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A Brief Exploration of Three of Greece’s 6,000 Islands

I didn’t come home directly from Rome. A friend offered me their couch on the Greek Island of Paros. How could I refuse? Paros itself is a less touristy island, so a great place to get a more authentic feel of Greece. Lots of sun, lush growth, and ubiquitous white architecture with blue trim.

Ubiquitous Greek architecture

Lush greenery surrounding weathered door, Paros

 

 

 

 

 

Every night we enjoyed a meal at a different restaurant, often on the harbour. Each restaurant supports its own local cats who beg for table scraps, and occasionally something extra from the kitchen. I was pleasantly surprised that most cats I saw seemed to be in very good health, thanks in large part to the Paros Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

Restaurant cat patiently awaiting table scraps

 

As is typical of islands the world over, Paros also offers a variety of ferries to other islands. We enjoyed a day-trip to Mykonos via the ancient sacred island of Delos, purported to be the birthplace of the god Apollo. No one lives on Delos and no overnight accommodation is offered. Alighting in the harbour is like stepping onto the set of Time Team or some other archeological adventure. Tourists can wander throughout the site, although some buildings are cordoned off, while others are under reconstruction. The challenge is that the trails aren’t always well marked, some are quite rugged and hilly—and your tour boat has a schedule that won’t wait! Even considering these factors I felt I had a good explore and took lots of photos.

Dolphin mosaic, house of Dolphins, Delos

Terrace of Lions, Delos

 

 

 

 

 

Mykonos is heavily touristy, but despite this, it has a unique and pleasant feel. The harbour is packed with yachts of the famous and conspicuously rich. Even though it was filmed on Crete, the presence of a series of windmills in the main town of Chora brought back memories of seeing the film the Moon Spinners as a child. Little Venice along the harbour features amazing sea views from a variety of restaurants that share a walkway above the sea. Mykonos struck me as a place I’d like to return to sometime, maybe with more time to explore outside the town centre. Lots more Greek islands to explore too! So I suspect I’ll be back.

Little Venice, Chora, Mykonos

Windmills, Chora, Mykonos

 

 

 

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

Rome…years later

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I turned eight when we were living in Rome, Italy. This spring I went back for the first time since then, and while some things are eternal, a lot has changed.

The day after I arrived, I took the metro out to EUR, Mussolini’s urban experiment, where we’d had an apartment. Looking for the street address, I was reminded of a Dr. Who episode in which Peter Capaldi says, “intuition is memory in reverse.” I found my way back to the building more by intuition, rather than memory. I never would have found it without the address.

Wandering the old neighbourhood, I think I found the coffee bar we used to go to on Saturday mornings, but the interior has been completely remodelled. There was no more gelato, so I settled for a cappuccino. I may also have found the newsstand where my Dad used to buy me Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics, and I bought myself the latest issue.

I walked to Luneur Park, which I think is a rebranded version of the Luna Park I remember. It was much smaller, but some of the rides were updated versions of rides I remember. I tried to visit what was once my school, and what is now the Canadian Embassy. My pre-trip emails went unanswered, and even brandishing my Canadian passport, I was not admitted.

With the nostalgia cleared, and the conference ended, I did more touristy things.

The Pantheon, a pagan building re-purposed by the Church

I approach Vatican City via the dominating fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. Once I find my way into St. Peter’s Square, its size is daunting. Specifically, I want to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. The problem is that the Sistine Chapel is at the far end from the Vatican Museums entrance. Although I stop to investigate a few canvases and tapestries along the way, far too many people crowd the halls. It’s an hour-and-a-half forced march jostling along with an unforgiving crowd, sometimes pushing through doorway bottlenecks, in sweltering heat, with nowhere to rest and nothing to drink, to finally arrive at the Sistine Chapel. I can’t imagine trying to do it with small children or seniors.

The Sistine Chapel is smaller and the ceiling higher than I expect. It glows with the recent restoration. It is a truly spectacular and vibrant work.

