the bones of nod

What will happen to my body after I am gone? People have answered this question differently for millennia. From mummification to Norse ship burials to a New Orleans style jazz funeral where the body accompanies a big brass band on its way to a humid grave.

And Grandma had her own kind of answer; the kind of answer that left her son Jim shaking his head on the way home from a visit, and maybe even gave her grandchildren the heebie-jeebies once or twice.

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I sat at the kitchen table in Grandma’s cottage, swimsuit still dripping wet. I was pulled out of the water by some adult or other who thought eating lunch was more important than swimming for reasons my childhood brain couldn’t comprehend (I still don’t really get it now). And Grandma, sitting back in her recliner, from which she balanced books and kept meticulous journals of each day’s events, thought it would be a good time to tell me her plans right as I bit in to handful of okie dokie popcorn. “I want to be buried under Nod,” she said. Under Nod?

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A cottage named after a poem: not a place for Grandmas.

Under Nod to me then, was a place where lost Frisbees and baseballs went to die, not a place for Grandmas. An image flashed into my mind of Grandma dragonlike in her undercottage cave hoarding children’s toys instead of gold. The image stuck as my parents’ vacuumed our bedrooms, and as I traded my dripping suit for laymen’s clothes. When we were finally packed into the car and done with goodbyes, I asked my father “What’s up with Grandma wanting to haunt us all?” He shook his head and said, “She has a lot of time left to change her mind.”

But we Stokeses are a stubborn stock, and Grandma’s mind didn’t change on this matter. In fact, we will place some of her ashes beneath the cottage later today.

What was right about what my Dad said way back then was that Grandma did have a lot of time. In that time—Christmas eve after Christmas eve of Grandma laughing and shaking her head no as Grandpa tried to get us to open the presents a day early, summer after summer of Grandma greeting guests up north, learning the names of new friends brought along by renters’ children, and watching the humming birds out the window with her husband—in that time, Grandma changed my mind about what it meant for her to rest under Nod.

In Romans 8:6, Paul tells the Roman Christians: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” And yet, wasn’t it Christ who came down to the world, who took on our flesh, and told us in John 6: 50-51 “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Some churches, not Grandma’s, believe that the Eucharist turns into the flesh of Christ and the wine turns into the blood in a process called transubstantiation. But with or without that change, with wine or blood or grape juice, Christianity is united in knowing how powerful and loving Christ’s gesture of living and dying embodied as one of us humans was.  Christ knew the power of flesh not just as symbolism. He knew it in his bones, the bones he had for a while, the bones he had for us.

So now when I think of Grandma under the cottage, I think not of a dragon or some ghost. groupI think of the life Grandma led on this earth. The way she acted as a foundation for this family. Making sure every summer when I brought up a group of friends up north in college that we all got together for a group picture on the last day. I rolled my eyes the first time she did it. But last week on the last day up here with friends I found myself making everyone line up for the photo and thinking of Grandma.

One of my father’s earliest memories and one he shared often was of a time Grandma found the pillows of his bed on the floor when he was two or three years old. She had made the bed, she knew and she became certain her Linda and Jim had gotten into a pillow fight. Jim was punished. Throughout the punishment he swore he didn’t get to have the joys of the pillow fight he was now being blamed for. Just after the punishment ended, Grandma reached back into the depths of her memory and realized she had put the pillows on the floor in the process of fixing the sheets. She had gotten distracted by the many crises of motherhood and forgot. My father told the story not because of the punishment but because of how kind and apologetic Grandma was afterward. It was a story that told me not just of the fallibility of adults, but of how to admit when you’re wrong, even when it’s hard, even when it makes you feel silly.

Grandma was there for all of

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Grandma’s great grandchildren holding hands as the family prepares to spread her ashes.

us: somehow teaching us life lessons in between cooking her millionth family dinner and reheating Grandpa’s coffee for the third time that day. She was like the foundation holding up Nod, you forget how integral it is to the structure until you lose a Frisbee underneath it and take some time to really look.

What happened to Grandma’s body after she was gone? It was cremated. It will be spread around the places she loved by the people she held together with kindness and photo albums and journals of names and hot coffee. While Grandma’s life in the flesh is over (her hugs, her smile, her laugh, no longer here to comfort us) her spirit (found in the pew on the Sunday mornings of her life learning parishioners’ names as fast as renters) is at peace. Her memory—foundational to our family— resides in the bones of the cottage she held together. But she cannot be reduced to that symbolism either. The time we had with Grandma here on earth in the flesh is what gives our memories of her life.

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Under Nod: a place for Grandma. 

thanksgiving is wherever i’m with you

today, the globestumbler is busy applicating to universities to become a doctor of words or letters or performance or art. therefore, i have taken over once more to talk to you about food. a few days back there was a holiday that revolves around food. perhaps you’re familiar with it.

