Sunday, August 4, 2013

Random sensory details--writing about Greece (or trying to)


Me, on the Greek island of Santorini, on the back of a mule.  In case you can't tell, I'm laughing hysterically, half delighted that I was able to force myself to get onto that mule in the first place, and half scared out of my skull.  I'm not a big fan of heights, and I was riding the mule up a very steep path.  If she'd wanted to buck me over the side of that white stone wall to my death, she probably could have.  Easily.  But she was patient and humble, and she took me where I wanted to go.

I'm posting this picture now, because my (theoretical) novel in progress is set in Greece.  I was there last summer and also three summers ago on study tours; I travelled with students. They wrote poetry and essays about their travels, and I wrote alongside them.  I scribbled notes and took thousands of pictures, trying to capture every possible random sensory detail in case I decided to write seriously about Greece one day.

Now that I actually am writing about Greece, or trying to, I find that my two notebooks full of scribblings aren't quite doing what I need them to do.  Like my shoebox full of postcards, receipts and pebbles picked up from beachs on Naxos and Andros, the notes and photos serve to jog my memory--a little.  But the random sensory details I thought to record aren't necessarily the ones I need.  I strain to remember how the air smells in a particular spot in Athens, what sort of flowers grow up out of the sidewalk cracks in Thira, what it feels like to turn a random corner and see the Acropolis for the first time.

For now, I'm working my way through the story, leaving gaps in the description, to be filled out as the memories trickle back to me, if they ever do.  Without being able to revisit Greece, I have to trust that my notes and photos, my shoebox booty and my not-too-reliable memory will be enough to take me back to where I need to go.

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