There’s no seating in the Chapel, and the crowd mills about looking up. It’s virtually impossible to see any of the other masters’ works on the walls. Constant announcements, with increasing volume and frustration, urge tourists for silence. A burly guard watches the watchers, yelling “No photos” at the guilty parties. (Having survived the unpleasant experience of getting to this room, I sneak a picture, undetected. It is a subtle form of resistance against a heavily felt oppression.) Another announcement tells people to leave the Chapel so others can enter. There’s another struggle to leave, but then the crowd disperses and I can breathe easier again. I leave feeling sad for the artwork, and for this little Chapel.

Spiral exit from Vatican Museums

Even though the Colosseum is crowded, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, maybe because it’s outside. The ruin is very different from the way I remember it when my school bus drove past it in the morning (the road has since been re-routed). Now, there are a lot more people, and very few cats (although I did see cats lounging in less touristy ruins).

One day, I walk from my hotel near the Spanish Steps to the Tiber, then along the shore to the Bocca de Verita (proud to say I still have all my fingers!), to the Baths of Caracalla. I am astounded by their scale, and the elegance and completeness of their many mosaics. I continue walking to the Piramide and the Non-Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley and Shelley’s son William are buried. It’s a moving place, with verdant gardens, and many well-cared-for resident cats. I take the metro back and drink a full litre of water with dinner.

On my last full day, I do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I walk part of the via Appia, starting at the Aurelian Wall, and going as far as the Capo di Bove. I stop to explore the cool, dark subterranean Catacombs di San Callisto (nothing like I saw in Paris, as here, there are no bones!), as well as the massive Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella with its many statues and reliefs. The via Appia is nothing like I’ve imagined it. Because it’s a narrow road with high walls on either side and few sidewalks, it’s dangerous for walking. Cars take it at speed. If I were to walk the via Appia again, I’d start further out, where more monuments and ruins lie.

I saw various other buildings and fountains. After careful consideration, I threw three coins in the Trevi Fountain, before being shoved aside by another tourist. In Piazza Navona, I managed to avoid the most aggressive hawkers, but watched them fastening bracelets to strangers’ wrists, trying to engage them in conversation, and then demanding payment. I was relieved to find no crowds around the Triton Fountain, so I could truly enjoy the experience. I guess it hasn’t yet appeared in a movie and been quite so overpopularized.

This large cat has been trying to get a drink since 1575

Even before peak season, Rome’s sites are flooded with too many tourists, often rude and pushy. Security, police and military units are on crowd control at all the popular sites too, and with so many tourists, they don’t feel the need to be pleasant. I was yelled at for walking the wrong way in St. Peter’s Square, for not moving along fast enough in various religious buildings, and at the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) for walking in without paying when it wasn’t apparent how or where I was supposed to pay.

Even in early June, temperatures were in the mid-to-high 30s; I can’t imagine it in August. I had gone for an international two-day Visual Culture Conference, but experienced so much more. Overall, it was a mixed trip with a few pleasant surprises, but more disappointments.

Cat napping in planter at Villa Borghese

Bubbles for “Ferrari, Dentist and Socks” at Villa Borghese

 

 

 

 

© Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

 

Bologna (the city, not the meat product)

Although Bologna and Florence are both in northern Italy, they’re very different cities. Although Bologna also features amazing architecture (the portico-covered walkways for which it’s known, for instance), it’s more of an industrial centre, with a rich history in the sciences and education.

Portico, Bologna

Last fall, I had the privilege of presenting part of my dissertation on Patient-Physician Communication at an academic conference at the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, as well as being a prestigious international school, it’s the oldest university in the world in continuous operation, and the first to use the term university (universitas) upon its founding.

University of Bologna

I’d been wanting to visit Bologna for quite some time, specifically because of its connection with Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) and his nephew, Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834). Both were physicists interested in the effect of electricity on biological organisms. Galavani stuck to frog experiments, but Aldini moved on to mammals, including humans, and is sometimes credited with partially inspiring Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus (1818). I located a couple of exhibits of period scientific apparatus in or near the city. Why would I care about this macabre connection to Bologna? It’ll make more sense once the next poetry collection is published!

Early apparatus for producing electricity

Print of one of Galvani’s frog experiments

 

 

 

 

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

Florence (the city, not my aunt)

While there’s no doubt that Florence is a heavily touristed destination (Ciao. Selfie stick?), it’s still an exceptional city. I had my first taste last fall, and this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it.

