“Tell what you saw…”


Now I know why I saved the olive oil tin and planted rosemary in it. All spring I’ve remembered Crete and my time there 43 years ago, a girl in love with Agamemnon, and all the beauty of the herbs and music.

Tell what you saw as the bus raced towards Agia Galini. Mountains. Tiny villages, white with churches, perched so high that you couldn’t imagine a reason for a village to be there until you remembered the history of Turks, Venetians, Germans; and yet a road lurched up the mountainside, sheep and goats grazed on the rocky slope, a few donkeys carried their riders uphill, laden with sticks and sacks.

Steep rises covered in dittany, juniper, plane trees in the squares of towns we passed through, shady and green. Holm oak and kermes oak. Rocks covered in low-growing thyme—by now you’d eaten your γιαούρτι με μέλι and knew that the bees had worked the thyme flowers to create this ambrosia, the first honey for which you’d been able to detect its origins.

Groves of olives, and long rows of grapes on the fertile plains. Through the open windows you smelled dust and unfamiliar wind.

Signs in Greek, which you yearned to be able to read. (You had your grammar and were trying to master the alphabet.)

You passed houses almost smothered in vines, the window frames and doors painted blue. Rusty oil cans held geraniums and lush basil; tomato plants climbed the whitewashed walls. Old women shrouded in black sat on chairs and held up a hand to the driver of the bus.

Outside a church in a small town, you saw an Orthodox priest eating an apple.

–from “Olea europaea: Young Woman with Eros on her Shoulder”, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, Goose Lane Editions, 2012.


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