Guest post: Seventy-five Days of Phobias Day 67: Vassiliki The Flying Librarian

shallowreader:

I wrote a guest post on my fear of flying over at Sandra Antonelli’s blog. I was chuffed to be included in her “75 days of phobias” posts leading up to her new book release and further chuffed to see that I scored a rather dubious acknowledgment. I’m not sure whether to say thank you or not :D

Originally posted on Sandra Antonelli:

Driving_Final[3] 12.45.14 pmTo celebrate the upcoming release of my romantic comedy, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia— (arriving in 8 days!) I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series.  A massive thank you to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” My favourite librarian and Shallowreader, Vassiliki Veros, is sure as hell proof of that.

I blame all writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, all of you. I do not blame you for my phobia, however I blame you for making it necessary for me to cope with my phobia.

planes

via Lefthandedtoons.com

I have aviophobia. When it comes to flying, I am not a particularly sane person. I fear it beyond fear. It completely fucks with my head. It turns a holiday into a nightmare, anticipation chewing at my…

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Charlotte Lamb retro comfort read

I am home sick with laryngitis and a chest infection AND a sick, feverish son. For the first few days I attended my own pity party and what is better than a comfort read at a pity party? A Charlotte Lamb angsty romance!

 

Charlotte Lamb The Girl from NowhereThe Girl From Nowhere

c 1981

Suki Black is a successful singer who exudes sensuality on the stage. However off the stage she is sheltered by her manager and his wife, Buddy and Rosie who are more like parents than managers. As the story develops, you discover that Suki was abandoned as a baby and was brought up in a refuge/home/school. Having moved out at 16, she was discovered singing in a bar by Buddy and Rosie at 17 and had been living with them for the past 5 years – working her hard but treating her well and lovingly.

Enter the hero after a kickass performance that opens the book. Joel Harlow is a  smouldering, dictating asshat of a hero who keeps turning up like a bad penny harassing Suki. At no time did I feel any warmth toward industrial magnate, Joel (whose description reminded me of Jamie Arrogance Packer). Joel becomes obsessed with Suki while he watched her perform on stage at the beginning of the book and decides that he must have her. Suki keeps saying no to him. I guess Joel is not to blame as he is a hero in a late 20th century romance, but his commandeering and browbeating of Suki was distasteful. Joel kidnaps her, forces her to kiss him, buys the company that holds her contract, buys the villa home she is holidaying in, he does not listen to no means no, in short, he is a stalker. Joel and Suki do not consummate their attraction in this book though there are plenty of punishing kisses.

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While Suki is living with Buddy and Rosie she feels protected and they too go out of their way to shield her from Joel who keeps insisting that she needs to be independent from the couple. Up until the last few pages, I found Buddy and Rosie to be the more interesting romance in the book. There is a comfortable companionship between the two which stands in contrasts to the angry coupling between the main romance protagonists. Rosie is quite the feminist and working woman. She is as much Suki’s manager as Buddy is as they are running the star management business together. It is Rosie that gives me my favourite quote in the book is when she is discussing her dislike of cooking

Cooking isn’t creative…it’s masochism. Why else would somebody spend hours making something for somebody to wolf down in five minutes

This was a magical moment for me. I am going to make a far out inference here and claim that this is how Charlotte Lamb felt about cooking and I am now even more in reader love with her and I will claim that quote as my kitchen motto and I will even embroider the sampler to go with it. But I digress…

It is when the couple discover they are having a baby after 15 years of marriage that Suki’s situation changes. Rosie, at 40, discusses the issues of having her first child as an older woman, the disruption this will have to her life and her concern that her relationship will suffer due to the interference of a baby in their life. This horrifies Suki, not because she doubts the feelings that a mother has but because of her own sensitivity at having been abandoned as a baby and she struggles reconciling herself to her friend doubting her maternal feelings.  This pregnancy causes Suki to feel like an outlier. This is more due to Rosie being sick than the couple rejecting Suki as they are unable to go on their planned holiday together and Suki goes alone….well until the bad penny turns up and asshat Joel plays on Suki’s upbringing and vulnerabilities on this issue of no longer being the centre of Rosie and Buddy’s attention.

Within a few days, Joel browbeats Suki into marrying him but at no time did I feel a love connection between the two of them. And the interesting thing is that though Joel harps on about his need and love for Suki and how nothing gets in his way of getting what he wants and Suki is what he wanted (asshattery), Suki does not declare love for him. In actual fact, she calls him on his obnoxious behaviour and tells him that he would never accept anyone talking to him like that so why should she. There is no love declaration from Suki in this book at all which allows me to imagine that the years after the book ends will be very interesting indeed.

And this makes me love Charlotte Lamb even more.