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thanksgiving day is a historical hotbed of debate. particularly of note are the controversies around origin and imperialism. the ‘schoolchildren’ version of thanksgiving is that it was a harvest celebration where pilgrims, from the mayflower, in funny (and historically inaccurate) hats had a big dinner with native americans because they were good pals. this story leaves out the later ideas of manifest destiny and genocide that lead to the modern united states. in contemporary understanding, pilgrims and puritans all over had various days of thanksgiving after harvests or particularly beneficial occurrences (like landing alive in the new world) and that it wasn’t standardized until well into the twentieth century. incidentally, the day after thanksgiving is native american heritage day, something often overlooked due to black friday, the cult holiday of mammon where worshipers stand in formation outside of businesses until the hour of midnight and then enter frenzy.

for much of my life, thanksgiving was something of a pilgrimage. most of my extended family lived far enough away that i didn’t see them regularly, but close enough that we got together three or four times a year- thanksgiving being one of those times. the fourth thursday in november came with the novelty of traveling to the big city of chicago for three days. the night before thanksgiving we would arrive and have a pizza dinner (always and only at aurelio’s) with most of the family we would be spending the next day with. thanksgiving day the whole family would be at my grandparent’s house in elk grove village, cooking for twenty five (and growing every year) or watching football.15287_10151332067785746_2140101946_n

as our family expanded and relocated, there were splinterings. thanksgivings became more diversified. they occurred in several households, often with a communal post-dinner pie gathering in one location. each group of the family improved in their own way on cranberry sauces, turkeys, and pies. the food changed, and the locations changed, but the day was always about seeing family. if only for laughter, music, and pie. dutch families are like corporations in that way: they grow, divide, create new and exciting foods, and repeat. now my aunts, uncles, and parents are grandparents in their own right.1452170_2585475877172_1806748393231430549_n i watched the traditional turkey in the midst of thirty relatives transform into a brined, buttered piece of culinary art (i’m looking at my fancy siblings here) and the sights out the window change from the huge pine tree my cousins and i would play ‘lost children’ behind to the firepit my friends and family would gather around and at which we would talk for hours. last year the window became a computer screen through which i joined the globestumbler’s thanksgiving feast in boston. i realized that the day had no particular place or taste. thanksgiving was about the people.

how, then, were the globestumbler and i to re-create this celebration while we were thousands of miles from friends and family?

we looked around and decided that the best way to cook up a holiday was to follow a recipe. the recipe for an out of country thanksgiving is as follows:

  • activity that will consume most of the day and require getting up earlier than reasonable to be accomplished by a midday feast.
  • hearty food that will fill any empty spaces felt below the neck, including: gravy, mashed potatoes, bread, and buttered vegetables.
  • alcohol. because there’s nobody more thankful than someone with a little beer or wine in them.
  • connection in some way with the people you love.
  • pie.

for me, the thanksgiving activity had to be cooking.

i love to cook (as should be readily apparent in my previous posts). i woke up at seven, an ungodly hour in greece as witnessed by they couple dozen people i passed still drinking and frolicking from the night before, and went to the grocery store to get what i could for traditional vegetarian thanksgiving. i returned an hour later with mixed results. shiitake mushrooms were nowhere to be found, canned pumpkin was a nonentity, and sweet potatoes were equally unforthcoming. however, what i did find for ingredients made up for the gap by being particularly sentimental. the white wine i found for cooking came from a winery we had recently toured with good friends. i didn’t know what type of flour i was going to be cooking with, but i knew the greek dictionary on my phone called it ‘fibber’ and i was excited to be eating pie made of lies. the apples for the pie came from an old man who looked like my father and gave me a free quince.

IMG_6674the globestumber’s thanksgiving activity was a tradition of hers long before we ever met. she woke up and began to write thank-you notes to our friends and family. this was no small feat, as she went into detail about why they were significant and how important their friendship was over the last year. every year the list has grown, and for the first time it took longer to thank everyone than it did to cook. when i got back with the ingredients and started to roast the garlic for breadbiscuitrolls (we ended up cooking fourteen bulbs of garlic in our thanksgiving dinner, another new record), she was thanking our friends who live abroad in time zones closest to ours. as i was struggling with the shells for pie, she took a break from thanking our family who live in the eastern time zone to bail me out.20151126_183005.jpg by the time i was mashing potatoes and pouring the porcini mushroom gravy into the pot pie, she was beginning the long list of friends in the states. as i pulled our feast from the oven, she was only halfway through. it wasn’t until we were in the gap between dinner and dessert that she finally wrapped it all up.
in all, we managed to make thanksgiving from scratch. we had each other and spent the day doing what we loved: reaching out to the people we love and cooking. it was in a warm glow of dutch apple pie, beer, netflix, and this love that we ended our first family holiday abroad, connected to our loved ones with phone lines and held in text boxes.

