Previewing The 2012 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference

Every year peoples’ lives are changed utterly by the Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. I know because they tell me. Every year I get a dozen emails from people who say their careers have taken off, or they’ve been inspired to travel around the world, or they’ve gotten a photo or a story published, or they’ve landed a magazine assignment or a book contract because of something they learned, someone they met, some connection they made, at Book Passage.

As co-founder and chairman of the conference, I leap – well, my heart leaps – when I get these emails. Because that’s why Book Passage owner Elaine Petrocelli and I founded this conference 21 summers ago: to share our passion for great travel writing and photography, to inspire people by presenting the very best practitioners of these crafts, and to change peoples’ lives.

It’s astonishing to me that the conference is once again right around the corner: This year the dates are Aug. 9-12. The location is the same as always, Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA, about 15 minutes north of San Francisco. And there are still spaces open for participants.

Who will be there this year? I’m tremendously excited that the great Susan Orlean will be gracing the conference, along with award-winning actor-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy, bestselling Wall Street Journal veteran Julia Flynn Siler, and travel icon Pauline Frommer. Among the stellar faculty will be photographers Robert Holmes and Andrea Johnson, writers David Farley, Pam Mandel and Chris Gray Faust, and editors Julia Cosgrove of Afar, Loren Mooney of Sunset, Jim Benning of WorldHum, Spud Hilton of the San Francisco Chronicle, David Lytle of Frommers.com, Robert Reid of Lonely Planet, and Larry Habegger of Travelers Tales – and rumor has it that Gadling editor in chief Grant Martin is flying in for a special appearance as well. You can find a full list of the faculty here.

What’s the conference like? It’s a four-day fest of morning workshops, afternoon panels, and evening readings and on-stage conversations, of passion and expertise leavened with a big helping of laidback camaraderie (and spiced with a dash of karaoke), where just about everyone mingles easily and learning happens in myriad planned and unplanned ways. For me, it’s like summer camp for travel writers and photographers. But to give you a better idea, I’ll just direct you to Lavinia Spalding’s wonderful write-up after last year’s conference. To my mind, she captures the spirit of this singular, soaring celebration that has truly become one of the highlights of my year.

If you have any questions about the conference, I’d be very happy to answer them. And if you love travel writing and photography, I hope to see you there!

To get more information and to register for the conference, click here.

[Flickr image via Stephanie O]

Paradise Regained: Revisiting La Colombe d’Or In St.-Paul-de-Vence, France

June 28, 2012; at La Colombe d’Or, St.-Paul-de-Vence:

Conjunction of memory and moment: Nineteen summers ago I sat in this limestone-terraced restaurant in the medieval marvel of St.-Paul-de-Vence, experiencing a time-stopping, life-enlarging afternoon that has become iconic for me. Now I am back, my journal opened to a page as white as the brilliant sunlight that splashes over everything here, and then to a much earlier page, all blue scribbles and a fading blush of Provencal wine.

I am ensconced under a white parasol at a red bouquet-brightened table, looking out on a somnolent scene of green hills and straw-colored houses with terra-cotta roofs.

I have just finished a truffle salad – so redolent I felt transported before taking even a bite – and now I’m sipping a chilled vin rosé, eating buttery bites of crusty-tender baguette, and sliding ineluctably into heaven once again.

I feel like I’m in a Matisse canvas – bright white flagstones and sun umbrellas, green hills, red roofs, blue sea and sky. Then the sun dapples and it’s an Impressionist scene, a Renoir moment as the maitre d’ ceremoniously ushers diners to their tables and they exclaim at seeing old friends – “You’re here! Yes, you too!” – kiss-kiss, take their seats, and sigh. The rosé flows, and time slows.

The waiter appears and – just as nineteen years before – places before me with a flourish an artful platter of grilled sea bream, dauraude royale.

Bon appétit, monsieur,” he kindly purrs, and pours some more wine.

Around me is a symphony of sounds: the clink of silverware on china, the splash of wine into glasses, the mellifluous laughter and multilingual chatter of diners in summery clothes.

An American family of three sits at the table in front of me, and I lean forward to recommend the truffle salad. They are from Napa Valley, it turns out, an hour’s drive from my home, and we exclaim at the wonder of meeting people so close so far away – and the sheer joy of sharing such a singular place on such a singular day.