 

That was then; This is now – travelling for 30(ish) years

James Gleik/The Information

On my latest trip overseas, I noted the way travel has changed. Earlier this year I read James Gleik’s The Information. Gleik explores the birth of the information age and the impact of technology (from the alphabet, dictionaries, user generated content and information theory) on the way we live. In his first chapter Gleick tells of African talking drums and how they were used to relay messages from one village to another. This got me thinking about the way the information age has impacted my travel decisions and experiences. I think it has been easy to draw comparisons between these years because I am not a regular traveller. In 30 years, I have only been overseas 7 times so changes are much more evident. They are not gradual. So here are some of my observations:

Phones and the internet

My first visit to Greece was back in 1985 when I was 16. Though Athens, like all cities, was modern and telephones in the home were a given, my mum’s mountain village was still isolated. My sister and I were visiting with our grandmother, who was blind and mostly housebound, when we heard a PA like announcement coming over a megaphone “Can Vaia and Vassiliki, the Papadima girls, come to the cafenion to receive a phone call from your mother in Australia”. This megaphone kept going until we emerged from my uncle’s house. We took our grandmother with us. We had just been summoned to one of two phones in the village. As we walked to the cafenion all the villagers slowly emerged from the homes and followed us, curious to hear what was to be said. International phone calls were rare indeed and there is no word in Greek that means privacy. The phone line was crackling, we needed to shout down the receiver, my grandmother cried upon hearing my mum’s voice and the whole village was privy to our answers. By 1994, the whole village was connected to their phones and by 2010, due to an EU grant to encourage youth to not leave for larger towns, the whole village has wireless access. In the space of 25 years much had changed in the way isolated villages communicated with the world. They were no longer all that isolated. Youth no longer clamber to escape.

Ferry docking into Poros

Ferry docking into Poros

My aunt, who lives on an island, has wifi access in her holiday apartments for her clients so as a present I bought her a small tablet so she can Skype with my mum and other relatives. My aunt was quite happy to learn how to use this new technology – though my mum is deeply upset. She does not want to see how her family has aged. She wants to use the phone only so she can keep them young in her mind. However my aunt likes it and Skypes my mum regularly. My aunt’s wifi was fab for me. It allowed me to work from her home and it allowed me to chat daily with my husband and my youngest son (who sadly could not travel with us). I donnot think that I would have ever endeavoured to have a 6 week trip away from half of my family if I was not assured of daily contact with them.

In 1993, my sister, a friend and I travelled to Los Angeles. We arrived on the day of the Venice Beach riots. It was a tense place so we walked to a travel agent, and on a whim booked flights to Mexico City and bought a Mexico Lonely Planet. We always knew we were going to spend some time in Mexico because we had all our immunisations done but the plan had not been for the whole 3 weeks (and how funny that we perceived Mexico as safer than LA). I remember calling my parents perhaps once a week and sending a couple of postcards a week to let them know where we were. I think back to our travels backpacking across the south of Mexico and marvel that we had not organised anything. We had our guidebook and 3 weeks to get back for our flight to Sydney. I think that once my own kids get travelling, I doubt that they will travel with minimal contact over 3 weeks. I am grateful for this change. I am a worrywart and I will welcome their social media updates of any kind. This is not a bad thing.

Where is my greeting party?

Where's my Greeting Party?Both in 1994 and in 1996, I was fortunate enough to be able to go island hopping throughout Greece, so with my latest visit I relished showing the island hopping ropes to my son. However, island hopping has changed. There is now quite a different island hopping thang going on. Not necessarily a bad thang, just different and this is in part due to technological advances. In 1994, the most technology my travel had was my walkman with a mixed tape (no – My Friend the Chocolate Cake and Barry Manilow are not mutually exclusive). Back then, I was able to work out the exchange rate in my head quite swiftly so I didn’t even need a calculator. This time, I travelled with a smart phone (which only functioned as a camera – I had no phone access for 6 weeks), a tablet and a laptop. I no longer automatically exchanged currency in my head but I could record my ideas much more swiftly. I travelled with no music, dependent only on the music provided on the plane and through wifi app choices. In 1994, tickets and accomodation on the Greek islands were incredibly random. Other than a well marked Lonely Planet guide, impulse decisions ruled. You made snap decions, you chanced tickets at the port, once you arrived at your destination there was accomodation spruiking chaos. Owners of pensiones, studios and hotels were all gathered at the port shouting their tariffs and availability. Through this random method I scored both brilliant and dodgy lodgings. Now, the ports are calm, less chaotic. Most people book their own accommodation through a variety of eservices like Booking.com, lastminute.com or just the rooms that advertise on their own island’s webpage. Chancing your accomodation just seems so BI (Before Internet). I feel a sadness at this. The chaos that ensued upon your ferry arriving at an island port also felt like a greeting party. So many locals thrilled at your arrival, greeting, waving, shouting, trying to get your attention. Arrivals this time felt devoid of joy, devoid of the sense of welcome. A queue of taxis and delivery vans are the only quiet observers greeting a summer ferry docking into port.