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story. time.

much happened since our last post. both of our laptops were broken in the hands of ryanair. foot pain from a previous surgery caused me to tentatively schedule surgery for december 29th. and the blog was missing in action.

please hit fastfoward with me past our secluded apartment on syros. through some terrible flights on ryanair (“thank you, but no, for the hundredth time, i would not like to buy £300 perfume on this £30 flight.”) through a week in grey scotland with sunny friends.IMG_5128through a week in serbia spent primarily outside coffee shops with blankets and conversation for warmth. IMG_5857and all the way to the city of iraklio (i said time was wonky before. now do you believe me?).IMG_6201[1].JPG

after two days in the port city of iraklio, we went from tourists to hosts. using guide books and internet lists, we completed an itinerary just minutes before our friends’ plane touched down: museums, wineries, palaces, and seaside forts awaited them. we felt pressured to show them the “real” crete (whatever that meant) and to leave them with the “right” story to tell about the island. quickly, we remembered our friends were visiting us from london. as long as sun had been in the storyline, they would have been satisfied.

on their last morning, looking to eek out whatever final drops of sun greece had to offer them, we hopped in a taxi. we asked the taxi driver if there was a particularly good part of the beach near the city to visit. his monosyllabic answer was “no.” still, he drove us to the subpar beach. still, our friends described their last morning as perfect.IMG_6339[1]

over and over from guide books, from pharmacists, from cab drivers, we’ve been told that iraklio is not particularly great. but each promises something better over the next hill or the one after that.

over the next hill, five kilometers to the south, is the minoan palace of knossos. knossos is a historical site where layers of history have been carved, placed, painted, baked, broken, cemented, restored, and rerestored. its history is knotted and entwined with mythology and with modernism and with greece and with england and with its many visitors who each leave with a different story. here is one of ours:

at knossos, the signage is aware it’s telling a story. less a story of the distant past (though parts of the palace date back to 2000 bce and radiocarbon dates on axes and knives found on the site go back as far as 7000 bce) and more a story of the comparatively recent past (think late 1800s and early 1900s, oh so common era).

one of the first signs visitors encounter is entitled: “the excavations at knossos and their protogonists.” while the sign mentions the first man to perform a systematic excavation at knossos–a greek archaeologist named minos kalokairinos–it quickly jots onward to the english archaeologist arthur evans. and while the sign goes on to mention otherEvans people, the name evans is by far the most frequently used on signs around the site. we counted. his name appears at least 48 times (we may have missed a few but we tried to find them all for you, dear reader.) his visage is also waiting for visitors just through the vines.

so who is this /protagonist/? well, according to our tour guide:

”                                                           ”

the signs all around mention the various way evans interpreted what he encountered at knossos. but our guide was silent on the matter. the signs still describe virtually every room in the palace with a name that refers to what evans’ imagined occurred there. one room is still called the throne room after evans’ interpretation despite the sign acknowledging it was likely a space for worship. another is called the school room (again named by evans) although the sign acknowledges it was more likely used as a workshop for ceramics.

instead of evans, our guide told us four things we must remember from the palace:

  1. the people of knossos were peaceful and had no slaves. this, he said, was known because there weren’t any fortifications, so the rulers weren’t afraid of invaders or their underlings.
  2. the people of knossos respected women and nature. this, he said, was visible through the high number of priestesses and their frescoes of dolphins.
  3. the people of knossos imported precious metals from europe, asia minor, and cyprus.
  4. knossos is the “basement” of western civilization.

and we do remember them. though the validity of the first has been called into question and the last is nothing if not dubious (we now believe after wading through more conflicting stories on the internet).

the internet told us more about evans too. his excavations of the palace brought the first reinforced concrete to the island of crete. he poured £250,000 of his own money into the work. his interpretations and methods are contested by many archaeologists and historians. and he has influenced writers and thinkers (including freud and joyce). reinforcing our tour guides’ view that knossos is indeed the basement or at least the foundation of “western civilization” (at least as imagined by evans). his particular retelling may have had certain questionable ends in mind rather than just a playful reimagining of the past.

now press the rewind button, back before the wave of stories that sedimented over one layered historical peak to another island, and another place layered in the past: scotland. scotland was our first non-greek destination and it was in the layers of graves in edinburgh’s greyfriar kirkyard that another story tied into our own.

our friend in scotland loves to10306550_10208135445611895_1769487794384385714_n warm the souls of those who visit her with the story of greyfriar’s bobby. the story goes that a loyal little terrier (named bobby) stayed in the kirkyard (think ‘churchyard’) by the grave of
his owner for fourteen years out of pure devotion. bobby even has his own grave and a statue outside of a local restaurant whose nose purportedly gives good luck when rubbed.

it was just this kind of happy story we expected when stan-lee, our delightful hobbit of a poltergeist tour-leader, stopped by bobby’s grave on the way to the most haunted place in edinburgh. with growing apprehension and horror IMG_5549we listened as he told us bobby was a product of the american society for bobby, that someone with the same name as the dog owner was here (but a different occupation), and unless that dog could read and was just confused, there was no connection that would keep him there. as we walked away from the kirkyard, shaken by the tale about bobby (also the poltergeist), we decided that we liked bobby just fine before stan-lee’s story and rubbed the nose of his statue for luck. then, we agreed not to look into it any more.