The family to my left joins the conversation. They are from Newport Beach, in southern California, and have made the pilgrimage here from a cruise ship docked in Monaco for the day. Soon a woman appears at my shoulder, smiling. “Ojai,” she says, and then from the table behind me, a voice trills, “San Francisco!”We are all caught up in a buoyant bubble of bonté and bonhomie – a celebration of life’s bounty and of our own good fortune to be sharing it on this sun-dappled summer terrace in the middle of one of the most blessed places on Earth.

I take another sip of rosé, savor the perfect daurade with green beans and watch the choreography unfold – a ballet of white-shirted waiters bearing bottles and platters, the maitre d’ surveying the scene, calls for flutes of Champagne here, moans over delicate bowls of luscious red framboises there, kiss-kiss and sit and sigh.

To my right is a vibrant Leger mural, wrought into a section of the terrace’s streetside wall. And as I have just reaffirmed on a rambling restroom detour, the rustic interior rooms here still house an astonishment of modern masterpieces – canvases by Picasso, Dubuffet, Dufy, Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, and Matisse, among many others, all given by the artists when they were still struggling unknowns to the generous and perspicacious owner, the late Paul Roux, in lieu of payment.

This place is an enchanted little world, I think – reluctant to take fork to fish, reluctant even to move, wanting to hold and savor this moment forever.

Awaiting me, I know, is a medieval meander through the cobbled alleys of St.-Paul; an espresso at the Cafe de la Place, where I will watch local gentlemen enact their afternoon rite of pétanque; and then a serene stop at the exquisite Chapelle Folon, which had not even existed nineteen summers before.

Some things change, and some things stay the same.

But for now the world is wondrously reduced to this: the sunlight catching in the canopy of branches above and blessing the hills beyond, the murmuring music of the diners behind me, the perfume of the flowers mingling with the scents of the chef’s seasonings, the exuberant atmosphere of artwork all around, the cobbled stones beneath me, the fish and bread before me, the wine as red as the flowers, the tablecloth as white as the parasol; an ineffable moment of ease and artfulness, a soul-fulfilling scene of life lived to the full.

The platter of now absent daurade has been whisked away and replaced with an ebullient bowl of fulsome framboises. Slowly, dreamily, the California fan club rises, smiles, waves, exchanges cards, prepares to go their own way – and the afternoon shimmers and sighs, as ephemeral and endless as this last glass of rosé I raise in my hand, in toast to the marriage of memory and moment in this blessed land.

Encountering Monet At The Musee d’Orsay

Reading Gadling’s marvelous Museum Month posts has reminded me of a trip I made two decades ago to Paris. I had fallen in love with that exhilarating city in the mid-1970s, when I lived there for two successive summers, first after my junior year in college and then after graduation. I returned in 1988 to celebrate the city, and as part of that celebration, I wanted to write an essay about the poignancy and power of the artworks I had discovered at the Louvre, the Musee Rodin, the Musee de Cluny, the Petit Palais, the Musee d’Orsay, and many other museums and galleries.

First I thought I would write about all the showplaces for art that I liked in Paris, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t possibly do justice to so many places in a compact piece. I had to focus. I considered describing my favorite three museums, then just one museum, then three rooms in that museum, then three favorite pieces of art there. But though I narrowed my focus more and more, every one of these subjects still seemed too broad.

Finally I decided to focus on one painting in one museum, my favorite painting in all of Paris. I installed myself near that painting for about an hour, and scribbled in my journal. I have that journal before me now. Here’s what I wrote.I have been looking at Monet’s “Les coquelicots,” the painting of two women and children walking through a field of bright red poppies on a sunny, cloud-dappled day, for about 40 minutes. It moves me just as profoundly now as it did when I was last in Paris 12 years ago; it still tugs deep within me, cuts through all the layers to something fresh and fundamental and childlike.

At first I stared at it closely, my nose within a foot of the canvas, so close that I could see the black-dot eyes of the child in the foreground – something I had never seen before, or at least never remembered seeing.

Get that close and you reduce the painting to its elements: layers of oil paint on canvas, brush strokes, dabs, tiny tip-tips with the brush. You realize just how fragile a thing a painting is, and just how common. And you realize too that it was made by a man – fragile, common – who stood at the canvas and thought: “a little more red here,” dab, dab; “a cloud there,” push, push; “how can I capture that light?”

Look at the painting closely this way for a few minutes and you break it down into an intricate complexity of colors and textures and forms.