Chattiness

What ever happened to just talking with the person sitting next to you. I’m a rather sociable
person. I will talk to anyone. I had great conversations while we were in Greece and England with taxi drivers, shop keepers, fruit stall owners and the like. But tourists and travellers now seem averse at striking up conversation. No longer are they open to the “Where are you from?” smile. There is no eye contact at all. Perhaps I am feeling old and bitter, harking back to the “good ol’ days” but there doesn’t seem to be a willingness from other travellers to meet one another. I recall travelling between Santorini and Mykonos in 1996 and meeting 2 couples. The first were really funny Canadian Jehovah Witnesses “Chill out man, we only door knock on Saturdays, today is Tuesday” whom we travelled with for an extra 4 days. We also met an older American couple who seemed intent on showing us their nifty travel clothes with handy zippers converting trousers to shorts and skirts to dresses.

I caught 10 ferries in total while I was overseas this year. I have sat next to so many people and tried to start a conversation but they all seemed much more intent in taking selfies and playing on their devices. I became the too-keen weirdo trying to strike up a conversation where previously my behaviour was the norm. I was saddened by this lack of wanting to meet new people. All the travellers seemed so intent on documenting their trips that they had no interest in the people that they were sitting alongside. I took to chatting with people who were travelling without luggage. They were the commuters who don’t seem to mind a change in their routine – the railway worker who commutes for 2 hours a day from the Isle of Wight to the Midlands to drive a train up to Liverpool and back. His 4 hour commute is bookended by beauty and a quiet place of his own away from traffic to the Santorini local who cannot afford to fly home in summer due to seasonal prices so takes the slow ferry from Athens twice a week. Island hopping has been further curtailed since Greece entered the EU and particularly with service cuts due to the financial crisis. Ferry tickets are exhorbitantly priced and impulse travelling seems much harder. I realise that I am also making these observations while I am in my mid-40s. Perhaps travellers in their 20s are still hopping on and off ferries, talking with new people and making impulse decisions and I just didn’t meet them.

Plane travel is a whole different story for me. I pity the passengers that get seated next to me on a flight. They end up holding hands with a slightly crazed, definitely phobic me. I have held hands with 2 Greek Marias, a New Zealander called Jo, air stewards aplenty and a Reiki master. Though even I edged away from the Spanish bag lady who wanted to hypnotise me. Funny thing is that after such intense hand  holding, none asked to be my Facebook friend.

Chaos and Order

The information age has brought about a lot of changes in travelling. Communication is much easier, it is a relief for parents and friends who stay at home. For the traveller there is a sense of security, an ability to document every moment as it happens but also a sense of big brother, never really being able to escape from the constant need to check in, report back or to lose yourself or reinvent yourself away from the people who have known you for a long time.

I’m not sure which of the two travel styles I prefer. There was much more freedom and friendliness in the 1990s. Travel seems much more controlled and organised in the 2010s. I went all out 1990s by not having a functioning phone but also experimented and for the first time ever I did not use a travel guidebook. I found that in all the orderliness, this allowed for a little bit of chaos. This gave me an unexpected freedom in experiencing places using only locally written information to advise me rather than using the perspective of a travel writer. Locally sourced guides felt much more genuine, less paraphrased and infinitely more informed. I like the orderliness of 2014 travel. Though the random, chaotic shouting was fun, and the sleeping on decks of ferry boats made us look homeless (an accusation I often overhead from the cabin paying passengers as they walked over my feet), the fact that I know I am holding a ticket, I have a secure booking and the fact that I won’t be turned away and forced to sleep in a train station or in a hostel mixed dorm while huddling my valuables in my sleeping bag while a tripped out Norwegian shines his torch into imagined corners around the room, makes me happy. But maybe that is more a sign of me being in my mid 40s and less a sign of liking the convenience of information technology.

My travel reading and a sense of setting

I’m rubbish at reading while on holiday. Where other people relax at the beach with a book, I reject all reading materials as I am either in the water swimming or racing around looking at every museum, shop, historical building that is close by. To add to this, my latest trip was a combination of work and play (I marked student assignments, along with PhD related conference paper writing and archive visiting), which even further lessened my reading time.

However, I did manage to read 5 novels while I was away (I won’t count the numerous picture books I read to my cousin’s kids). So for this blog only I will write about the place I read each book in as well as the book.

Alexander the Great statue in Thessaloniki

Alexander the Great statue in Thessaloniki

Before I discuss these other books I need to point out that I am both impressed and horrified that I have reverted in my reading habits. 4 years ago, I bought myself a SONY ereader and during an 8 week holiday I did not enter a single book shop and I did not buy a single book. All my reads were downloaded from my local library and Project Gutenberg. My luggage was liberated. Hallelujiah to more space for more shoes. But my latest trip has shocked me. Not only did I not use my tablet for reading but I found myself carting print books across the globe. Thoughthey are much more cumbersome, I love them soooo much more than ebooks. I can write in the margins (I don’t but I could if I chose to), I can dog ear pages (I do), I can litter my book with post it notes, bookmarks made of receipts, ticket stubs, serviettes and beer coasters. Each item becoming in itself a souvenir of the moment that I was reading. I am enjoying my reversion. I want a badge that says “Tried ebooks, didn’t work, print is my swag”. I also want to point out that I always forget to take photos when I am on holiday. I guess I am too busy being on holiday to document it.