then we looked into it, and it seems that this place, this famous and honest movie company, and this guy all have different stories to tell, so we’re not sure where the ‘truth’ of bobby is. but we’re still more or less satisfied with the first story we knew (less at the moment, but we’ll forget what we googled eventually).

back to knossos. as we were looking at the last few signs on the palace grounds today, an older british couple caught us tallying the instances of evans’ name. they laughed and told us a few more stories of evans’ invented stories, of tiny fragments of paintings believed now to be floor tile expanded into wall art in random rooms on the site by dutch painters. and we all felt smug for a moment in our knowledge.

eventually though, guilt brought us to the admission that sometimes we tell stories about ourselves to make order out of the chaos of our own pasts. i told the couple of my father: “my dad went to greece when I was just a child. he saw that fresco of the dolphins. you know, the one you said was probably floor tiling. and it made the past feel real to him. the way they looked at dolphins with wonder wasn’t far from the way he did. and that tale of his brought me to greece. or at least that’s what i tell myself.”

“what a nice story” the woman said. or did she?

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we have bones under our skin

The globestumbler solemnly swears she has not authored this post.
the globestumbler solemnly swears she has not authored this post.

this is a musing takeover of the blog by mike, since there hasn’t been much chance to cook while we uproot from syros and stumble around a few more airports and countries. as we put syros behind us, i was thinking a lot about bones. the globestumbler and i saw bones in many forms traveling this island.20150919_105550 our first look at syros was the northern tip, a barren spine rising up out of the aegean to make peaks of vertebrae. it took some time to grow on us. we had come to the island with little foreknowledge about how it was supposed to look. those mountains really were the backbone of syros, and they became the roots of our stories here. there was no bus ride that didn’t require a trip along their mineralized paths, and the worn-down bits of greenschist were the perfect skipping stones on the beach of ambela.

around the beach of ambela were the skeletons of houses, houses that were being built until the financial crisis stopped construction at various stages. along the hills, the initial concrete limbs of buildings rose out of the flaky layers of stone. they seem to take after the scuffed limestone of the temple of olympian zeus. the skeletons taught me the steps of constructing the beautiful white box houses that are a trademark of greece. i saw each step preserved around the island.skeletons on the hill
the concrete skeletons go up. the gaps are then filled with muscle-like bricks that flex into windows and doorways. then, the walls are covered in a white sea shell. finally the doors and windows are added, along with shutters of such colors one might shiver or shudder at their beauty. on syros, we saw a few of them coming out of fossilization and filling out again with the help of bulldozers and cranes and people at work. i love these bones. how they live.

for a brief week, the globestumbler and i journeyed beyond the shores of syros to the neighboring islands of mykonos and tinos. the morning of our final day on mykonos, she, her father, his wife, and i took our quad-wheelers up the steep mountains on the northwest side of the island to see a lighthouse we were told had the best view of the area. after winding up dirt roads that climbed the stony back of the island, we made it to the outer wall of the lighthouse. we were stopped there by a man in military fatigues. the lighthouse was under construction.

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all around the lighthouse sat spectacular views of the aegean, tinos, rineia, delos, and syros. meanwhile, i was watching the work being done. three men were climbing the exoskeleton of the one hundred twenty four year old building. there was scaffolding covering the top, and they were patching areas that had become unstable. this was hardly the first structure we had seen with its bones on the outside while it was being rebuilt. the tower of the winds in the roman agora, the parthenon… many buildings in greece (at least in our off-season visit) were being renovated. a lot of effort was being spent on the older bones to keep them in the temporal space they originated from. the exoskeletons were there to explain the process of restoration.

the opportunity to get past the cortex and to see into the core of greece has been delightful. after a month here, we feel we’re doing more living than vacationing. it’s the same as coming into someone’s house when they’re getting ready for visitors, but aren’t quite ready yet. you get to have a glass of wine (with the owner of the ambela tavern as it closed for the season) or beer (with the owner of the nissos brewery while they upgraded the facilities) with the host and see all of the effort that goes into throwing the party.

while we enjoyed nissos, we happened to have something that was boneless, just to be contrarian.
while we enjoyed nissos, we happened to have something that was boneless, just to be contrarian.

on the island of tinos, we stuck out a little more than elsewhere. fewer people spoke english and we had to rely more on my halting greek. nevertheless, on a couple occasions it worked well enough to get the message across. during our visit to the nissos brewery, our host thought i was greek because my pronunciation of a greeting and a simple question was particularly good. the illusion crumbled when my vocabulary ran out, however. the next time was in the monastery of kechrovouni. we had stumbled into a beautiful church and were puzzling over a rock in a glass box. 20151010_105621the nun who was in the room to hand out candles for prayer approached us and began speaking in rapid greek. i asked as politely as i could that she slow down. with both of us tripping on our words, she indicated to me that the item in the box was a “kefali” –a head. and gesturing to the gold leaf portrait on the wall, she gave the name “pelaghia.” we learned we had been closely observing a skull from above. the skull was a receptacle of the story of its saint and the icon she uncovered.  it was about that time i became aware of how prevalent bones had been in our recent living. it was like the realization of a child that there are bones within her, that she is made of bones. in that moment i remembered that under the clothes, paint-coats, skin, concrete, and muscle, there were bones everywhere in the landscapes and churches and bodies we were living in.

SCREWthe globestumbler and i both have feet that are different than what podiatrists
would call ‘normal.’ her feet have arches that rival the lofty buttresses of european cathedrals. they’re scaffolded with screws and plates to keep the metatarsals supported. my feet spread out wide enough to destroy a pair of boots in three months of continuous use. the human body has about 270 bones at birth that later fuse into an average of 206. some of the globestumbler’s bones have been fused further with the hope of making them more stable. i have a few extra bones, which is why my feet are so wide.  there are bones under the big toe that stabilize the foot, but i have a bonus pair of them by my pinky toes. there are bones everywhere when you stop and think: in mountains, in boxes, and in people. the bones carry stories with them and on them. all of these bones, outside and inside, tell stories about the world they drew from to grow and the world they continue to exist in as relics.

in the world of dungeons and dragons IMG_4784(at least, the early editions), there are many spells that require bone as a material component. bones are used to commune with a character’s deity, to grow, to summon a guardian, and to regenerate. the living bone of a creature is something that carries the spirit in the game’s magical conception of reality. if i thought it would imbue me with the essence of this island, offer me instant return, or bolster my flagging memory, i would inscribe the name of syros into my bones. as it stands, i’ve been gifted a bit of the bone-white marble of the island i will carry into the skeletons of all my future homes to remember the living bones of the cyclades.

wholly holy holes

in the drawer of our hotel room we would later find a bible. but the first twenty blueroof churchwe encountered were stacked in the hotel lobby, alongside small candles and beaded crosses. while we had grown accustomed to blue-or-maroon-roofed churches on the top of hills in every little beach town on the island of syros, nothing readied us for the holy island.

on the day before our journey to tinos, michael and i found a list of things to do and see. we knew little about the place except it was a thirty minute ferry ride away and that ferry ride only cost eight euros. the most exciting thing on the list was the prospect of beer. as such we quickly forgot we were headed to a holy place. instead we called the microbrewery to schedule an appointment for a tour and felt as though we were headed home.

our hotel owner, george, picked us up at the new harbor of tinos and drove us around the corner to the old harbor on which our hotel beesroom looked out. he toldus of marble quarries and dovecotes and moonscapes and beaches with little mention of the church and the monastery for which the island is known to greeks. the vast majority of visitors to tinos are greeks on religious pilgrimage, but with michael sporting a bright red fanny pack and me sporting a lack of capacity to smoothly pronounce the word efcharistó (thank you) which i feel compelled to say repeatedly anyway, george was somehow not convinced of our grecian origin. despite the stack of bibles lingering behind george’s head during his tourist-focused description of the island, we had forgotten we’d arrived in a holy place.

we dropped our bags at the hotel and made our way toward the microbrewery. we learned its name after a series of fits and starts with a cab driver we were confusing. michael’s phone dictionary didn’t have the greek word for brewery and the cab driver was unsure of the meaning of the word in english. eventually i just said “we want to go to the place that makes beer” and as i said beer i did my best impression of the way i chugged the golden liquid from red solo cups at metal frat in college. the cab driver laughed and blurted out, “nissos!” with a face full of recognition. we were on our way. nissos does not mean beer, michael informed me. it simply means island. and since we were already on an island, we could have been headed anywhere, but i trusted my charades skills (at least when applied to alcohol consumption) and soon we had arrived.

we were on time. arriving at 16:00 and not confusing it with 6pm for once. but on time, we learned was quite early in tinos. so we waited on a deck shaded beer chandelierwith bamboo (they grow bamboo all over the cyclades) and centered around a beer chandelier for the brewery owners to arrive. with wine, my dear friend claire always suggested we buy the bottle with the most interesting label (that was within our budget). i know, i know judging the poor wine by its outsides. still, labels that had been painstakingly crafted we found most often paired with great wines. normally this meant a striking image or thoughtful name. while nissos’ turquoise banner in front of a ray-spoked sun is evocative enough of afternoons on the island, it wasn’t that part of the packaging that struck me. each beer in the chandelier had a description…that’s not the right word…each beer had a story on the bottle and it was the story that made me fall in love:

greek and artisanal, nissos beer is born on the island of tinos, calls the cyclades home, and sails the seas of the aegean. nissos loves summer afternoons, delectible food, cool shades, whitewashed chapels, and hand-hewn stone. it is inspired by the accomplishments of men, the yield of the land, the light, the surf, the summer winds, halcyon days, and the smell of spring. happy encounters, tradition, craftsmanship, generosity, persistence, and hospitality. these are the values of nissos.

the owners, alexandros kouris and maya tsokli, arrived just after i finished reading the story of nissos. they told us more stories. maya, a famous travel writer in greece, told us about how, after a life of constant moving, she and alexandros were finally started to grow roots on tinos. we laughed: if a travel writer is deciding to stay somewhere it must be somewhere worthwhile. but we already knew this story without words. we just needed one look at the view of the aegean from the brewery. alexandros told us of a fig tree that lived on the beer. he showed us its robust fruits as evidence. but michael only knew when he tasted the beer. like the experience of wheat bread just out of the oven on a cold winter day was the taste of cold nissos beer in the early fall where 72 degree days on the island remained constant. 

for just a moment we remembered this was the holy island.

that night we slept full of beer and woke full of desire to see the island that
convinced a travel writer to settle stay for a while. the only way to see much of tinos during the off-season is to rent a car (the bus runs just a few times a day once summer ends) or a moped (but michael and i would look pretty silly trying to sit road kowon one of those together). we picked the car. for me much of tinos was a blur of cliffs that could send us to our death if i so much as jostled the steering wheel and cows and cats and goats that i swerved to avoid or slowed to pass.

the blur became more focused when we stopped to take pictures of a golden roofedgolden church church or pulled off at a monastery where a nun explained to michael the rock we were looking at was a kefáli (head). sure enough on second glance we realized we were staring at a woman’s skull. later we’d learn she was a saint. from the monastery we drove over more blurry roads to a museum explaining marble graveyardhow marble is extracted and shaped throughout tinos. just down the hill mountain from the museum is a graveyard where that marble is implemented in creating monuments to the lives of tinos’ dead.grave of marble worker

after the graveyard, we drove down another
hillmountain and swam in the bay at panormos: craggy cliff on one side, a picturesque port town on the other, and an island in between. just as we stopped swimming, the rain started. salt water puddled with fresh and we drove back around the mountains to chora (the main town) on roads slicked and blurred.
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we woke up our last morning on tinos having forgetten it was sunday. our ferry was set to arrive at 2:45pm to take us back to syros. with the time left we thought we’d journey up the central road of chora to the church. yesterday’s rain was still sporadically drizzling. we should have known it was sunday. it felt like sunday.

when i was a child my family regularly punned with the words holey and holy and even wholly to such a degree that old socks became holier and holeyer while making me more whole. the words are not opposites or even capable of existing distinctly for me. to mention one is to mention all three. 

so as we walked accidentally to a sunday service at the church of panagia evangelistria, the words from the guide book describing tinos as the holy wholly holey nissos (island) came back to me.

and to describe the whole-holiness of holes that followed, i can only attempt to do so with poetry:

Pharmakos

We come to the street
not remembering it’s Sunday:
the street where two months prior people crawled
on the now wet rubberized carpet toward the church.
Candles, taller than the children carrying them, remind us.
We buy a candle on one side of the street or the other.
They were always for sale.
We’re unsure what the colors mean.
The taller ones are more expensive.
Ours is red.
We’re unsure what the candles mean.
We follow past
the statue that does not stop
crawling in October.
We follow up
the first stairs of the church
and a woman says nothing
but cuts the wick of our candle
to the right shortness to burn beside others.
We follow the candles to a room 
where even silver looks saffron in the glow.
We must take fire from one of the candles 
we followed to have some of our own. Or at least we do take. 
We want to leave the hot room housing the candles but we must nod 
at a picture in the corner.  Or at least we do nod.
Back on the steps of the church there is no longer 
the distance required of follow. A child in front holds his mother’s face 
and yawns, “eímai kourasménos” over and over. And we are tired. 
A child behind us pushes grandfather forward with all her strength. 
Grandfather only moves when the crowd moves but leaves
the credit for the child. And we are responsible.
Ahead of me a man leans on a shrine built into the wall.
The brunt of his lean is weighted on a palm the color of dried figs.
Attached to the palm were three fingers. The same three fingers
my grandfather had to hold his olive coffee mug.
As we move forward toward the ritual most hands 
search their pockets for coins. Coins we know are being 
placed in metal offering plates somewhere ahead.
But the specters of my grandfather’s 
fingers traced the wall, not wallets.
The children in front of us know 
the sign of the cross more fluently than we speak
other languages in our dreams. Presumably 
they also know what the music means 
and how to kiss the icon in front of us 
without angering the priest who wipes her down 
repeatedly with some antibacterial laced material.  
We bow gently at her and don’t look enough to remember 
the face by the time the crowd moves us away.
I try to pray for the hands of my grandfather
but there’s no way to watch how the others compose their prayers.
Or at least to know.
And later I’ll learn the icon should be 
asked for healing or safe passage at sea.
Neither of which I prayed for Sunday morning.

crawling

‘cous no one can resist

good morning, afternoon, evening, or goodnight, depending on where the sun is currently in your geographic portion of this watery sphere we live on! this is the newly-minted mr. stokes taking over again to bring you some more food fantasies!

neckbread

because this is, technically, my honeymoon with the globestumbler, i’ve been thinking back to when i first went to ann arbor to see her. i made a couscous dish as part of my ‘big dinner’ plan for wooing jessica suzanne stokes. while i had much more neckbeard back then, i also had less of an idea of what relationships meant. while i didn’t win her then (and never did because i decided partnership was a lot better than victory), i at least made the initial overtures of interest that grew into our romantic love.

sitting here in greece and thinking back to those first meetings and awkward encounters, i decided it was time to make something that tasted a little like our first ‘date’. that first mealtime, jess was singing a quite suggestive song, and i was quite oblivious. while i’m still a bit embarrassed about how slow i was on the uptake in those days, i wanted to take up making couscous with some of the local produce and flavors.

if you’d like to do the same, here’s what you need:20150928_165104

  • 250g (about one and a half cups) of couscous
  • three bell peppers
  • one medium-sized zucchini
  • one red onion
  • three (or more) cloves of garlic
  • feta cheese to garnish
  • some salt
  • some oregano
  • some rosemary
  • some olive oil

20150928_170826once you have these ingredients gathered together, preferably with your dearly
beloved, it is time to perform the rituals of food preparation upon them. while a sacrificial kris is usually sharp enough for the job, the wavy blade makes for unwieldy  cuts, and so i’d suggest any variety of kitchen knife. one form of proper preparation is displayed below:

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now, since we have only two burners in our little studio apartment in the sky, we have to cook our couscous in stages. for that purpose, we divide the veggies into three sets: first the zucchini, to cook on its own and absorb the oil and herb flavors; second, large chunks of pepper and slices of onion for texture and flavor; finally, the minced onion and garlic with some finely chopped peppers to give flavor to the couscous.

once all of your veggies are ready, it’s time to hit the pan. this is one of my favorite times of cooking, because with that righteous scent of olive oil and the sound of crisp veggies first hitting that hot surface, it’s a symphony of senses:

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if you have more burners available, then you can saute up all of your veggies on
one side about halfway through the cooking of the couscous.  for the couscous pan, you’re going to want to cook up the nicely diced vegetables in a little more oil than you think is necessary. this is because you want to toast your couscous a bit right before you hit it with water and white wine.

once the couscous has become soft, it can be taken out of the pan and topped with those deliciously sizzled veggies from your other pan(s). but if you really want to swing for the fences, you break out your super-secret (yet optional, for those of you who are full-fledged vegetarians) ingredient:

SUPRISE!
shrimp sauteed in white wine and garlic, for the pescatarians (aka: cheating vegetarians) out there

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boom. secret ingredients. because the shrimp is a quick cook, it makes it an easy surprise addition to an already fantastic meal. topping off the veggies, shrimp, and couscous with our favorite garnish, feta, makes for one gorgeous dish in the sunset. try this recipe, if you will, and i hope it carries to you the sound of rustling bamboo, the rumbling aegean, and the taste of late summer whenever you make it.

falling pt. 2 (time warp)

adulchildren build a giant snowman

adulchildren build a giant snowman

this past year, in a world prior to 34°C days hiking (or in my case hobbling?) in the athen’s sun, i lived through boston’s snowiest winter with these four humans. we built forts and snowmen when sidewalks were too dangerous and lacking in clear curb cuts for me to commute anywhere. time moved slowly for a while as snow day after snow day placed us outside of our usual timeline: class and work and transportation were inaccessible.

a monster and the graduates

then, spring found us (though it took until mid-july for all of the snow to melt). and with spring came the graduation of the three theater education members i lived with. their biological families filled our apartment with taco salad, greek salad, tzatziki, cookies, and hopes for their children. it was a day of ceremony. of moving on. of ushering in new phases in life. and time moved impossibly fast.

in queer studies, there is a notion of queer temporality: an idea or many ideas about how perceptions of time/history as they exist now in our culture are not absolute, but affected by conventional notions of family structures and biological reproduction and how people outside of those structures may have different relationships with time.

think about an assignment to trace your family tree in school: the way we’re taught to perceive the passage of time through generations of biological family and those added to a family by marriage. consider how time might work if we perceived kinship as possible in the absence of genetic ties and across generational boundaries. kind of like the way time moved for my former housemates and i in boston, the way my partner michael and i could function as alternately (and sometimes both) parents and peers for our housemates, the way we stepped outside of adult responsibilities and into forts, the way we remolded what growing up meant for us.