Then step back and – voila! – all of a sudden it is a composed whole, a painting: a cloud-bright sky and poppy-bright field, a woman with a fancy hat and a parasol and a child almost hidden by the tall grasses in the foreground, and in the background another woman and a child almost obscured against a distant stand of trees. They are on a walk, or a picnic – a story begins to compose itself, to take on a life inside and outside the canvas.

And you realize that this is a kind of miracle, that colors and shapes dabbed on a piece of cloth 115 years ago have somehow reached across time and culture to touch you.

Look long enough and feel deeply enough, and your eyes fill with tears.

And when you feel these wet, cool, unexpected tears, you look around you suddenly as if waking from a dream, and see men and women in shorts, blue jeans, dresses and sportcoats, holding guidebooks and pointing at the canvas and sighing, or whispering in passionate appreciation.

You feel strangely displaced – for a moment it was your painting, or rather, you were a part of it, and now you are outside it again – but then you think, “This too is part of the miracle, that one painting can touch so many people.”

You think of art’s extraordinary power, that a scattering of people and poppies in a field can push age, despair, fatigue and cynicism away, can focus you so intensely on this time, this place; that time, that place.
You stand close to the canvas again and see the complexity of colors – the fields all gray, brown, green, yellow-green; the poppies red and pink; the sky a mixture of light and dark blues; the clouds gray, purple, white.

You see that the forms are simple: a gently rolling landscape; smoothly, sparingly suggested people. And that the child in the foreground holds flowers that are almost the same color as the band in his (her?) hat.
You step back one last time and see peace, lightness, a sense of infinite wonder and potential, a childlike purity.

And when you return to the luminous streets you know you will hold that vision in your head, like a handful of flowers on a country-bright day.

You know that you have returned to Paris. You know that, deep inside, you were never away.

[flickr image via biscarotte]

Love Among the Ruins: Once Upon A Spring In Greece

I was sifting through the multiple layers of my travel journals, letters, and photos this past weekend when, like an archaeologist happening upon delicate shards of Hellenic pottery, I discovered these handwritten notes on fraying sheets of lined, curling notebook paper. I don’t remember exactly when I wrote these words, but they vividly brought back the long-ago springtime they describe, the end of a year when I was living on a teaching fellowship in Athens, fresh out of college, trying to chart the course of my life’s path. And especially they conjured the woman whose memory remains a precious shard of Attic magic among the runes and ruins of my life.

It happens at some point every spring: I will be driving innocently along some rural route, and suddenly a certain slant of sunlight will recall the way the light filtered through the pine trees along the road that wound up the coast from Athens to the little taverna no one seemed to know about — no one except Gisela, the beautiful and mysterious woman with whom I had fallen ineluctably in love that spring of 1976.

We would install ourselves in peeling white wooden chairs around a stolid wooden table on the beach, under the pines, and the kindly taverna owner would bring us huge chunks of hard, delicious bread, a salad of feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and black olives, and glasses of retsina.

We would eat and sip, but mostly we would watch the shimmering sea and listen to the sighing pines, censing the air with their tangy perfume.

I re-create this scene, and suddenly that whole mind-opening, life-transforming Grecian year revives in a sun-flooded succession of images:

I recall the breath-stopping, time-skipping beauty of just-blossomed scarlet poppies against white marble ruins at Olympia.

I recall the Peloponnese mountain family who insisted on sharing their meager Easter feast with my parents and me.

I recall the ethereal geometry and bony patina of the Acropolis at dawn, before the tourists arrived; and the soul-stirring rite of reading Plato, Socrates and Aristotle as Apollo’s first rays illumined the site.

I recall unfathomable connections on the island of Crete — the magical frescoes and sere splendors of Knossos, and the painter from Chania who showed me the island’s harbors and meadows, churches and town squares through his eyes.

I recall the craggy monasteries and worldly monks of sacred Mount Athos, and the sensual abandon of the long, embracing beach at Lindos, on Rhodes, where I communed for a week with a ragtag band of European pilgrims who were all seeking some sort of Aegean answer.Aegean answers: Hungrily, hesitantly, I would unfold for Gisela my despairs and my dreams, but mostly I would talk about Greece: about the clarity of the rock and the light and how it was teaching me to attend to the present; about the earthy kindness I had encountered everywhere; about the sheer age of the sites and the accumulation of wisdom and sadness and celebration that seemed to hang, poignant, in the Attic air.

