Posted by the editor on 2011/12/20
Anne Tammel has worked in multiple facets of the writing profession for over two decades. Prior to crafting her forthcoming literary fiction novel, Searching for Amelia, Tammel founded creative house Tammel Productions, where she specializes in professional communications, image consulting and leadership coaching. As a judge for literary arts organizations, Tammel also runs Poets and Dreamers, leading the multi-faceted circuit of writing workshops that serves over seven hundred writers throughout Southern California.
Tammel began her career at the Silicon Valley’s leading communications firm, Cunningham Communication, Inc. Her articles, poems and essays have appeared in numerous creative and professional publications. Tammel earned her MFA in creative writing at California State University, San Diego, and her BA in English/career writing at California State University, San Jose.
Connect with Anne at http://annetammel.com
|layers of august
In a cropped white business dress, tight gold sandals she’d never worn and brunette hair high in a twist, Isa shifted nervously as she waited at the rooftop Pelekanos Café, sipping wine from island caves and watching for the professor. The Athenian archaeologist had chosen the Pelekanos as a meeting spot because, “if you like the moon,” he’d said on the phone, “this is the best moon rise you will hope to witness.”
As the late-day light shifted, noticing the professor was late, the thirty-year-old writer glanced down to see her reflection in the glass. How different she looked in that colorful Thira backdrop, far from Los Angeles and everything she knew. In the volcanic heat, her eyes seemed a brighter blue, her skin bronzed from the island sun, her cheeks flushed from the jetlag or perhaps the wine.
Hearing the hum of voices, Isa looked to the west. She lifted her face to the breeze to take in the range of hues. From that terrace high on the Oia cliff, the colors streaking the sky shifted from lilac to dark plum before the sun burned scarlet over the surrounding isles. And in the evening wind, the rows of whitewashed cave dwellings and cliffs began to look like a surreal blend of watercolors.
Looking out toward the Aegean, Isa shuddered, remembering her turbulent flight over that same water the night before. Recalling her friend Lise’s words, “This isn’t you at all, Isa—you don’t believe in flying,” Isa told herself she’d somehow overcome her fear of water and planes. Then troubling over how quickly the trip would pass, she wondered how she would get back onto that small jet in just three days.
As the colors continued to shift, Isa thought of how she had taken the assignment last minute—anything to get away—then remembered Lise’s warning. “Greece is a long ways away if you don’t know anyone, Isa. What if something happens to you while you’re there? Why not just stay here a couple days?” Lise had added before she hung up the phone. But Pasadena wasn’t nearly far enough.
She shifted her thoughts to Adam, her new husband, who’d stood in the door the morning she packed. “If you take off now Isa, that only proves you never wanted all of this.” She looked out again at the horizon, not sure anymore what made sense.
This sudden need to get away was new to Isa. Not knowing where it was coming from or where it would lead, she felt she needed to follow it all the same.
Startled by the hum at the taverna, Isa stood tall on her toes to look past the crowd gathered at the eastern ledge of the open-air bar. As if preparing for a ritual, a local band was opening the evening with an expressive liquid jazz tune. The large crowd at the ledge fell silent, staring intently toward the east.
In a seemingly ancient dance, the early summer moon was slowly beginning her ascent from deep in that endless sea surrounding the hot white-painted isle. An abundant glowing sphere, the new moon began to dance regally out of the mysterious Aegean, staring back at the dreamers with a playful, knowing smile. Like a mischievous woman, she slowly continued transcending the earth, filling up the sky as she sought more attention. The altering hues around her reflected on the whitewashed facades, transforming some from pure white to pale yellow, others from melon to bluish pink, the last from orange to deep crimson.
Just as the moon had completed her rise, the tall professor turned in from the cobblestone path with a rhythmic stride. “Delighted to meet you.” He approached Isa, bowing slightly as he began, “Christos Nikolopoulos, professor of mythology and archaeology,” then held out both expressive hands to greet her. “They say Isa means ‘promise.’ More specifically, ‘God’s promise.’”
“Please don’t remind me,” Isa tried to smile as she reached for his hand.
He stared back puzzling with dark eyes as if the language hadn’t translated properly.
