Friday, May 28, 2010

Gathering Stones

I am comfortable in ruins. Standing on the rocky beach on the Greek island of Naxos, the Aegean laps at my ankles, and I'm not surprised by the remnants of a city beneath the waves. Paving stones tightly aligned form a road. The base of a wall visible one moment and then obscured by the sea. In the near distance is the gate to Apollo's Temple, begun in the 5th century B.C. and never finished.

After nearly two weeks in Greece I have run my hands across the rough cobble of walls, trod on pathways of ancient marble, regarded the countryside through narrow windows of ruined chapels. Eons of human experiences are held in the  pores of these stones. Rows of museum pots carefully puzzled back together, bright mosaics enduring their missing tiles--the world here is both wreckage and beauty, ruin and wonder.

"The settlement for your divorce is still going on?" a friend or a family member asks every few weeks. The affirmative answer I give with each inquiry never fails to agitate me.
"I just want this to be over!" I've wailed time and again.
But in this ruin of a marriage, myself carefully reassembled like a broken pot, maybe there is no "over."

In Greece, as elsewhere in the ancient world, the new is built upon the old. Church upon temple. Road upon road. Life teems above an ancient burial ground. A mini-market sells ice cream, vegetables, and bottled water where an aqueduct once flowed.  Bronze Age, Iron Age, Archaic Period, Classical Period stack up like layers in a slice of moussaka. Onslaught after onslaught of invaders--northern tribes, Persians, Franks, Turks, Venetians, Germans and Italians have all torn Greece down and reassembled it as their own. But still, modern Greeks fling open their arms to visitors--spoon sweets into our mouths, and music into our ears. Zeus himself is the guardian of hospitality, they proclaim.

Standing atop Mount Zas, the place it is said that Zeus was raised, I look into the infinity of the Aegean.
Clouds and islands, villages and olive groves, but the line of the horizon does not exist.  Blue into blue, there is no beginning and no end. All of my striving to close the door on the era of my life that contained my marriage and begin anew now seems to me an absurd notion. I am old and new, merged into one person. A kingdom undersea connected to a new town on its shore.

"Someone still has an awful lot of baggage," one of my Internet dates wrote to me in an email a couple of years ago. After several pleasant phone calls and online chats, I'd decided to share my blog. He read it and recoiled. "I'm over my divorce," he said.

On a hike in the countryside near Melanes, the kouros lying in a field with a broken leg is no less amazing. The Parthenon might as well be Disneyland if it were rebuilt stone by stone and buffed to perfection. My footfall in the cradle of a marble step worn away by the centuries is a connection to what has come before.

For almost three years I've tried to be like my date, Mr. Teflon Man--scrubbed free of sticky residue, gleaming and shiny new. I've attempted the opposite, too--embracing my broken-ness. "Everyone our age is broken," I told the lover I kissed on the cobbled street beneath the Acropolis under the full moon in the fall of 2008, the year Mr. Ex got remarried. Now I prefer to think of stones. Stones from a lost city under the sea, stones stacked and re-stacked in an ancient wall, stones fallen and restored to an ancient temple to Demeter or Dionysius or Apollo, and other old stones given over to something new.

In ancient times when leaving a burial ground, the Greeks tossed a stone over their shoulders. In the modern Greek language, there's an expression that references this practice. When someone leaves a place  for good, it's said that he throws a stone behind him.

On my trips to Greece, I find that I gather stones, put them in my pockets and carry them home.


Elizabeth said...

This should either begin your book or end it. It's so breathtakingly beautiful. And sad and wise and good, all at once.

(word verification is restul)

Allegra Smith said...

Travel light, leave the stones behind. You are made to carry poetry and words and wine and laughter. Do it. I left something for you on my blog, a view of the brides so you know what they look like. Travel safe, welcome back home.