jack halberstam’s explanation of what queer time means to him in this roundtable discussion more articulately captures what I’m attempting to describe:

queer time for me is the dark nightclub, the perverse turn away from the narrative coherence of adolescence– early adulthood –marriage – reproduction – child rearing– retirement–death, the embrace of late childhood in place of early adulthood or immaturity in place of responsibility. it is a theory of queerness as a way of being in the world and a critique of the careful social scripts that usher even the most queer among us through major markers of individual development and into normativity.

outside of a linear understanding of time how else might wibbly wobblywe think of time as moving? fans of doctor who might agree with my partner’s shirt; time, according to the 10th doctor, is not “a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually…it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” silliness aside, our perception/description of time often involves words regarding movement, movement that is not necessarily “straight” ahead.

for instance, tom boellstorff describes how time sometimes “falls rather than passes.” the notion that “‘may 23 /falls/ on a tuesday’…allows two cycles of time to be running simultaneously but not perfectly parallel, creating circular movements of coincidence…”

disability theorist, alison kafer, is quite interested in the notion of “falling time,” a phrasing that reminds her less of coincidence and more of movement “akin to stumbling, tripping, and impaired bodies.” she describes how time might be disrupted during the act of falling. she articulates how “falling ill” can also change the way time is perceived,  how a cancer diagnosis and prognosis can “interrupt ‘the idea of a timeline and all the usual ways one orients oneself in time–one’s age generation and stage in the assumed lifespan.'”

after my partner and i boarded the ferry to the island of syros, we spent hours trying to consume time. sure, the ride was beautiful, but the motion of boats makes me a bit sick and we had stayed out until 2am with new humans in athens and had risen at 5am to shower and catch the ferry. time smudged. things from the night before, the taste of souvlaki and the waves of conversation, merged with the salt taste of sea air and the rocking of the back deck of the boat.

suddenly we were far away from greece’s largest city, where we ate tiropita from the baker a few steps down the street, where we were constantly surrounded by people who could speak our language and six others, where witnessed a small rally for syriza in monastiraki square the night before the election. abruptly we were on syros, totaling only 32 sq mi. jerkily, we were rocking side to side in the backseat of a taxi on an island with a population that’s about 0.7% of the urban population of athens. and then, we were in the town of abela with a population of appx. 50 humans: our home for the next month.

michael was beaming. he saw the bougainvillea that would color all our memories. he saw the aegean we’d walk to, just a hill away. he saw the twin beds we’d push together. he saw the balcony we’d read and write on. i didn’t see much. i felt the uneven road threatening to turn my ankle. i feared the bus stop, a fifteen minute walk down those hilly uneven roads (with a bus coming every few hours). i missed the students we’d eaten and laughed with in athens. being isolated was scarier for me because of the number of times i’ve needed an ambulance in my life.

mike proposed a swim.

he knows water is where i feel safe: where i can dance without joint pain and somersault without headaches.

i agreed.

when we reached the sea, i fell.

here’s the reenactment:

falling

normally when i fall, time falls with me. my body enacts the muscles of previous and future falls, engages times that link me to every other response i’ve had to stumbles in hopes one of them will show me how to fall this time without injury. mostly, it works. i fall weekly with little more than stubbed toes.

but even though my body fell smoothly into the aegean, using falls into ann arbor rivers and michigan’s great lakes to avoid a single scrape, i did not avoid branding. my body advertised itself to the greek families bathing and swimming beside us as dis (apart, asunder, away). and then there was the jellyfish:

who made sure there was some overly literal symbolism.  just as i felt most distant from greece, it became part of my body. a scar. a story. a moment time will collapse back to. totesnotjelly

aching, unsure of what was happening to my arm, i stood up and pleaded for michael’s hand. he provided the balancing point while we walked back up the rocky path to the apartment. i provided the sobbing. unfortunately in our dismay, the only thing we could remember as treatment in case of jellyfish was piss. so we got inside and tested our relationship with a golden shower we both consented to but neither of us was excited about. after michael peed on me, we learned that this is not a scientifically proven method. in fact, we now know peeing on a jellyfish sting can make things worse.

when i was still sobbing and our treatment had failed, michael ran back to the beach where a small taverna (the only shop of any kind in abela) was serving late lunch to it’s customers. thassanis, a server with a summer contract on the island, calmed michael down, sold him water, and sent him away with what was left of the restaurant’s supply of  after-nip (a soft gell to relieve pain from jellyfish stings) after a busy summer season of swimming injuries.

covered in after-nip, michael and i walked arm and arm (though not the wounded arm) back to the taverna. thasanis reminded me that my jellyfish wound was not so distancing. instead, it connected me with swimmers from may and june and july who had sought respite and assistance in the tavern, who had squeezed from the same bottle of sting relief. michael and i got drunk and ate zucchini and feta grown on the island and felt disproportionately bonded with a new place considering how little linear time we had spent there.

the next morning, i saw the bougainvillea.saw