t wasn't that I hadn't wanted to go to Greece. What troubled me were the circumstances that led me there. A number of years ago, as my boyfriend and I were planning a six-week backpacking trip through Europe, he informed me that he planned to take a typewriter to an aging family friend on Páros. After he explained that Páros was a sun-bleached isle in the blue Aegean, I said, "What if we don't want to go to Greece?"
He replied, "How could you not want to go to Greece?"
"But we can't go backpacking, lugging a typewriter around," I protested.
"Don't worry," he assured me. "I'll carry it."
It was difficult to fault him for being a kind and generous man. But suddenly our free-floating vacation had destination and luggage. The journey had shifted into what it was never intended to be.
The typewriter was small and compact, but soon it began to weigh us down. On the night train from Rome to Venice, he was afraid to leave it alone for fear that someone would steal it. On a bus through Yugoslavia, the typewriter rattled perilously overhead, and tension mounted between us. I struck up a conversation with a Serbo-Croatian deaf-mute. As we sailed down the coast of Albania to Corfu, he hid it under his luggage. In retrospect, it was like traveling with a child.
By the time we reached Athens, we were hardly speaking. Heading down to the docks, we were greeted by a confusion of fishermen and travelers. We decided to island-hop, letting the ships carry us wherever they might go, until we reached Páros, where we would deliver our burden.
The first boat was sailing to Crete. It started to rain and we huddled in the back of the ferry, making our way through the rough seas.
In Crete we found a secluded beach hotel, inhabited by Europeans who were mostly nude. It was tucked in a sandy cove of turquoise waters, and we let the warm waters and sultry breeze wash over us for a day. We feasted on whatever the owner brought in from the sea, and I thought my whole life would be as simple and easy as it had suddenly become here.
But on our second day, while frolicking in the seas by the rocky cove, my boyfriend kicked his foot into a bed of sea urchins. The pain was great as he winced and hobbled up to the hotel. The woman who ran the place gestured that I should pee on his foot. Instead we opted to walk five miles into town to catch the bus to Iraklion where a doctor could extract the urchin spines. I carried the typewriter as my boyfriend limped along.
After the surgeon removed the spines, we checked into a hotel with a balcony that overlooked the Aegean. As my boyfriend soaked his foot in the sink, I stared at the islands outside our window and pondered the islands beyond. I thought of Odysseus and how his convoluted journey could only happen here, how stories grow out of a particular landscape. The great Russian novels could not have come out of England. They needed the breadth of space. Willa Cather needed the prairie. Stories grow as much out of the dictates of our as inner geography.
If open expanses provide narrative, islands offer anecdotes, episodic meanderings from place to place. Only in the circuitry of the Greek isles could Odysseus do battle with the Cyclops, struggle against the Sirens, chart the perilous waters Scylla and Charybdis. If there are island nations, island weather, island-hopping, then why not island stories?
I was in the midst of my own circuitous tale. The typewriter we traveled with flaunted itself in me; it entered my dreams. I was tempted to use it as stories abounded and our relationship unraveled.
In Páros, which was as bleached-white and blue as I'd imagined it, we hired a boy who led us through winding streets in the hot sun. The whiteness and glare blinded me as we tried to follow the boy up and down steps, through alleyways. My boyfriend carried the typewriter for what we thought was the last time.
The boy led us to a grim basement apartment that smelled of mildew and old age, and the woman greeted us, rising from her bed in a soiled robe, with hands that were twisted into claws from arthritis. My boyfriend hid the typewriter behind him, and we spent the rest of our time in Páros looking for someone to take it.
A bearded man who was traveling on to Turkey bought it for fifty dollars. We gave the money to the woman, who was very grateful, and sailed on to Rhodes.
Copyright © 1996 Mary Morris.
Photo of Mary Morris © Jerry Bauer.
Originally published in Islands Magazine.