“It’s just that I’ve come from far away to forget my promises.” She stared out toward the scattered pattern of isles then turned back to him. “But what about you? I mean, I came to write about your research.”
Christos continued under the full dancing moon, his dark frame creating a large yet elegant silhouette. “Yes. As for me, I travelled here on my boat and am for the week visiting Akrotiri, our local excavation site. I’m sure you have heard of it, no? Some refer to it as the Greek Pompeii. Next week I sail to Venice for an important project. Such is my life.”
Isa studied the mysteriously attractive man a moment, forgetting to disguise her inquisitive eyes as they crossed over him. Christos was a quiet man in his early fifties who carried the air of a reflective intellect. Tall, with dark bangs that fell on a well-defined brow, the professor smiled thoughtfully and a bit sadly as he stood with poise uncommon to most American men. His dark pants and loose white cotton shirt hung elegantly from his frame.
The moon erupted with a clever shy smile. “Now that you’ve had a chance to enjoy the moon,” he moved closer to be heard, then with the crisp scent of a clean evening asked, “would you like to talk at length in Ammoudi? It might be more suitable than this.” He waved his hand and smiled amused at the dense crowd of tourists shouting past overflowing shots of Ouzo.
On the drive to Ammoudi, weaving through winding cliff sides and poorly maintained roads, Christos explained his job. “It takes more than sixty people to carry out the research for one of my expeditions. We explore an archeological site to discover how our myths might apply to the evidence of what transpired in the region at that particular time.”
“And what do you do with this evidence?”
“You might say that we align classical myths with modern archaeological findings to explain the mysteries of the past to the future.” His dark hair blew in the breeze of the open window with the view of the Cyclades behind him. “And you would be amazed at all we find. Next winter, I visit three new discovery sites.”
At the west end of Oia, Christos parked his black Audi on an embankment high above the water, motioning to lead her down a steep and winding path. “And this, you will find a most magical site. If you come to Santorini, and certainly if you’re going to write about the island, you must see it at least once.”
Ammoudi was a small, powdery-skied row of hotels and restaurants built into the side of an unusually steep cliff. As they walked past the bright stone cafes that reached just to the water’s edge, hypnotic Greek music rose above the tables where locals sat sharing dinner and laughter in a chorus of sophisticated European voices.
They stopped at a quiet caféneio near the boats, a spot where patrons and owners knew the professor well, the bartenders gracefully lighting small candles to greet his arrival.
“Santorini was once a round island,” Christos explained as he settled into a weathered wood chair opposite Isa. “During a volcano eruption in the fifteenth century BC, the entire middle of it actually sank, leaving us the unique shape we enjoy today.”
“And what is left is the caldera: an underwater volcano surrounded by several small islands.” He waved dramatically toward the water, lowering his voice as if to share a secret. “This is one of the reasons many believe Santorini could be the lost Atlantis.”
From their table, the water drew so close that if you removed your shoe, Isa realized, you could even touch it with your toe. As the professor spoke in Greek with the smartly-dressed waiter, she silently slipped her foot out of the tight gold sandal and secretly extended her toe toward those darkening swells, feeling a rush of warmth then an underlying force she hadn’t expected. Looking down into the surface currents that splashed her foot, Isa began to imagine the faces of the professor’s mythical characters rising up to meet them with tortured expressions.
What an odd life he must live, she thought, making these myths real. In the unsteady wooden chair, she pulled her foot back with a shiver and continued to look down, wondering what had happened to those who’d fled Akrotiri before the volcano. Had they made it to safety or perished in these very waters?
As she slipped her dampened toes back into the sandal, she caught sight of the professor’s simple leather boat shoes. She imagined him sailing endless weeks out on that open Aegean Sea in the sun, stopping at faraway isles to follow mysterious passageways in search of forgotten ruins. Was he lonely, she wondered, leaving humanity for months at a time to locate signs that his mythological gods existed?
“Have you heard of the Bridge of Sighs?” Christos interrupted her thoughts.
She looked up at him, startled out of her daydream, attempting to right herself in her chair. “I visited once. Mostly, I’ve read about it in books.”