Florence’s most recognizable attraction is the Duomo di Firenze, also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower). Although I’d seen dozens of photographs, I wasn’t prepared for the shear magnitude of this building, nor its architectural intricacy. It seems to have its own gravitational pull; no matter where you are or where you’re walking, somehow one always ends up on a path around this monumental structure.

I tend to do a lot of walking when I’m travelling, and so I tend to focus on architecture; however, on this trip I also spent time in galleries I’ve been wanting to see my whole life: the Uffizi and the Bargello. The Uffizi contains paintings that are familiar to most, even if one has never travelled to Florence; the Bargello contains statues I remember from my high school art history text. It’s a good idea to get tickets in advance, as these galleries attract crowds, especially during tourist season.

In the Piazza della Signoria, near the Uffizi entrance, is the Loggia della Signoria, containing numerous amazing statues. It’s best to go early to allow entrance into this free outdoor exhibit. This is also the square where Girolamo Savonarola held his bonfires of the vanities, burning books and other apparently sinful objects. It’s also where he himself was thoroughly executed in 1498.

Michelangelo’s David is synonymous with Florence. A copy of the original stands on top of the hill in the Piazzale Michelangelo, affording views of Florence from the less touristy side of the Arno. Another copy is situated outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the statue’s original position, near the Uffuzi. The original in the dell’Accademia is worth the effort to see (although beyond the Michelangelo gallery, I found little else of interest). The level of detail is exquisite and compelling.

I loved Florence, in spite of the tourists. I went in the fall, off peak season, so I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer.

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

The Three Rs: Reading, Writing, and Re-charging

This summer, I took the longest sustained pause since completing my PhD. I knew I needed a break, but my time kept getting eroded. I decided a year ago to safeguard this summer to recharge, and also to focus on my non-academic writing. With caring for aging parents, and then launching right into the PhD, life had been taking priority over the creative work for more than a decade. Six manuscripts had been parked that I wanted to get back to. I brought three with me on retreat, knowing that my writing focus tends to change with the weather.

It rained six days out of seven quite consistently, sometimes with violent wind, thunder and lightning; so while not a good summer for painting and outdoor cottage repairs, it proved very productive in terms of one of my writing projects. A poetry manuscript that I’ve been working on for a while, but hadn’t figured out how to bring together, is now nearing completion. And it feels so good! It’s like taking back a vital part of my self that’s been lying fallow for far too long. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but I find that academic writing just doesn’t allow for the same level of free-thinking creativity; it just doesn’t offer the same buzz. And for me, creative work requires quality time that also supports the energy required.

Doe on the front lawn looks into the cottage to watch me knit

I took my writing retreat at the family cottage, a log cabin in the woods on a lake north of Peterborough. I was there for nearly six weeks, which proved to be an optimal amount of time. It was long enough to get good work done, but by the end, I was ready to come home. I also got some fun reading done; I caught up on almost a year’s worth of National Geographic, and read five novels, four of them YA fare. I knitted most of a sweater, noting my long association of writing with knitting. And in spite of the weather, I got out on the lake in my kayak several times.

Sitting on the front lawn, you can see and hear all kinds of birds: ospreys, blue jays, chickadees, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, herons, loons, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, crows (few things in nature sound as goofy as an adolescent crow), and woodpeckers. The woods are also full of animals: black and red squirrels, chipmunks, racoons, porcupines, groundhogs, fox, and deer. It’s amazing to see them in the wild, but they tend to disappear on weekends when more people are around and the lake gets noisy.

Pileated Woodpecker’s snack

It’s quiet there. So quiet, that I sleep heavily through the night. So quiet, that you can hear insects, and when a Phoebe snatches one from the air, you can hear her beak snapping shut. The air sometimes has sweet undertones. Sunsets provide amazing light shows, and then the night is truly dark and still.

I feel well rested, relaxed, and more like myself than I have for a really long time. As with all holidays, one tries to hang onto that feeling for as long as possible. I’m back in Toronto, with the teaching term starting, but I’ve scheduled regular writing time, hoping to move forward with some other projects that’ve been on hold. I’ll let you know when I get a publisher lined up!

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved