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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stop Crying(,) Witch

**I think hiatuses are great.  Unplanned ones are even better.  Unplanned hiatuses from casual blogs where I’ve mostly likely disenfranchised the bulk of my readers, but then when I return, they also return eager to read every subsequent word I write are even better!  After slogging through finals and whisking myself away to Greece for a summer writing workshop, I’ve completely let justdumbenough go by the wayside, and to you, my vigilant reader who has surely withered away upon the barren alter to my prose, I am deeply sorry.  But no excuses—aside from the ones I just gave you in the previous sentence. Weekly-ish blogs begin again, now!**


Before flying back to the states some friends and I decided to climb Mount Olympus.  It was an incredible experience.  We didn’t summit, but when German hikers bundling up for the final ascension advise you to turn back because, they’re very sorry, but gym shorts and tennis shoes just aren’t going to cut it, you listen to those German hikers.  I feel very strongly that you should always listen to Germans on issues of hiking.

Moving down to the foot of Olympus.
On our way down we came across a woman sitting by the trailhead selling herbs she had collected from the mountain.  She was in her late twenties, ponytailed and dressed in a windbreaker and jeans.  She was Greek and spoke very good English.  Naturally, my first thought was that she was a witch.  I knew she wasn’t.  She was an entrepreneur who could have just as easily had a stand in the market, a normal human being about my age and status just trying to sell some herbs that hopefully wouldn’t get confiscated as drugs by American customs on her patrons’ flights back home.  I knew this, but still, the witch idea cut to front of the line in my head and demanded to be heard.  I couldn't help it.  

Now this thought didn’t dub her as some kind of “bad witch”, mind you, as in broomsticks, poisoned apples, and girl-Voldemort (I guess I could have just said Bellatrix Lestrang there) or anything like that.  It pegged her as simply someone of the environmentally-friendly persuasion, in tune with the powers of nature.  Someone who could maybe cast some, well spells if you want to put a label on it, and who was probably right to situate herself at the foot of Mount Olympus where Zeus and the rest of Greece’s mystical magical mystery tour sprung forth like a frothing fountainhead of legend and lore.  That’s all.  I knew that this thought was ridiculous and not to be trusted, but just the same, it crossed its arms and settled into its place in line.

So while perusing her wares and doing a really great job of keeping this thought to myself, the not-witch laughed at something, remarking,  

“When people see me they always think I’m a witch.”

“What?  That’s crazy,” I said, “I mean—who would think you’re a—just because you have—and it’s not even like you’re wearing a pointy hat or—so how much is this thyme?”

What the hell is wrong with me?

Why is it when we know these notions are fabricated, even when we’re eager to discard them so that we can discover something new and real, we seem to cling to them even more fervently if only in a Fruedy, subconsciousy kind of way?  This feels exacerbated when traveling for me. 

There is a waterfall right next to the not-witch!  Come on!  That is fucking magical!

In Greece I found a place that I had never visited and desperately wanted to learn more about, but the fucking line-cutter had to have his turn first.  Every city I walked into, I first had to wonder if maybe Hercules and Xena had taken these same steps.  Every temple ruin I saw, I had to imagine cartoonish Disney gods lounging about in togas while cloud servants fed them clusters of grapes before I could learn what had actually happened there.  Anytime I found some hole or chasm gored into Greece’s craterous rock I involuntarily strained forward to hear if Hades’ sarcastic James Woods voice was wafting up from the Underworld.  Spoiler Alert: it never was.  It’s one thing to try to define a place by its past—I think a lot of people still think of Greece as marble columns and street philosophers, which has its obvious complications—but with me, the mush of Lucky Charms and Saturday morning cartoons that I call a brain tried to index Greece by its fiction, and frequently by its Americanized fiction.

So why, oh why line-cutter?  Why?  Why can’t I convince this guy that he’s not helping out the team by inflicting fantasy into every new place we go?  I’d like to think I can learn more about Socrates from exploring Athens than I can from Bill and Ted, but once there I’d still have to scan the Parthenon for any traces of time-traveling phone booths first (also how crazy it is that that movie used a phone booth?  I mean, what would they have used today?  A PortiJohn?  An iPad?  How could they have crammed all of those historical figures into an iPad?).  Sigh, exactly.

All we are is dust in the wind, dude.  Dust in the wind.

It seems that my mind’s desire is in constant conflict between discovering new worlds when traveling, and by doing so, destroying the corresponding ones of fantasy that I simultaneously want to keep alive.  When I went to the fixed geographical location of Greece and did not see Kevin Sorbo fighting a giant CG-looking rat-hyrda (yes, that was in an episode) the place in my mind where Greece could exist like that was lost to oblivion a little.  And maybe I didn’t completely love that.  A little like tossing out the old baseball cards stashed in my parents' attic whose use has expired, maybe I wasn't ready yet.  But old baseball cards never impeded my understanding of modern Greece--er, or something like that.

It’s been frequently suggested that modern Greece can’t be understood without first understanding ancient Greece, which includes a fair amount of its mythology.  But just how far of a stretch is it to include Americanized fiction about Greece into this camp?  And more importantly, how much does it taint exploration of the real Greece?  Is it even possible for these two worlds to exist on the same plane without inherently needing to destroy the other?

(shrugs) 

What I do know is when you reach the bottom of Mount Olympus after a two day hike and see a woman pedaling herbs by the forest trail, don't get the melissa because customs will absolutely think it's pot. 

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