Summer came and I left — for Africa and then graduate school, a long, winding road. I never wrote to her, never heard from her.

Now, half of my life later, I wonder: Do we craft our memories, or do our memories craft us?

Now, half of my life later, I know: I went to Greece seeking the roots of Western civilization, and returned with a rootlessness I have never lost.

And every spring the owner shuffles toward us, bearing a laden tray. The sea shimmers. The pines cense and sigh.

The Attic sunlight gleams again in Gisela’s laughing eyes.

[flickr image via steve.wilde]

Delos Diary

As reported earlier this week on Gadling, the Greek government recently announced that it has earmarked $2 million for the restoration of an ancient theater on the sacred island of Delos. That welcome announcement — some rare good news emanating from that beleaguered country I love — had special import for me, because one of the magical experiences of my early traveling life took place on Delos. Reading about the theater and the history of the island re-immersed me in that singular memory — and inspired me to hunt through my journals and scrapbooks for an account I wrote shortly after my visit more than three decades ago. I offer it here not as a guidebook to the current conditions of the place — I’ve never returned — but rather as a snapshot of its spirit, and a celebration of the serendipitous bonds that travel can sometimes bestow.

***

There are no tavernas, no discotheques, no pleasure boats at anchor; nor are there churches, windmills or goatherds. Delos, three miles long and less than one mile wide, is a parched, rocky island of ruins, only 14 miles from Mykonos, Aegean playground of the international vagabonderie. Once the center of the Panhellenic world, Delos has been uninhabited since the first century A.D., fulfilling a proclamation of the Delphic oracle that “no man or woman shall give birth, fall sick or meet death on the sacred island.”

I chanced on Delos during my first visit to Greece. After three harrowing days of seeing Athens by foot, bus and taxi, my traveling companion and I were ready for open seas and uncrowded beaches. We selected Mykonos on the recommendation of a friend, who suggested that when we tired of the beautiful people, we should take a side trip to Delos.

On arriving in Mykonos, we learned that for under $3 we could catch a fishing trawler to Delos (where the harbor is too shallow for cruise ships) any morning at 8 a.m. and return to Mykonos at 1 p.m. the same afternoon. On the morning of our fourth day, we braved choppy seas and ominous clouds to board a rusty, peeling boat that reeked of fish. With a dozen other tourists, we packed ourselves into the ship’s tiny cabin, already crowded with anchors, ropes and wooden crates bearing unknown cargo.At some point during the 45-minute voyage, the toss and turn of the waves became too much for a few of the passengers, and I moved outside into the stinging, salty spray. As we made our way past Renea, the callus-like volcanic island that forms part of the natural breakwater with Delos, the clouds cleared and the fishermen who had docked their caiques at the Delos jetty greeted us in bright sunlight.

At the end of the dock a white-whiskered man in a navy blue beret and a faded black suit hailed each one of us as we walked by: “Tour of Delos! Informative guide to the ruins.” A few yards beyond him a young boy ran up to us, all elbows and knees, and confided in hard breaths, “I give you better tour. Cheaper too.”

I had read the Delphic oracle’s proclamation the night before and wondered what these people were doing on the island. I asked the boy, and he pointed to a cluster of houses on a knoll about a thousand yards away. “I live here. Family.”

At first glance, Delos seemed the quintessential ruin: broken bits of statues, stubby pillars, cracking archways and isolated walls. Nothing moved but the sunlight, glinting off the fragments like fish scales scattered over a two-acre basin.

Other movements had once animated the alleys and temples before us. Legend has it that Delos was originally a roving island when Leto, mistress of Zeus, landed there racked with birth pains. Poseidon anchored the island in its present position while Leto brought forth Artemis and Apollo, the Greek sun god and protector of light and art. Apollo eventually became the most revered of the Greek gods, and religious devotion, coupled with the island’s central, protected situation, established Delos as the thriving center of the Mediterranean world, religious and commercial leader of an empire that stretched from Italy to the coast of Asia Minor.

Wandering the ruins of this once-boisterous center, we found temples both plain and elegant, Greek and foreign; massive marketplaces studded with pedestals where statues once stood, now paved with poppies; a theater quarter with vivid mosaics depicting actors and symbolic animals and fish; a dry lake ringed with palm trees; a stadium and a gymnasium; storehouses and quays along the waterfront; and an ancient suburb where merchants and ship captains once lived: the haunting skeleton of a Hellenistic metropolis.

