'Much have I traveled'--but not this year
A member of the family is going to Greece this summer. The rest of us are staying home and waiting, like Penelope for Odysseus, though we don't go in much for spinning and weaving. Cutting the crabgrass now and then and watering the marigolds once a week are more like it.
With most families in the summer, someone is always traveling, someone is always staying at home, and generally it all balances out if you count up the postcards over the years.
Wait until next summer.
Meanwhile, we'll set up a couple of chaises lounges in the garden near those marigolds - they do need watering, don't they?--and we'll reread George Seferis. As far as we're concerned, the 1963 Nobel prize-winner is the Greek writer on Greece, rating next to an airline ticket to Athens or passage on an Aegean cruise.
With the poetry of Seferis, you are there--almost--''under the plane tree, near the water, among laurel.'' Everything appears in silhouette, as if carved: ''Three rocks, a few burnt pines.'' He fills your nostrils with the ''perfume of silence and pine,'' figs and asphodels. You can taste the dust of a village square in the heat of midday. The whitewashed walls dazzle you.
Seferis seems to capture the very air of Greece--clear, rational, white light with a touch of fire at the edges.
Like most Greek poets, Seferis transfixes his reader between sea and mountains--''the flowering sea and the mountains in the moon's way.''
''Our country's closed in, all mountains,'' he writes sternly. But then he turns his back on all that stoniness and points to the ''sails puffed out by the wind.''
From Odysseus on, Greece has been a land of sailors, of travelers. Exiles and messengers, almost by profession. The ancient Greeks called all other people ''barbarians.'' They could never understand why anybody would want to be anything but Greek, including the gods. But, like Odysseus, they kept going into exile to research their argument, and then returned as messengers to tell those who stayed at home that they had been right all along.
We will wait for our traveler--our exile and messenger--to return and tell us what he will.
Every summer we move our reproduction of a fragment from a Greek frieze from the dining room into the garden. The horseman never complains, nor does the spirited horse with only a partial right rear leg. We study the details, we study the cracks, while we read Seferis or water the marigolds.
This summer, in addition, we'll tack up in a prominent place the postcard a colleague sent us from Greece in 1980, showing the port of Rhodes at sunset, guarded by those majestic twin stags on pillars. And we'll wait for more postcards to go with it, from Crete, from Samos.
In a far corner of the cedar closet lie carefully wrapped bolts of cloth a friend bought from a tailor in Athens five or six years ago to make a suit. He never took them to a tailor in the States. He was afraid he would learn he had been cheated, like a tourist. Our friend is one generation away from being Greek. One day he will dare. Until then, the mothballs are on us.
Sometimes the thought occurs to us that we're like our friend--we don't quite dare to know the facts about Greece either. Perhaps we've waited too long. Maybe we prefer to encounter Greece--our Greece--in print, like Keats, who compared discovering that world through Homer with a first glimpse of the Pacific (which he hadn't seen either).
In matters of romance, the imagination never lets you down.
''Fortunate he who's made the voyage of Odysseus,'' Seferis writes. But he concludes like the rest of the chaise-lounge travelers: ''This world isn't ours, it's Homer's.''
Still, ''Save the Acropolis,'' as the bumper sticker says. We'll certainly make it next year. Or the year after. Just wait and see.