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Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windex. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windex. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windmills. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windmills. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Mykonos.

There are two colours in the Greek Islands. White and blue.

It’s a blue so inconceivable it’s hard to describe. Royal blue is probably the closest tint because only royalty could spare so many liquid sapphires so widely. If you hold on too tight to the rails of a ship on this sea, your hands will sparkle like jewels. Blue sapphires or white salt crystals?

It’s a white so blinding it’s probably ablaze. Scorched by the unforgiving sun and the relentless wind, polished over and over by tormenting gusts that haven’t let out since Antiquity. The wind never dies down here. It has a voice, a personality, an obstinate presence that almost makes it solid.

Mykonos is full of opposites. Full of white and blue. On one side of the island, scorched, desolate, brown land, nudist beaches speckled with the last people in Europe that should be bathing suit-less, cliff-hanging night clubs that hum until 6AM, pebbled beaches, six-euro long chairs, frozen margaritas, ouzo shots, billion-dollar yachts, scorched, glorified, brown bodies, everything to forget the howl of the wind. On the other side, a cubic labyrinth of white houses and churches, shutters and domes a tired blue, tired of rivaling with the shade of the sea, tall pelicans that pose for the tourists when they give their wings a bit of respite, windmills that have been waving welcomes and farewells to Delos for hundreds of years, little wrinkled yayas who have been gossiping about the neighbours over their Windex bottles for hundreds of minutes, wafts of freshly laundered sheets and of bread promptly leaving the oven, old men who barely fit behind the wheel of their miniature trucks and young men who laugh with very white teeth and helmets hanging from their elbows while parking their scooters, everything to decipher what the wind might be saying.

Which side is white? Which is blue? I’m not sure. They’re both tirelessly, insanely, entrancingly windswept.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos.

The problem with expectations is that we all have them. Especially when we claim we don’t.

Greece. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with Greeks all my life. My lovely next-door neighbours, growing up in a very residential suburb of Montreal, graciously provided my first taste of spanakopitas and orthodox Easter pastries. My best friend taught me how to dance, to say “Opa!” in the right circumstances and to write my name in the Greek alphabet. She also taught me to laugh even more exuberantly than I already did, to speak proper conversational English very loudly, that eating a little bit too much was perfectly fine once in a while and that living life wasn’t all about dreaming it. But that’s another story. Because much of Greece is the stuff of dreams. I’ve never tired of the mythological tales and neither have I of the wild blue yonder. Stories and travels: aren’t they intrinsically linked?

And so, the expectations were high.

Samos. I arrived in Greece by sea on a very low, very crowded, very small ferry. I remember the ocean being exceptionally flat that morning, but I think all the blue must’ve washed out my memory. The wind was warm. White sails speckled the water where the crests of waves should’ve been. Pink bougainvillea flowers sprouted below the orange tiled roofs where no shade was to be found. The island’s town center was abuzz with noise: roaring scooters, screaming vendors, avid gossipers. As in Turkey, there seemed to be a sheen, a varnish, a heightened finish to everything. Sweat on skin, fruit juice on lips, dust on neck-breaking stairs, salt on eyelashes. It’s the light. It’s that Mediterranean sun, still so high at 4PM and so powerful it even changes the colour of the startlingly cold Aegean Sea. The water is blue in Samos. Not clear. The sun is liquid. The air is burning. The elements are upside down. Is it a trick of the gods? When the sea swallowed the sun, oranges and reds, and my stones constellated the beach, apricots and cherries, I looked up to a sight I hadn’t been able to recognize in months: the night sky. The stars were the same here. The same as home. Nothing was upside down. Everything was just right, really.

In Samos, my expectations were met.

St-John’s Basilica. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

St-John’s Basilica. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Afternoon nap. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Afternoon nap. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Ephesus library, Turkey. June 2011.

Ephesus library, Turkey. June 2011.

Selçuk

There is a common misconception amongst travelers and non-travelers alike. I will excuse it for lack of time, lack of budget, lack of adventure. The great truth is that a city does not make a country. London is not England, Sydney is not Australia, Toronto is certainly not Canada (sorry) and Paris is most definitely not France (no apologies here).  Metropolis, capital, whatever it is, however populated, no matter the festivals, the architecture, the hype, it cannot define an entire country. You will rightly deduce this applies to Turkey. No, Istanbul is not Turkey. But there is something in Selçuk, something hard to grasp in this 30 000 person town, that might be it…

I left Istanbul on a night bus. I must have slept 35 minutes of said night, all obviously in the hour preceding the arrival to my final destination. It was like a dream, where images are linked illogically and harmoniously at the same time: traffic jams on the highway, service stations at 3:40AM, chocolate cookies, travelers eating kebabs, bus drivers laughing over thick coffee and behind thick cigarette smoke, the colourful patterns of the bus seats… At sunrise, between my eyelids sprinkled with sand, between the off-white cubic houses sprinkled with dust, rose the plain, hot, chaotic fact that I was not in Istanbul anymore…

Dropped off in the middle of the Saturday market, with the red shadows of the tents and the long shadows of the trees and the dark shadows under my eyes, I took in the smells and the sounds and half a kilo of cherries, fairly stunned. I was whisked off to Ephesus with probably a third of all the other tourist visa holders in Turkey. But as the heat hiked up, I’m not sure my level of wakefulness did… Here I was, walking through Antiquity with what seemed hundreds of cruise goers. Women with wide, fashionable sunhats and flowery umbrellas, bored-looking children sweating off their sunscreen, men resting their hands atop their stomach, already dreaming of an afternoon cocktail, and bobbing Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean signs cutting their way through the crowd were strolling down the ancient streets with various levels of indifference while I rubbed my eyes over and over again. Thankfully, I was walking against the traffic and by the time I reached the towering façade of the library, the 21st century had more or less dispersed. Blame the heat, but I do believe this is where it became a constant daydream.

Ephesus is a little Rome, in the palm of the mountains, with an unseen river trickling down to an unexpected ocean view, wide, granite streets that are still well traveled, a library filled with the quiet shadows of lost knowledge, a theater whose acoustic still seems to whisper performances from another millennia and highly undisciplined cats. Like an empty shell filled with sunshine and history and my imaginings. There is no denying this is some kind of magical place to have hosted the most famous mathematicians, saints and philosophers of human times. St-John, St-Paul, the Virgin Mary, Heraclites, Thales. The contemplative power of the region also affected me very strongly.

As I said, even before I had left the bus, Selçuk was very much a 72-hour daydream. Images sown together, patterns and smells and colours, light in the same too bright sunlight so unfamiliar to someone living so far from the Equator.

The sole column of the temple of Artemis, crowned with the nest a proud, goddess-like crane. Cobble-stoned streets littered with red geraniums and the most beautiful cats in the world, patched-up and rachitic, with bright yellow eyes and brittle, jumpy nerves that patrolled them. Three old ladies creased by age and sun under their discolored headscarves, sitting on plastic chairs that used to be white, purring like the cats. Maybe they were the same that were sleeping in front of a TV on the rooftop next door. Hazelnut stuffed figs. Rusty bicycles we pushed freely down hilly streets. I was stopped by a shopkeeper who put his hands on my handlebars and plucked his lips as if to kiss me. I laughed a lot and he courted me in Turkish and I shook my head and screamed “Non, non, non!” and let my pedals turn wildly on the way down. The plushness of the carpet and the soft morning silence of our neighbourhood mosque. A bus driver who escorted me to my guesthouse and stole an almost overripe strawberry from the market for me. The tall, dry, yellow grass that sang at the foot of the St-John Basilica. Burning apple tea in a huge green garden. Watermelon carts and köfte. Turkish delights in every way.

Selçuk was also a house and its rooftop. So many of those waking yet dreamlike hours were spent on the roof of my most extraordinary guesthouse, writing, reading, drinking tea, eating watermelon, making conversation, making plans, making friends. Up the cool marble stairs, head in the clouds with the dancing sparrows, I realized this is where I had the best view of Turkey. At our feet, ruins and desert, terracotta tiles, TV antennas. Under our eyes, pinks and purples, velvet and silks of the sunset. But maybe the landscape was as interior as it was exterior.

I guess the question remains how do you grasp the essence of a country? By visiting a lot of cities, big and small, and a lot of non-cities, big and small. By being on the road, in the infamous nowhere that is somewhere after all, by finding oneself on a map as much as in the people who populate its dots and lines and wastes.  People and places. Plural. That is a country.

Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windex. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windex. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windmills. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Windmills. Mykonos, Greece. June 2011.

Mykonos.

There are two colours in the Greek Islands. White and blue.

It’s a blue so inconceivable it’s hard to describe. Royal blue is probably the closest tint because only royalty could spare so many liquid sapphires so widely. If you hold on too tight to the rails of a ship on this sea, your hands will sparkle like jewels. Blue sapphires or white salt crystals?

It’s a white so blinding it’s probably ablaze. Scorched by the unforgiving sun and the relentless wind, polished over and over by tormenting gusts that haven’t let out since Antiquity. The wind never dies down here. It has a voice, a personality, an obstinate presence that almost makes it solid.

Mykonos is full of opposites. Full of white and blue. On one side of the island, scorched, desolate, brown land, nudist beaches speckled with the last people in Europe that should be bathing suit-less, cliff-hanging night clubs that hum until 6AM, pebbled beaches, six-euro long chairs, frozen margaritas, ouzo shots, billion-dollar yachts, scorched, glorified, brown bodies, everything to forget the howl of the wind. On the other side, a cubic labyrinth of white houses and churches, shutters and domes a tired blue, tired of rivaling with the shade of the sea, tall pelicans that pose for the tourists when they give their wings a bit of respite, windmills that have been waving welcomes and farewells to Delos for hundreds of years, little wrinkled yayas who have been gossiping about the neighbours over their Windex bottles for hundreds of minutes, wafts of freshly laundered sheets and of bread promptly leaving the oven, old men who barely fit behind the wheel of their miniature trucks and young men who laugh with very white teeth and helmets hanging from their elbows while parking their scooters, everything to decipher what the wind might be saying.

Which side is white? Which is blue? I’m not sure. They’re both tirelessly, insanely, entrancingly windswept.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos, Greece. June 2011.

Samos.

The problem with expectations is that we all have them. Especially when we claim we don’t.

Greece. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with Greeks all my life. My lovely next-door neighbours, growing up in a very residential suburb of Montreal, graciously provided my first taste of spanakopitas and orthodox Easter pastries. My best friend taught me how to dance, to say “Opa!” in the right circumstances and to write my name in the Greek alphabet. She also taught me to laugh even more exuberantly than I already did, to speak proper conversational English very loudly, that eating a little bit too much was perfectly fine once in a while and that living life wasn’t all about dreaming it. But that’s another story. Because much of Greece is the stuff of dreams. I’ve never tired of the mythological tales and neither have I of the wild blue yonder. Stories and travels: aren’t they intrinsically linked?

And so, the expectations were high.

Samos. I arrived in Greece by sea on a very low, very crowded, very small ferry. I remember the ocean being exceptionally flat that morning, but I think all the blue must’ve washed out my memory. The wind was warm. White sails speckled the water where the crests of waves should’ve been. Pink bougainvillea flowers sprouted below the orange tiled roofs where no shade was to be found. The island’s town center was abuzz with noise: roaring scooters, screaming vendors, avid gossipers. As in Turkey, there seemed to be a sheen, a varnish, a heightened finish to everything. Sweat on skin, fruit juice on lips, dust on neck-breaking stairs, salt on eyelashes. It’s the light. It’s that Mediterranean sun, still so high at 4PM and so powerful it even changes the colour of the startlingly cold Aegean Sea. The water is blue in Samos. Not clear. The sun is liquid. The air is burning. The elements are upside down. Is it a trick of the gods? When the sea swallowed the sun, oranges and reds, and my stones constellated the beach, apricots and cherries, I looked up to a sight I hadn’t been able to recognize in months: the night sky. The stars were the same here. The same as home. Nothing was upside down. Everything was just right, really.

In Samos, my expectations were met.

ANZ Guesthouse - Selçuk

Magic rooftop.

St-John’s Basilica. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

St-John’s Basilica. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Afternoon nap. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Afternoon nap. Selçuk, Turkey. June 2011.

Ephesus library, Turkey. June 2011.

Ephesus library, Turkey. June 2011.

Selçuk

There is a common misconception amongst travelers and non-travelers alike. I will excuse it for lack of time, lack of budget, lack of adventure. The great truth is that a city does not make a country. London is not England, Sydney is not Australia, Toronto is certainly not Canada (sorry) and Paris is most definitely not France (no apologies here).  Metropolis, capital, whatever it is, however populated, no matter the festivals, the architecture, the hype, it cannot define an entire country. You will rightly deduce this applies to Turkey. No, Istanbul is not Turkey. But there is something in Selçuk, something hard to grasp in this 30 000 person town, that might be it…

I left Istanbul on a night bus. I must have slept 35 minutes of said night, all obviously in the hour preceding the arrival to my final destination. It was like a dream, where images are linked illogically and harmoniously at the same time: traffic jams on the highway, service stations at 3:40AM, chocolate cookies, travelers eating kebabs, bus drivers laughing over thick coffee and behind thick cigarette smoke, the colourful patterns of the bus seats… At sunrise, between my eyelids sprinkled with sand, between the off-white cubic houses sprinkled with dust, rose the plain, hot, chaotic fact that I was not in Istanbul anymore…

Dropped off in the middle of the Saturday market, with the red shadows of the tents and the long shadows of the trees and the dark shadows under my eyes, I took in the smells and the sounds and half a kilo of cherries, fairly stunned. I was whisked off to Ephesus with probably a third of all the other tourist visa holders in Turkey. But as the heat hiked up, I’m not sure my level of wakefulness did… Here I was, walking through Antiquity with what seemed hundreds of cruise goers. Women with wide, fashionable sunhats and flowery umbrellas, bored-looking children sweating off their sunscreen, men resting their hands atop their stomach, already dreaming of an afternoon cocktail, and bobbing Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean signs cutting their way through the crowd were strolling down the ancient streets with various levels of indifference while I rubbed my eyes over and over again. Thankfully, I was walking against the traffic and by the time I reached the towering façade of the library, the 21st century had more or less dispersed. Blame the heat, but I do believe this is where it became a constant daydream.

Ephesus is a little Rome, in the palm of the mountains, with an unseen river trickling down to an unexpected ocean view, wide, granite streets that are still well traveled, a library filled with the quiet shadows of lost knowledge, a theater whose acoustic still seems to whisper performances from another millennia and highly undisciplined cats. Like an empty shell filled with sunshine and history and my imaginings. There is no denying this is some kind of magical place to have hosted the most famous mathematicians, saints and philosophers of human times. St-John, St-Paul, the Virgin Mary, Heraclites, Thales. The contemplative power of the region also affected me very strongly.

As I said, even before I had left the bus, Selçuk was very much a 72-hour daydream. Images sown together, patterns and smells and colours, light in the same too bright sunlight so unfamiliar to someone living so far from the Equator.

The sole column of the temple of Artemis, crowned with the nest a proud, goddess-like crane. Cobble-stoned streets littered with red geraniums and the most beautiful cats in the world, patched-up and rachitic, with bright yellow eyes and brittle, jumpy nerves that patrolled them. Three old ladies creased by age and sun under their discolored headscarves, sitting on plastic chairs that used to be white, purring like the cats. Maybe they were the same that were sleeping in front of a TV on the rooftop next door. Hazelnut stuffed figs. Rusty bicycles we pushed freely down hilly streets. I was stopped by a shopkeeper who put his hands on my handlebars and plucked his lips as if to kiss me. I laughed a lot and he courted me in Turkish and I shook my head and screamed “Non, non, non!” and let my pedals turn wildly on the way down. The plushness of the carpet and the soft morning silence of our neighbourhood mosque. A bus driver who escorted me to my guesthouse and stole an almost overripe strawberry from the market for me. The tall, dry, yellow grass that sang at the foot of the St-John Basilica. Burning apple tea in a huge green garden. Watermelon carts and köfte. Turkish delights in every way.

Selçuk was also a house and its rooftop. So many of those waking yet dreamlike hours were spent on the roof of my most extraordinary guesthouse, writing, reading, drinking tea, eating watermelon, making conversation, making plans, making friends. Up the cool marble stairs, head in the clouds with the dancing sparrows, I realized this is where I had the best view of Turkey. At our feet, ruins and desert, terracotta tiles, TV antennas. Under our eyes, pinks and purples, velvet and silks of the sunset. But maybe the landscape was as interior as it was exterior.

I guess the question remains how do you grasp the essence of a country? By visiting a lot of cities, big and small, and a lot of non-cities, big and small. By being on the road, in the infamous nowhere that is somewhere after all, by finding oneself on a map as much as in the people who populate its dots and lines and wastes.  People and places. Plural. That is a country.

Mykonos.
Samos.
Selçuk

About:

Wherever you land, remember how you got there.
A couple of continents to go and as if that weren't enough, I invent and reinvent my own world every day.
Tan lines, photography and penmanship. Everyday visas.

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