***

At 12:45 the captain of the trawler appeared at the end of the dock and whistled once, twice, three times, then waved his arms. He repeated this signal at 12:50 and 12:55. My friend left, but something about those deserted ruins held me, and I decided to spend the night on the island. I watched from the top of Mount Cynthus, the lone hill, as the boat moved away toward the mountains of Mykonos on the northeast horizon. Looking around, I felt at the center of the Cyclades: to the north, Tinos, to the northwest, Andros, then Syros, Siphnos, Pros and Naxos, and beyond them Melos and Ios — all spokes in the sacred chariot of the sun god.

Below me the ruins were absolutely desolate, shimmering silently in the midday sun. A lizard slithered over my boot. The boat crawled father away. The wind sighed. Droplets of sweat seemed to steam form my forehead.

I walked down the hill to the shade of the tourist pavilion, the one concession to tourism (besides a three-room museum) on the island. I walked inside and asked the owner, a large, jolly man with a Zorba mustache, what he was offering for lunch. He looked surprised to see me. “You miss the caique?”

“No, I wanted to spend the night here.”

“Ah.” He looked beyond me into the glaring, baked ruins. “We have rice, meat, vegetables.”

“Do you have any fish?”

“Fish? Yes.” He directed me to a case in the back room, opened it and took out five different fish, each caked with ice. “Which do you want?” I pointed to one. “Drink?”

“A beer, please.”

He nodded, pointed out the door to a terrace with tables and chairs scattered at random like dancers at a Mykonos discotheque, and said, “Sit, please,” motioning me into a chair.

The heat hung in the air, folding like a curtain over the pillars and pedestals, smothering the palms and reeds. Occasionally a dusty-brown lizard would scuttle from one shadow into another. The owner moved from kitchen to terrace like a man who has never waited, never worried about time, wiping off the table, bringing a glass of cold beer, then fish, fried potatoes and a tomato salad.

Eventually, two old men dressed in the same uniform as the man who had greeted us that morning walked up carrying two pails filled with water. One went inside and began to talk animatedly with the owner. The other sat down on the edge of the terrace, dipped his callused hands and pulled out a white and black octopus. He rolled the octopus in a milky white liquid from the other pail, twisting and slapping its tentacles against the cement until he was satisfied it was clean. Then he laid it aside, and dipped in again, pulling out another slippery creature. He cleaned five octopuses in all, leaving them oozing in the sun, their tentacles writhing and their suction cups puckering.

At 4 p.m. a cock crowed. What is he doing here? I wondered. And, more important, why is he crowing at 4 p.m.? The sound broke the silence with an eerie premonition. I looked at the bottles, chairs, tables, heard the reassuring murmur of voices inside. Beyond the terrace, in the light and heart, seemed another world.

***

An hour later I walked into the ruins, following the wide central avenue (the “Sacred Way”) toward the waterfront, the theater district and the hillside temples. On my way I passed columns carved with line after line of intricate symbols with no breaks between the words; sacrificial altars; huge cisterns for storing rainwater and oil; and vast foundations outlining meeting halls and marketplaces by the wharves. I explored the remains of private houses, passing from room to room, trying to imagine where their inhabitants had cooked, eaten and slept, awakened from my reverie only by an occasional spider web or lizard trail. As I walked on and the setting sun cast the halls and walls in an orange-pink light, the ruins seemed to take on a strange life all their own.

What had been eerie desolation became an intense timelessness, a sense of communion with other peoples and other eras. My boots crossed rocks other sandals had crossed; my hands touched marble other hands had touched. When I reached the mosaics, they seemed a living thing, green-eyed tigers and blue dolphins, flowers of every shape and color, the same to me as they were to the countless merchants and artisans who had admired them centuries before. I continued up the hill to the temples of the Syrian and Egyptian — as well as Greek — gods, and reflected how many different cultures had met in that silent hollow below.

While I was sitting in the temple to the Egyptian gods, a figure appeared walking up the hill toward me. It was not the owner of the pavilion, nor any of the fishermen I had seen previously. This was a man in shorts and a Western shirt with a satchel and a walking stick. We exchanged waves and wary glances until he came up and sat next to me. “You are English?”

“American.”

