Planet Earth, Part 1: The Melissa Project

Melissa means “bee” in Greek,  a nod to the dedication of the young women who go there every weekday for Greek, English, poetry, art, knitting…I taught English at this Greek nonprofit for part of November-December.

img_9546For too short a time, I worked with women who mostly spoke Arabic and Farsi, and who came from the shelters, camps, and squats spread across Athens. I have many photos, and when I see you in person sometime, I’d love to share. For now, here’s a lesson from the first day . Melissa students are the most eager I’ve ever known, and the administrators, teachers, and other volunteers, the most committed. Lots more to do there, lots of people doing it, and I’d love to return

I’d walk back to Elizabeth’s studio at night, grateful, tired, hungry. I  often stopped for dinner in the neighborhood, Exarchia — 

img_9491For me, as  welcome in cool weather as in hot. Only the color of the wine changes! 

“As you set out on the way to Ithaca, hope the voyage is a long one… “

It will take 4 minutes to listen to Sean Connery read  C.P. Cavafy’s “ITHACA.”    Aside from being the place Odysseus left, Ithaca is also where he returned, utterly changed. Some have said that “Ithaca” is about the journey. So here we go —

No photos of yesterday’s odyssey from San Francisco to Athens, but the memory of some moments worth savoring, all of them involving the latest in travel gear for those long hauls through Trump-size international airports. A WHEELCHAIR.   Really, it’s amazing what you can take in from that perch.

There was the family of young and old women in gold and red saris in San Francisco – headed home for a visit. Or a funeral, as I think.

By Rome, the sense of being shepherded or rather, sherpa-ed, came  more easily.  I sat back in my chair and saw shops I’d never really attended to back in the day when I was always  focused on dragging myself and my carry-on to the gate in time:  the scents of seafood from a seafood restaurant (L’Osteria Dell’Orologio, I think), could make you change your mind about leaving Rome.  And the shops! Armani (jeans only), Boggi Milano, Bulgari, Vasari (“ottico” – eyeglass frames only, I think)…

At JFK,   I had  befriended the woman sitting in a wheelchair next to mine,  who explained she was traveling “to be home for 6 or 7 months.” By the time we arrived in Rome,  I understood her English and she understood my very broken Italian.  But she wasn’t stopping in Italy; I mean  I thought she understood my Italian, until we had been wheeled  into  the outdoor lift, called an   “elevator-to-plane,”  which was our method of  boarding the plane to Athens – no stairs for us! She explained that she had “much family near Athens,” and I suddenly realized she wasn’t Italian at all, wasn’t going to visit Greece — this woman was going home to Greece!

That also explained why, after our Italian lunch courtesy of  Alitalia,  she slipped  her hand delicately into a ziplok snack bag and took out a piece of Greek lemon shortbread she’d made the night before at her home in Connecticut: “Lemon. Like Greece. You like.” I loved that she  wasn’t posing a  question. My mouth full, I wiped crumbs from my chin and   nodded an enthusiastic endorsement  as we got into our chairs and were pushed – before everybody else –   towards the airport exit.

It really is a white city, isn’t it?

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Thanksgiving evening in the garden, Hotel Brazil

 Pleased to say that not even Japan’s latest production line could break the peace —