“Aah. Le Ponte dei Sospiri. Well, let me tell you.” He lifted his eyebrows, offering her a plate of grilled figs with fresh oregano and local honey. “It was planned that the view from the Bridge of Sighs was to be the last convicts would see before they were imprisoned. In fact, Lord Byron gave the bridge its name, suggesting that the prisoners when they passed to face their execution might sigh at their final view of Venice.
“But in reality, by the time the bridge was completed, those days of inquisitions and executions had passed. The cells under the palace roof were occupied by small-time criminals. And ironically,” he shook his head then continued, “because of the stone grills that cover the windows, they could barely see any view from inside. So since then,” he explained with a charmed smile, “a local legend says that lovers who kiss under the bridge at sunset enjoy everlasting love.” He gave a playful side-glance then lifted a meze of grilled eggplant, pomegranate seeds and saffron to take in the marriage of bouquets.
“And you believe this?” She smiled back quizzically, feeling the grooves of the worn wood on the edge of her chair.
“Me?” He shook his head gently, glancing at the darkening swells then meeting her eyes. “I’ve made a life study of exploring ancient myths. As for the new legends: all for tourism. It’s the income that keeps these communities alive,” he confided almost in a whisper, sipping his water.
A seemingly endless trail of gold lights crossed above the row of tables. With the sky growing dim, the glow of candles with the moon and lights created a luminous pattern that danced elegantly above the water.
Christos spoke melodically with the owner who had come to greet them with wide-open hands. After talking over the local fishing boat’s deliveries, the professor chose a fresh sea bass grilled with rosemary stalks, thin-sliced lemons and sel de mer. And as the men continued to speak in their native tongue, Isa realized she felt drawn to this man whose dark hair fell on his well-defined brow, whose hands were so expressive they looked like an artist’s. She continued to watch them as the owner walked away.
Christos lifted a carafe of white wine from the caves and turned to Isa again. “Have you tried Assyrtiko?”
“Only the wine at the Pelekanos.” Oceans from home, Isa no longer felt foreign in this faraway land. With the professor’s voice humming like music to explain the mysteries of that ancient terrain and its myths, she began to imagine who she wanted to become in this caldera—daring like the exotic women who strolled the stone streets in bright sheath dresses, enchanting like the colors that shifted hypnotically in the sky above them…vibrant like the fiery-spirited women who’d chosen to slip away from mundane lives without concern for consequences.
Maybe it was the volcanic island heat, the ever-hypnotic Aegean, the way the people on this island paced their time to uncover the mystery of all they were to one another. As she breathed in the breeze that lifted off the water, Isa found herself wishing she could stay a couple weeks or even the summer. Always one to watch for warning signs, she was beginning to enjoy the danger of living a little bit herself. Not wanting it to end, Isa realized that once this night was over, she would spend only two more nights on Oia.
Christos began pouring gently from the hand-painted glass carafe. “You must try this one. I insist.” He held out his hand for emphasis. “Assyrtiko is a rare beauty. You certainly cannot experience Ammoudi without enjoying a glass.”
He continued with his Grecian accent, “The grapes we use to make this wine are white. The vintners grow them in a design that resembles a basket. The shape, you see, protects them from the beating sun and even more so the meltemi—the forceful northerly winds that cross the island from spring to harvest. Drink it slowly,” he continued filling her glass then added, “and take in the bouquet of honey, white peaches, tropical fruits, even spices. All found on this island.”
He held the carafe carefully with the moon shining behind him, the wine itself a pale green like the sea that surrounded them. “The terrain here is different from that of Knossos on Crete, where we have been day and night exploring the palace of Minos. But enough of me and my projects. You have been much too quiet about yourself.”
Isa looked to the water, wishing for more talk of meltemi and island myths, anything but the life that sat waiting in Beverly Hills.
“So tell me Isa, about you.” He motioned politely as they shared the first sip, leaning forward. “Why is it you are here? Of course, I mean outside of your job.
“What about these promises you are escaping?”
Please join Isa for this and more adventures in
Anne’s forthcoming novel: Searching for Amelia
All text on this post: © Anne Tammel
Published on mediterranean.nu with the permission of Anne Tammel