“Ah, good.” He stuck out his hand.

He was a physicist from Hungary on leave from a national research project for two weeks. “I have been saving my passes for this trip,” he said. “Isn’t this wonderful? Yesterday I examined all the ruins from there” — he waved a finger toward the stadium at the distant end of the basin– “to here. Today I have walked the circuit of the island.” He paused to catch his breath, his cheeks as grainy as the rocks on which we sat. “There really isn’t that much else to see.”

The mountains were turning purple over the poppy-red water. The ruins were fading into shade. I wanted to explore further before darkness set in, so we agreed to meet for dinner.

***

When I entered the tourist pavilion, the owner greeted me like a long-lost friend and brought out three glasses and a bottle of ouzo. “We drink.” The Hungarian appeared through another doorway that, I learned later, led to the pavilion’s four “guest rooms,” distinguished by the presence of a mattress and wash basin. We finished one bottle and began another, talking in Greek, Italian, French, German and English about everything and soon thereafter about nothing. When one language failed, we tried another, until we were all speaking in the universal tongue of Loquacious Libation.

In another hour or two the owner fixed us a feast of fish, lamb, fried potatoes, rice, tomatoes and cucumbers, with baklava and rice pudding for dessert. While we ate, the physicist and I talked. I learned that the cluster of houses I had seen earlier had been built by the French School of Classical Studies when it was digging on Delos in the 1950s and `60s. When the last archaeologists left, the curator of the museum moved in with his family. It was his son I had met that morning. The old man who had hailed our arrival was a fisherman from a local island who turned to guiding when the fishing was slow.

After finishing our second bottle — compliments of the owner — of sweet, resiny retsina, we drank a good night toast of thick Greek coffee. Then the physicist retired to his room, preceded by the owner’s wife, who had drawn a pitcher of cold water for his use in the morning. I was traveling on a backpack budget, however, and when the owner offered me the use of his roof for 30 drachmas (under $1), half the cost of the guest rooms, I gladly accepted.

I walked up two flights of cement stairs to a cement roof enclosed like a medieval fortress with a four-foot-high wall. The stars glinted like a nighttime mirror of the marble ruins. I unrolled my sleeping bag in a protected corner, thankful that the lizards could not reach me at that height, and rummaged in my backpack for soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush.

“Could you use this?” The physicist held out his flashlight. “I’ve come to ask you to hurry in preparing your toilet. The owner wants to turn off the electricity.”

After I had washed and brushed and stumbled back up the stairs to my sleeping bag, I heard a scuffling of footsteps; voices thundered back and forth through the blackness, and the lights went out.

The footsteps returned, a door squeaked and banged shut, chairs scraped. Then everything was silent. No machine sounds, no human sounds, no animal sounds. Absolute silence. I lay in my sleeping bag, and the ruins encroached on my dreams — the swish of the lizards scrambling over the rocks, the moist coolness of the marble at sunset, the languid perfume of the poppies dabbed among the fluted white fragments.

***

Streaming sunlight awakened me. I turned to look at my watch and disturbed a black kitten that had bundled itself at my feet. In so doing, I also disturbed the ouzo and retsina that had bundled itself in my head, and I crawled as close as I could to the shadow of the wall — 6:45. I pulled my towel over my head and tried to imagine the windy dark, but to no avail. The kitten mewed its way under my towel, where it set to lapping at my cheek as if it had discovered a bowl of milk.

I stumbled down the stairs and soaked my head in tepid tap water until at last I felt stable enough to survey the surroundings. Behind the pavilion a clothesline ran to the rusting generator. Chickens strutted inside a coop at the curator’s house. Rhenea stirred in the rising mist.

Again I wandered through the ruins, different ruins now, bright with day and the reality of returns: The tourists would return to Delos, and I would return to Mykonos. I ate a solemn breakfast on the terrace with the physicist, then walked past the sacred lake and the marketplace to the Terrace of the Lions. Standing among the five lions of Delos, erected in the seventh century B.C. to defend the island from invaders, I looked over the crumbling walls and stunted pillars to the temples on the hill. Like priests they presided over the procession of tourists who would surge onto the island, bearing their oblation in cameras and guidebooks. As the trawler approached, a bent figure in a navy blue beret hurried to the dock, and a boy in shorts raced out of the curator’s house past the physicist, past me, and into the ruins.

[flickr image via Alex Healing]