I have already blogged about Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph and the island of Poros (Poseidon’s sanctuary and Theseus birthplace making it a perfect backdrop for reading a novel about Greek gods). I’m still in love with Book 1 of The Love Oracles and feel like I am proselytizing to anyone that makes even a passing mention to Greece or Greek gods or hot men or reading or just asking me how I am. As for the rest of the books:

Lynne Graham’s Ravelli’s Defiant Bride and Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

I was in Greece for the IASPR conference and a week before the conference I had completed my paper and all my preparation. I had 4 spare days so my son and I hopped on a 7 hour ferry across the Aegean to, what in my opinion is, the most magnificent island in the world – Santorini. I say this with confidence as I have been to islands in Australia, the Caribbean and throughout Greece and none come close to the stunning beauty of Santorini – and its glamour. So glamorous that I had to read a Harlequin Presents mega-billionaire romance to match it.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.09.46 PMMost people who know me also know that I am so totally obsessed with Lynne Graham that I cannot CANNOT follow her on any social media. She is an author that I deliberately distance myself from as I don’t want to know too much about the minutiae of her life. However she does give a hint to her personal life in her dedication which reads “For Michael and thirty-five happy years”. This gave me “awww” squishy love feelings – a book that starts with its own dedicated HEA.   I love the cover to this book. Both the stunning Australian cover and the UK cover (love me a bride cover). The book is set in Ireland and Italy so my photos are in no way reflective of the book setting. Just a sign of what I was looking at as I read.

Santorini

Santorini

Ravelli’s Defiant Bride is a classic OTT, convoluted, melodramatic plot a la the genius that is Ms Graham. The heroine, Belle Brophy’s mother was a mistress to the hero, Christo Ravelli’s sleep-around father. Belle’s mother has 5 children to the Christo’s father and when both of them die the heroine is determined to keep her brothers and sisters together. Having never met each other they are both on the defensive and behave ridiculously thus setting up obstacles they need to overcome. In actual fact Christo has only just found out about his father’s 5 illegitimate children and is ashamed of his father’s behaviour so tries to hide his father’s indiscretions by adopting out the kids. Of course, this becomes unacceptable to the Belle and the only thing that the two protagonists can think of is to marry to keep their shared siblings together (though as the reader you know that they also have the hots for each other). I loved this story, Christo slowly comes around to understanding the damage that his father’s relationship wreaked upon his younger siblings, and Belle realises that Christo is nothing like his father, a man she deeply disliked. Ultimately, just like all of Graham’s stories, this book is about belonging to a family, not that you are born into but one, that is created through love.

 

Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea and South-East England (Isle of Wight and Berkshire)

 

Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight

Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight

I’m going to take some artistic license here as the Pennyroyal Green series is actually set in Sussex and not the Isle of Wight or Berkshire. However, I did get to Sussex a day after I finished with Julie Anne Long’s book. Firstly, let me say, that I love the Isle of Wight. Not only is it home to my fabulous cousins and aunt and uncle (albeit through marriage but I have laid my claim) but it is also so picturesque that it fills your eyes (this may sound stupid but I can’t think of a better way to translate the Greek saying “γεμίζει το μάτι”). While on the island, I also hit the motherlode of Mills & Boon from the 70s and 80 in op-shops and second-hand bookshops in Ryde. Win!

Between the Devil and Ian EverseaI loved reading this book. It’s depiction of South East England’s rolling, green hills and the flowers and the buildings and homes felt true to the places I was experiencing in my own travelling. The sense of place was certainly captured in this book. And ooooooh! I really like Ian Eversea. He is a rakish tamale. His attractiveness leaps off the pages. And Tansy, the heroine American heiress, just sparkles. But both of them have deeper, tragic pasts. Ian suffers from insomnia due to his battle-scars – both physical and psychological. Tansy has been orphaned of both her parents and is at the mercy of her kindly father’s cousin who is charged with finding her a suitable husband – and Ian Eversea is not suitable at all.

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

I love how the surface beauty of these two characters has all the secondary characters loving and admiring them yet it is only these two outwardly beautiful yet inwardly devastated and damaged characters that can see each others’ faults and the pain that they are both harbouring. Suffice to say, it is through understanding the difficulties and vulnerability that both Ian and Tansy hide from all their friends and admirers that ultimately bring them together.

Julia Quinn’s A Night Like This and Kent and London

In Canterbury

In Canterbury

I stayed in Kent with more fab cousins, both in Whitstable and in Bromley and aside from regularly visiting London, I also visited Canterbury, Greenwich and Hampton Court (with lovely tweep Sheila Bounford). If there is anywhere to read a Regency romance, it is while you are being a tourist in Regency London.  I particularly loved London this time around. The recent Congestion Charge has made a huge difference to the traffic on London roads and this was particularly evident on the magnificent Regent Street which is now much more pleasant and quiet to walk around. The bustle of shoppers is there but the bikes, taxis and buses are much less obtrusive than the nightmarish traffic that used to clog its roads. The sense I get when I am in shops that have been around for centuries, established long before English occupation of Australia, is similar to that which I feel in Greece. It is of countries where the importance of documented history is not only evident in their written legacy but in their built legacy.

Hampton Court Palace with Sheila Bounford

Hampton Court Palace with Sheila Bounford

Quinn’s book is set in London and Berkshire. I had been in Berkshire the week before as I was visiting the Mills & Boon archive in Reading. Reading is far from my favourite place in England – it is very urban and not all that touristy. I have been to the pretty parts of Berkshire on previous visits but I didn’t get a good sense of place from Quinn’s description of the Duke’s country estate (unlike the aforementioned Sussex). However, Quinn is great at describing London and I got a great sense of the city in her writing.

Regent Street

Regent Street, London

*sigh* I really liked most of this book. The second of Quinn’s Smythe-Smith books based on the musically challenged family from the Bridgerton series. I like that both of the protagonists are on the run from problems arising from their own actions against others. Daniel had accidently shot his best friend Hugh in the leg 3 years earlier and was on the run from Hugh’s father who swore to kill him. Anne Wynter has her own enemies so when Anne and Daniel start their flirtations both of them imperil those who are around them. I loved their witty discussions and the way they connected to each other. These two are characters who are so obviously right for each other.

**Spoiler alerts** (Skip to the next review)

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.50.34 PMBut Anne does have a “fault” and that is that she is not a virgin. She was seduced when she was younger and here is where I found fault in the story. I would have loved for this book to not have been consumated. This woman had a trust issue and did not want to lose her job as a governess to Daniel’s younger cousins. I understand the motivations and the promises they made to each other before marrying but I really felt that this story would have been infinitely more romantic if Daniel was to prove to Anne that he was unlike her seducer and could wait until after marrying her. And sure, she did not give in to her desire for him until after her job as a governess was no longer tenable so it was not as though it felt improbable. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book (and who am I to suggest plot changes to a successful author).

 

Julie James’s It Happened One Wedding and Emirates flight London to Sydney

Emirates Flight

Emirates Flight to Sydney

Julie James is such a fab writer of contemporary romance and her latest book is awesome. I read this book on the plane on my way back to Australia. This may seem like a “no big deal” kinda comment but when you understand that I have not managed to read any book on a plane ever ever ever as I cannot ever focus on planes as I am terrified of flying. So being able to read, to get taken away by a story, and to be so engrossed in a story that I finished the book in 3 hours is quite amazing (Do keep in mind that 3 hours out of 24 flying hours still allowed for 21 hours of nervous twitching). I don’t know if this is an indication that I am slowly coping with flying, that the 4 (or was it 6 – I lost count) shots of whiskey relaxed me or that Julie James writes especially engrossing fiction. Let’s give the kudos to JJ.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.50.14 PMI find that few authors can pull off the “dislike each other to fuck buddies to being in love” trope well. Julie James has managed to write a wonderful book with this trope. Heroine Sidney Sinclair awkwardly finds herself as maid of honour alongside best man Vaughn Roberts, a man she forthrightly turned down when he tried to crack on to her a few hours before they met officially when their respective siblings introduced them at the announcement of their impending nuptials. The story develops as the two need to get along while they are part of the wedding arrangements. They actually spark off each other and the dialogue is sparkling. They stop disliking each other, the action gets incredibly hot but at all times both Sidney and Vaughn acknowledge that they want different things out of life than the other is offering. But this changes as they grow to like each other more and more. Vaughn is an FBI agent and even though it is the undercover case that gives him thought as to his direction in life, I loved that this book did not turn into some romantic intrigue and that Sidney at no point gets involved, deliberately or by accident, in his casework.

Gratuitous photograph of pretty gardens at Hampton Court Palace

Gratuitous photograph of pretty gardens at Hampton Court Palace

I also love the detail that James puts into her characters sense of fashion and I was so pleased to read shoe details in this book, from the Ralph Lauren shower shoes to the hero taking his shoes off on his way to bedding Sidney (excuse the cheeky hyperlink). I loved loved loved this book and I may have to reread it sober without the constant terror of plunging out of the sky into a fiery, crashing death playing in the back of my mind.

I am now home and back to reading my uni work. I have some books that are waiting in my TBR but it may take some time before I get to them. In the meantime, I will relish the books I got to read and my fabulous trip.

 

Diagon Alley, Harry Potter set

Diagon Alley, Harry Potter set

 

 

P.S. I also visited the Harry Potter set. This ranks only a side mention as it is vaguely readerly. Though I have not read the books nor have I watched the movies but I went out of 1. Pop cultural curiosity and 2. Deep love for my son who has both read the books and seen the movies and wanted to go. He was great to travel with. Funny, considerate and happy to leave most decisions to me.

Appropriated mythology

I’m back on 702ABC again today. We are talking about appropriated mythology*. It thought it was an apt subject seeing that I am in Greece this month. I’m currently staying at my aunt’s home** on the island of Poros (Greece’s only male island)***.

The Twelve Olympian gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon / by Flickr user Dunechaser CC by NC SA 2.0

The Twelve Olympian gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon / by Flickr user Dunechaser CC by NC SA 2.0

Whenever I am in Poros, I have a sense of Greek gods and historic tales happening about me. I am less than 100 kilometres from where Paris kidnapped Helen spurring Menelaus to start the Trojan Wars. There is a Temple to Poseidon on the hill behind me. Sphairia is the ancient name for Poros and is where Theseus was conceived when his mother Aethra waded into  water inspiring lust into Poseidon (damn Greek gods).

I love retellings of Greek myths. They were certainly not lacking from my own upbringing with my parents and their friends regularly telling us stories about the gods (or warning us from misbehaviour as the gods might smite us).  My favourite retelling is the devastatingly romantic The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller about the friendship and love affair between Patroclus and Achilles. The ABC has a great website called Winged Sandals (I love the Amazons vs Spartans game) and there is a oddly engaging (rather basic) animation Greek Mythology series by Wooding Media that my kids were only slightly obsessed with. As for Norse Gods – need I say anything else other than Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth!
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As much as I adore retellings of Greek mythology, I love appropriated mythology. Some like Percy Jackson are fabulous stories (but the purist in me grates at the incorrect geneaology). Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Dark Hunter series did not engage me either but I loved Nymph (see previous blog post). I don’t mind the campish Hercules films though retellings that get the Roman and Greek gods mixed up annoy me greatly (Hercules vs Heracles anyone). I also love Norse god appropriation – The Almighty Johnsons.

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So what are your favourite retellings? What about appropriations?

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Poros looking across to the Peloponnese from my aunt's verandah

Poros looking across to the Peloponnese from my aunt’s verandah

* In case you were wondering, the difference between retellings and appropriation is that retellings is when the storyteller tries to stay faithful to the original story whereas appropriation is when the original stories are placed in an alternate universe or when one culture adopts elements from another culture (sorry if this sounds like Mansplaining – blame it on fuzzy brain and midnight blogging).
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**I’m going to subtly mention my aunt’s apartments now. When in Poros you should stay with her. She is awesome.

*** Henry Miller said of Poros “I will cling to Poros…if I should ever have the choice of attaining Nirvana or remaining behind to watch over and guide those to come, I say now let me remain behind…”. Lawrence Durrell’s says of Poros “it is not possible to exaggerate the charm of this little Aegean nook and the sense of elation it conveys”. This is how I too feel. It is a charming, gorgeous island, with diffuse light and crystal clear waters. If I could holiday here every year I would. Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

Nymph kissing Mortal Boy

A few weeks before I left Australia for Greece, I came across Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph, Book One of The Love Oracles. Being one to judge a book by its cover, I fell in love and then I fell deep deep deeply in love with the blurb:

 

nymphAn Idyllic Greek Island

Obsessed demigods

A fallen nymph

A Mortal Boy

Merope, a beautiful but faded star nymph, is banished to Earth for displeasing the gods. She tries to fit in, go to school and live a normal “human” life. And then she meets Lukas. But relationships between goddesses and men are forbidden.

Will their love grow? Or will Merope and Lukas feel the wrath of the gods?

 

I swooned before I opened the first page. However, I was patient and did not start reading Nymph until I was on a ferry leaving Piraeus heading for Poros, a small island in the Argosaronic gulf near the Peloponnese. The ferry ride to Poros is magical. I sit on the upper deck, the wind is gentle, the sea is calm and the ferry passes by container ships and yachts as it starts its journey first to Aegina, then the volcanic peninsula of Methana before arriving in Poros, an island separated from the mainland only by a 200 metre wide strait. Along the whole way, the sea meets the mountains, the diffuse light filters through the clouds as I am quickly immersed in the story of Merope and Lukas.

Merope, daughter of Pleione and Atlas, is a star nymph – making her immortal as she will live as long as her star shines in the sky. Merope has been stalked by Orion for many centuries. Orion is handsome but creepy, depicted as your slimy, leather clad lothario. Merope turned down Orion when he asks her to be his consort and Zeus exiles her from Olympus. She is sent to live on a Greek island as a teenager with her uncle Prometheus as her chaperone. Merope is a celestial creature but she has always felt that she is not as good as her brighter nymph sisters. She has an incredible beauty, so much so that she needs to transform herself to be more ugly, more faulted, like a mortal, for her time on earth.

Merope has a chance meeting with Lukas, a seventeen year old boy who lives on the island where Merope and Prometheus have set up a home. They both fall for each other instantly, their attraction zings on the pages. But Merope is highly aware that she is not to have relations with mortals, for a double standard is at play with Olympians whereby male gods and demi-gods can toy with female mortals but female Olympians are expected to save their favours only for gods. Merope starts at the local high school and Lukas is also there where she finds herself pursued by him and she is drawn to this mortal, ugly (by god standards) boy, his allure confounding her. She is keenly aware of the differences in their age as she is a celestial creature who is thousands of years old (suck on that Edward and Bella age objectors) but Lukas is not. Merope is juvenile in her own way, as she is navigating a new culture and needs to lie to the friends that she makes due to her own circumstances. Merope also befriends Eleni, Lukas’s childhood friend who is in love with his older brother Dimitri. Eleni teaches Merope about life on her island, believing that Merope had been brought up in a cult-like community and was unfamiliar with modern ways. Having given Merope a novel with an intense love affair, Merope observed:

She’d never read such heart wrenching material. The mortal couple loved each other physically and emotionally. It was so much more powerful than the relationships she witnessed on Olympus.

