The agora was shaped like a cross. The fish- and meat-vendors clustered along one of the sideways arms, sporting chunks of meat hung on strings for handling, heavily salted fillets of cod in flat boxes. Elsewhere were the ubiquitous cans of olive oil in a bevy of sizes. Scant winter fruits and vegetables. Very thin-skinned Cretan mandarins. A few wild—or tame, this time of year, sometimes completely cowed—greens to sauté. African tomatoes for pasta sauce, dry-cured Thassos olives, a slice of graviera cheese made from ewe’s milk. But pleasures enough even in January— Kayyam’s pleasure dome, god wot. Various teas: sage tea, lemon tea, chamomile tea. And the herbs that seduced Anna with their olfactory palette— thyme, oregano (whose name meant “it rejoices in the mountains”), marjoram (dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite), all the different colored peppercorns, Greek saffron (like in the Minoan crocus paintings with the blue monkeys gathering it, she pointed out to Mar, who looked surprised at that too), paprikas, chili peppers, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves. Crete was close, after all, to Africa. Mixed spices variously for fish, chicken, kebobs, tzatziki, salads, rabbit, though she’d want to play with her own mixtures. And then of course dittany, that uniquely Cretan herb, which (named for Mount Dikti) grows in mountain crevices and in its high treacherous places is dangerous to pick. But well worth it—said to be good for stomach and headache and any number of ills, not to mention more important things like immortality and sexual prowess. Aristotle himself famously immortalized Cretan dictamus. “You remember?” she asked Mar. “No, I don’t think so . . . .” “He wrote that wild goats on Crete, wounded by hunters, healed themselves by grazing on the herb. It made arrows eject themselves from the body. And so when Aeneas was gravely wounded by an arrow in the Trojan War, Aphrodite plucked dittany from Mount Ida to cure him. A stalk ‘clothed with downy leaves and purple flower.’”
On one particularly dark day back in the Bush Era, when it was clear that things were only going to get worse, our writing group was greatly heartened by this story about poet James Merrill and a transformative green scooter.
James Merrill wrote in his memoir, A Different Person (1993), about visiting a doctor about his depression, saying that he didn't know how to live or how to love, he just knew how to write a poem. The doctor, he said, "listened closely, then acted with undreamed-of kindness and dispatch. 'Come with me,' he said, in a flash ushering me out of his downtown office and onto the back seat of a smart little pale-green motorscooter. I put my arms, as instructed, about his stout, gray-suited person, and off we went in sunlight, through traffic, under trees, past architecture, over the muddy river to lunch." (The Writer’s Almanac, 3/3/3)
Our hope is that this collection of writing will give readers the same je ne sais quois that brief but immense lunchtime voyage gave us—encouragement for going on; inspiration to do something simply good for ourselves each ordinary day; a smile; a moment of respite or recognition; time out from global numbing; a pause for weirdness, wonder, and delight. We want to share what gives us pleasure or some keener satisfaction putting down as well as picking up.
So hop on the green scooter with us. Read and be well.