Friday, February 08, 2008

ruby shoes

I shot this a few years back on the island of Kos on a stopover, having just stepped off a boat from Lakki, and where I was now waiting for my puddlejumper flight back to Athens. I had spent the previous two weeks sleeping on the deck of a sailboat falling asleep under the stars, being nudged awake by the dawn, showering much less than one might have hoped and conditioning my hair not at all. Stopped wearing makeup on day two. I was baked to a fray and more relaxed than I had ever been in my life. Or have ever been since.

The trip was a trade for work: Two weeks on a "women's only" sail around the Dodecanese, which meant leaving (my then) husband behind in Seattle and traveling alone.

Or nearly so -- the details of which could fill a small book (the sail included, among other players, a male first mate who was also a Naturist) -- but we'll save that for later because on this day, on this island, I was most remarkably alone.

The day I shot this -- by setting the self-release timer and taking a wild guess that my cheap little point and shoot would frame up right when I set it down on the stump of an old column in a tumble down ruin just off the city square -- I had rented a scooter from a fellow in town who failed to tell me two things that I needed to know: 1) that the scooter was nearly out of gas and 2) this being Sunday everything would shut down by 2 PM, if it hadn't already. Including the petrol stations.

At the moment I rented it all I knew was that it was about 1.30 PM.

My plan that day -- in just the few spare hours before my flight would leave -- was to visit the ruins of the Asclepieion.

Something you should know: I dig ruins. And I especially dig Ancient Greek ruins. This site in particular was one I'd done some reading on, because it has a fascinating purpose. It was a healing sanctuary, where Asclepius, the man behind the cadeuses, may have done his thing. Hippocrates was thought to hang out there too.

One of the remedies for those who came to the Asclepieion to be healed was to sleep in a large room in which crawled many many snakes.

And you were wondering where those snakes on the cadeuse came from. Well, now you know.

Sleeping with the snakes was supposed to provoke dreams that provided the answer to whatever it was that was wrong with you. And if it didn't? Well, you went back and slept with the snakes a little longer until it did.

Whatever. I wanted to see it.

But first I had to get gas. Which, given that all but a single station at the farthest reaches of town were closed, took a while. And given that the proprietor of the place was infuriated with me when I started to fill the tank of the little scooter with, apparently, the wrong kind of gas, it took a little while longer.

But. Finally. Off to the place.

Where, being shortly after 2PM, they were locking the gates.

Tourists were streaming out as I walked up. I had a brief conversation with the guy who had his hand on the lock and chain, reviewing the obvious and discovering that he had *no* sympathy for either my plight or my passion for that place.

So I stood there in disbelief as they locked it up, as the parking lot cleared out. I sat and sulked under the sign that promised severe recriminations for anyone who attempted to enter the site in unorthodox manner, until it occurred to me: I was probably not the first tourist to ever sulk before these locked gates on a Sunday afternoon.

This was an important revelation.

I got back on my scooter and started driving the fence line, looking for what I knew had to be there.

And there, finally, it was. Hidden behind a tree by the road and obscured by weeds: A hole in the fence. Conveniently human sized, where sulking tourists had gone before me.

Now, I like to think I'm a law abider. I'm not, really, but I like to hold an elevated opinion of myself (don't we all) and I have a healthy respect for the rule of law. So I was faced with a decision: Should I step through? The sign up front was pretty strident, and I had to wonder if Greek prisons were anything like the Turkish prisons I'd heard about.

Of course I stepped through.

Because, of course, I had decided I would the moment I started looking.

And for a little over an hour I wandered through the Asclepieion, just myself and the three other sulking tourists who spotted my scooter and found the hole and were wandering around with the same dazed and delighted and guilty expression that I was wearing.

I hit all the hot spots on the main level -- mostly big open holes with placards which required feats of imagination to populate -- but things really got good when I found the trail that led up the hillside, passing an old Ionic temple site -- solid and refined and oh so Fibonaccian -- and then kept going, through a grove of cypress and into a small clearing where there was a small Doric temple -- its few remaining columns stocky and a bit thick around the middle. Fragrant and slightly shaded and scented with pine (I wonder now if the Ancient Greeks dug evergreens for the same reasons the Mayans do), I just sat myself down awhile and took it in.

All mine. Alone. Divine.

Later I'd get on a plane and layover in London for just a night on my way home. By choice. I wanted to stay on Russell Square and hit the British Museum, even if only briefly. On the Tube ride in I met an elderly Japanese man who, it turned out, had retired from a lifetime of working as a landscape architect in LA to a neighborhood just down the hill from me in Seattle. He too was laying over for just that evening, and approached me, thinking I was a Londoner (don't I wish), asking me for directions to his hotel.

Which, it turned out, was very close to mine.

He was nervous and uncertain about finding it, so I offered my assistance: I dropped my bags at my hotel and then walked him to his, which was only a few blocks away. It was after Midnight when we got in, and those few blocks were dark and a little bit foggy, and quite a bit frightening. Clips of Jack the Ripper movies kept flashing through my mind. But I walked it with him, and got him where he was going, and got myself back again, in time enough to buy the most amazing sausage-like dog on a floury bun with hot mustard and relish from a street vendor just outside my hotel.

It was nearly 1AM by now. And, it so happened, the day after my birthday. And I knew, but not just then quite how much, that I'd been born into something new by taking that time to travel alone, to climb through fences, and offer dangerous favors to elderly strangers.

My marriage would end in the year ahead; everything would change. The strength I needed to work my way through it I found, without knowing it, on that trip.

Or maybe, like Dorothy, I just figured out I was already wearing the shoes.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story. And I of course always appreciate Wizard of Oz references that are not made in jest. :)

patrick said...

Yes... a beautiful story beautifully told. And, now that I've met you, I was able to hear your voice telling it, which added a certain dimension of palpability.

Lolabola said...

what a fantastic story and moreso a fantastic photo.

anne bryant said...

great photo+ great story.
I don't know if it's just the setting and the tale, but you look very goddess like.

narthex said...

Great story and photo. It is strange how our narratives are like a flowing stream when we look back at old images sometimes.

a.m. said...

beautifully written. here's to not accepting no for an answer and to owning the site for a few hours just for yourself! it shows in the photo.

suttonhoo said...

hey -- thanks, guys. this was a fun one to write up: really wonderful that it was received so warmly.

and great to see you here, burnett!

re the goddess thing, anne: that's greek sunshine for ya, baby! ;) what an amazing place.

thanks again, friends.

anniemcq said...

The first thing I thought when seeing your picture, is that you look like a Greek Goddess.

D., I think this may be your best writing. Which is really saying something.

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