For her, relationships were compulsory and an obligation and not intense.  Merope likes the earthly concept of love, “that you could be attracted to someone regardless of their physical beauty.”

As Merope comes to understand the ways of mortals, she is also warned by Zeus and creepy Orion to keep away from humans. Even her mother, whom she has not seen for centuries, appears to her from the sea and warns her off the earth boy, saying that he was off limits to her. This happens during a peculiar scene in which Lukas had become blind drunk (a touch of Australian culture rather than Greek, I think) during an 18th birthday celebration and vomits much to her bafflement. But this does not dissuade her from Lukas and several scenes later they finally kiss sending Zeus into a fit of anger.

Her friend and demi-god Heracles is sent to act as an extra chaperone for Merope. Herc is buff. Herc is a hot guy and you at first feel that he is all smarm and designer labels and cashed up arrogance but he too is a loyal friend to Merope who hurts him in her need for Lukas. Lukas eventually realises that Merope is not like himself. Merope says of him:

I can feel that you’re alive – the mortality running through your veins, your desperation for every minute of life; it’s incredibly intoxicating

This was like a Zorba the Greek moment for me. This intense moment where I felt that every harried, rushed moment where I try to fill my day with as much as I can possibly manage is justified. This intense need to live life to its fullest for we are not celestial creatures.

photo 2 (2)I loved this book. I loved Tonya Alexander’s depiction of modern Greece, of  Greek teenagers that closely reflected the behaviour and attitudes of the Greeks I know. I was wary at first, as she is an Australian author, that Australian and Anglo mores would be more evident. I was pleasantly surprised.  I loved the way gods and events are weaved into the psyche of this book. It was just the way Greeks, without realising they are doing it, weave Greek mythology into their everyday conversations with stories of love and narcissism, over-indulgence and cunning commonly told in parallel with real events.

This book had everything I love in it. There is a wonderful sense of Greece through the description of light, the sea and the land. There is youthfulness and fun and kefi. There is an AWESOME AWESOME dance scene where I felt the pulsing and pumping of the crowd. And there was even a vomit scene. This book is about the relationships that Lukas and Merope contend with the way they stand their ground against people that want them to be malleable and agreeable to the detriment of themselves. Love and happiness are thwarted whenever there are a multitude Olympian gods involved and Lukas and Merope have much to contend with throughout this story. But most importantly of all this book is about love and romance and finding the right person for yourself. It is a heart clenching, pulse racing romance. I adored it. I highly recommend it. And I now anticipate the next books in the series.

photo 1 (2)

Libraries, Greece and the Earth’s Balcony

National Library of Greece

National Library of Greece

A huge thank you to my wonderful aunt Maria Liakou who arranged for me to visit with Mrs Antonia Arohova at the National Library of Greece, Mrs Antonia Arohova for her warm welcome and talking with us about the library and to my fabulous cousin Vaia Rodi-Theologitou who loves walking to the new site every day and for sharing her walk and her enthusiasm for the new library with me.

As one belonging to the Readerly Tribe, there is a certain awe that I feel every time that I set foot in Greece. My skin tingles at the thought that I am walking on the streets where Homer was first committed to the written word. A time where writing and alphabets were a new fangled technology and Old Skoolers tsked tsked at early adapters, bemoaning the loss of memory skills. I love walking past theatres where Euripides and Aristophanes were new releases, where publishing formed its roots, storytelling found its scribes and Western literary canon was born. I love that librarianship was born in Greece, with texts copied and stored and libraries being a reflection of the culture and the products of thought that a great city bore. Despite these feelings I had connecting me to the birth of Western literary tradition, I had never visited the National Library of Greece.

So, here I am in Greece, my fifth visit since 1985, and I have finally managed to visit the National Library of Greece. It is shameful really that I had never made the time previously to visit but I have never had a love for Athens and I usually try to bypass her completely or at least only stay for a day or two. This time, my son and I stayed in Athens for six days. We visited with family members and played the tourist while we overcame the worst jetlag I have experienced (being in transit for 30 odd hours can do that to you). While I stayed with my mum’s cousin, she suggested I visit the National Library of Greece as a former colleague of hers worked there. My Theia Maria made the arrangements and on only our second day in Athens we (my aunt, my son and I) found ourselves at the library.

