, but you get the point.)
We walked everywhere. We loved the Parthenon, where ancient history seemed to ooze from both towering granite columns and fallen stones. Then there was Mount Lycabettus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the ancient Agora marketplace. We investigated hidden byways and got lost several times.
And while we walked and talked and soaked in the grandeur that once was, I changed. Dennis had been terribly ill for a long time, and I began to accept his death. What were our lives after all compared to the thousands of years of history that our world embodied?
And finally I felt an obligation to live now, in this moment. What was important to me?, I wondered.
Before we left Athens, Julia made arrangements to adopt the foundling kitty on the rescue website, and I realized what I’d thought was a vacation had really been research for a new novel I all of a sudden wanted to write. I would set scenes in some of my favorite places in Athens, and I’d create an island like Mykonos. I even had a title – The Book of Spies.
All of that was ten years ago. Since then, Julia has acquired two kitties, married, and had a child of her own while continuing her career in New York. She’s an amazing human being and daughter, and I’m forever grateful to her. I’ve moved from California to Maine to marry another wonderful man who makes my heart sing. Oh, and I still write novels. That’s a big part of who I am. Please drop by my website and say hello.
What’s your favorite vacation?
What a beautiful story. Now I want to see Greece. And how fascinating to know that Mykonos was the inspiration for the beautiful island in Book of Spies.
Never been to Greece and always wanted to go. I imagine the perspective of history is life changing, but the trip also sounds poignant. Thanks for posting this!
Isn't it strange that we sometimes have to go away to find ourselves…but then, it can be so easy to immerse in work at home and never pick our heads up.
Thanks for your tour of Greece. It makes me want to go back. I might have written about the food–oh, dear God, the food in Athens, or those caryatids who carry temples on their heads, our our insanely passionate Greek guide, or the cast of characters on the tour bus, who immediately suggested a novel.
Happy to read you found love again, even if it does mean freezing your a#$s off in Maine winters. And that you have that forceful daughter.
Thanks, S. Lee, Jamie, and Kate … it was a good trip in all ways, and you're right about the stunning food, Kate. The ages renewed me. 🙂
How redemptive, Gayle. And inspiring. I've never been to Greece, and it remains at the top of my bucket list, along with the Greek sites along the Adriatic coast of Turkey.
And consider that our children are perhaps the last, best gift of our partners when they leave us–
I love your story, Gayle — and I have to say, Julia sounds like an amazing young woman who could sense exactly what you needed (and she) at the time! The trip sounded amazing – and "The Book of Spies" was an amazing novel as well!
Gayle, it's lines like these that captivate my heart:
Julia drove us up into the hills on winding dirt roads as narrow as ribbons.
We returned to our hotel, which clung like an act of faith to the side of a steep, rocky incline…
Your prose is beautiful! As are the pictures you've included. I'm adding Mykonos to my bucket list!
Thank you, Francine, Karna, & Sonja. Your comments are wonderful, and I appreciate them. It was all so long ago now, but writing this little essay brought it all back to me. I want to go back to Greece, too!
I'll chime in, too, with Greece on the bucket list. My granddaughter wanted me to take her there when she was thirteen and totally hooked on the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I wanted to go because of the white-washed buildings, blue shutters and roofs and the incredibly beautiful beaches.
Isn't it funny how many trips–whether for fun or a non-writing related reason–end up a jumping off place for the research. I didn't intend it to be so when I went to Israel those many years ago, but DARK WATERS came home with me.
Thank you for sharing this story.
I love your description of Greece, Chris. You caught many of the high points, and yes … we're writers, and therefore we are inveterate researchers whether Greece, Israel, or the human heart.
What a lovely post, Gayle. Absolutely wonderful to read of your daughter's love and support while you were healing from the loss of Dennis, and your awakening to the beauty of Greece and love after loss.
What a lovely post. How deeply moving to have found your route back to you–and in Greece, no less!
Travel is so important to a writer–stepping out of your comfort zone to experience fresh terrain can certainly jump start creativity. It's my favorite way to reboot–I always seem to come away with the idea for a novel after a trip, and find a deeper appreciation for home as well.
Gayle, I couldn't imagine a better introduction to vacations that change our lives than your personal journey. I'm very sorry for your loss, and I'm so grateful you found John. You deserve happiness and love.
I thoroughly enjoyed your descriptions of Greece, as it is a special place for me as well. I set part of THE FREEDOM BROKER in Santorini and Athens, as I was also deeply affected by the beauty and history of this gorgeous country. Thanks for sharing.