National Library of Greece foyer

National Library of Greece foyer

The National Library is a classical Greek building in the centre of Athens. It was established in 1832, only 11 years after the Independence of Greece and houses thousands of manuscripts and books from the 9th century onwards. On approach, the library requires you to look up to the building. Physically my head rises upwards at the grand structure, climbing up the library’s bright marble staircase to the entrance. I was thrilled to feel that beautiful hush, that silence that a great library needs to engender in its visitors. I love the silence of thought that a library can imbue in one. That sense, that one can be alone with their thoughts to allow them to form in your mind with no interruptions to jolt you from ideas. Outside, Athens bustling streets were redolent with the sounds of traffic yet only metres away we had found silence, the library’s thick marble structure deflecting the noise away from its inner spaces.

National Library of Greece Card Catalogue

National Library of Greece Card Catalogue

In the foyer, I spoke with the warm and friendly librarian Gregory Christostomidis who gave me a history of the building as well as the various collections housed in the National Library. Like many public buildings, photographs beyond the foyer were not permitted. I loved the old card catalogue at the entrance of the building, the heavy wooden doors and the glimpse into the colonaded reading room. Though grand from the outside, the library itself felt warm and cosy on the inside. We then made our way through the reading room to visit with the manuscript department. The reading room was just like all the grand reading rooms around the world, shelves of books, tiered walkways cordoned off from borrowers and readers, accessible to only librarians and special visitors. I was familiar with photographs of the room and somehow expected it to be huge but it felt smaller despite its towering columns and high ceiling. It is a grand room but the low hanging lights and rows of desks give it a sense of intimacy.

National Library of Greece entry

National Library of Greece entry

We walked through a wrought iron door and were led up a back stairway. At the top of the stairway were stacks with manuscripts peaking past their material casings. Here we met with Mrs Antonia Arahova the Head of the Manuscripts department and the former General Director of the National Library and Eliza Tziamali who also works in the Manuscripts department. We discussed librarianship, lending libraries, future libraries and all things libraries particularly my own favourite areas of legal deposit requirements and romance fiction. A lot of fiction is translated into Greek and all the translators works are received and catalogued into the National Bibliographic catalogue. I was pleased to hear that Harlequin translations are afforded the same level of cataloguing as other translated authors (though when I searched the catalogue I was unable to find authors I know have had their books translated into Greek – perhaps my search strategy using English characters on a Greek language catalogue caused this). We also talked about IFLA and Greek librarians both in Greece and in Australia. We then discussed their current inventory of stock which is enhancing the manuscript catalogue records and the discussion surrounding the new National Library of Greece and the suggestion for the manuscripts to remain in their current historic building thus preserving the current building’s purpose as a library. We talked about the new National Library of Greece being built by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Though the current building is lovely, current collections and public and national library expectations have outgrown its current structure (but more on that later). My visit came to an end with an exchange of emails and twitter handles and I am pleased to say I have already been in contact with Eliza Tziamali. As this was my first every behind the scenes visit to a national library, I have to say that I was thrilled. It was a fabulous experience, a friendly warm welcome which is typical of Greek hospitality and one that I will always treasure.

Model of the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre and the new National Library of Greece

Model of the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre and the new National Library of Greece

The next day, my cousin Vaia and I, accompanied by a couple of my nieces and my son, went for a walk through Kallithea where Vaia lives. Only a few blocks from my cousin’s home is the construction site for the new National Library of Greece which will be in the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre. The SNCC will house the National Library of Greece, including a research library, a lending library and children’s library, as well as The Greek National Opera and The Stavros Niarchos Park. There will be a modern agora at the centre of all these public spaces. From the top of the centre a visitor will be able to see Piraeus at one end and the Acropolis from the other. The design is by Renzo Piano and I feel like it is an understatement to call the centre impressive.

Graffiti strewn walls in Athens near the Acropolis

Graffiti strewn walls in Athens near the Acropolis

Athens has never enamoured herself to me. I have always found her hot, smelly, dirty and unappealing. I have wept for her just as Maria Farandouri does in Persephone’s Nightmare. However, this year’s visit has been different. She is dirtier, burnt out buildings from years of rioting, graffiti strewn walls on heritage buildings shouting her citizens’ pain. But among all this there are flowers hanging off every balcony, there is a certain order emerging from the driving chaos of Athenian streets, with avenues and avenues of three to seven storey apartments and their multicoloured awnings, local squares still filled with people who enjoy life and enjoy meeting up with friends for to quote my cousin “We are all struggling so we meet up and struggle together”.

There is a buzz in this city, not that arrogant swagger I used to hate, it is somewhat subdued, somewhat hopeful. A knowing sense of nationhood that they will overcome their current difficulties. And I see the cultural centre is an emergence of this hopefulness, it is the glimpse of pennyroyals, wild mint and cyclamens. A great city is measured by its public spaces and its libraries and cultural institutions. Athens has always had great public spaces that still inspire great thoughts, the Acropolis and its agora vibrate with energy from both its visitors and its citizens. Finally Athens, with her new National Library will be getting her own modern secular cathedral and joining other great modern 21st century libraries. One that will continue to inspire thought and imagination and readerly tribes and public engagement.

I am enamoured by the Athens of the future.

 

Acropolis through the lens

Acropolis through the lens

 

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