When I was ten years old, living the sheltered, insulated life of an upper middle class Californian, my father (with the eager collusion of his amanuensis, my literate, intellectually restless, South Carolinian mother) applied for a Fulbright grant to Greece.
Jack Herring was a lay analyst, a devotee of Sigmund and Anna Freud, who wanted to go to Greece to conduct research for a book about the Greek family in the post-war era. (Early 1960s Greece was still patently, painfully, and only-just-post “post-war,” though it was fast on its way to becoming, as well, a modern mecca for artists and writers.) My mother, Elizabeth Boleman, on the other hand, had other, less academic missions in mind. She had been reading (Nikos Kazantzakis’s and Henry Miller’s fiction, and contemporary American journal articles about Mykonos, Delphi and Athenian expatriate society) and was looking forward to a spell of life lived much more intensely than on American soil.
We embarked from New York City for The Piraeus in July of 1961 and, after a long sea crossing, we disembarked in a land so exotic-seeming to me as to be almost incomprehensible. Like Alice, however, I slipped quickly through the looking glass, and would never emerge again.
In the Greece of that decade, each of us found much more than he or she had bargained for. My parents, who had signed on for one year, stayed three, besotted by the country. My mother and I would return again and again. Finally, I myself would leave America completely for a pair of decades in early adulthood. I wrote my first book (of poetry, now blessedly suppressed) in Greece, at age ten, and never, in any real sense, went “home” again, or ceased writing non-fiction in and about Greece.
If this present, earthly existence is, as Plato posited, a poor reflection only of a vivid and intensely recalled wholeness we all mourn in the pale here and now, Greece was and is for me the place where wholeness is most near, almost tangible. At once, I knew it, alien as it was to the Pasadena of my early childhood, as home. Like Cinderella’s slipper, it fit, and showed me my true identity, though it was not that of a fairy-tale princess.
Originally the least “conscious” member of my trio-of-origin, I would be affected most sharply by my family’s move, and by Greece, which washed over me like a tsunami, leaving very little of my birth culture intact. For the Greeks, to be “in one’s water,” /stah nerah sou/, is to be in one’s element, and I would be, after the early 1960s, a fish out of water when anywhere but Greece.
I have written about my experiences as an expatriate magazine editor in Athens in a book of essays—largely humorous— titled “Greek Unorthodox.” The second edition of this collection, “Greek Unorthodox: Bande a Part & A Farewell To Ikaros,” was published in 2005 by Cosmos Publishing (www.greeceinprint.com). Through amazon.com, are available several other of my books ; “The Other Side Of The Road” (a children’s book for multi-cultural children); “The Crowded Bed: Erotic, Light & Formal Verse” (with an introduction by my revered mentor, Patrick Leigh Fermor), which is just what it purports to be; and another children’s book, written on Santorini: “The First of Everso.” (Now an editor and political columnist, I have a recent book of essays out called “Ruminant With A View,” also available through amazon.com.)
Most of my scribbling about Greece, however, has been travel writing. My “Insight Pocket Guide: Aegean Islands—Mykonos and Santorini/Paros & Naxos,” “Insight Pocket Guide: Athens,” “Insight Pocket Guide: Corfu” and, with British photographer Clay Perry, my “Vanishing Greece” are all still readily available from bookstores and booksellers online. Much of my travel writing, however, for Penguin, Berlitz, Insight Guides, and periodicals in several countries, is now out of print. And never, anywhere, have I had the opportunity to write, unedited and unexpurgated, about Greece for travelers to Greece, precisely what I would like to write.
Guide books are marketed, targeted at particular audiences, and pruned and shaped to fit each publisher’s specifications. You’re not going to read much about the hazards of the Aegean deep in guide books, or get a packing list that incorporates brand names and website links, /or/ find an essay detailing what the Greeks really think about Americans these days. And you’re going to get only the number of words the marketing folk decide they can budget for Galaxidi or Mycenae or Andros, and not a word more. Plus, guide books go out of date about as fast as milk.
After years of chafing against the restraints of the travel publishing industry as I have come to know it, I have finally decided to go it alone, online, creating a thinking traveler’s site where I can share with you—the prospective visitor to my second homeland—everything this fussy, observant, middle-aged dual national has learned in her 47 years in and out of, but mostly in, Greece.
But I can’t simply give it all away for free: this work-constantly-in-progress, regularly updated, and full of “trade secrets,” has become my day job now. The “guide book” you access here, to print off and take along with you, will be more valuable, I believe, than any one source presently available, but quickly aging, on a Barnes and Noble shelf. But you decide. Send me a check if the guide helps you out! And remember to book through my travel agents: a small commission charged them supports this ongoing effort.
For now, this is a guide to Andros, Corfu & Paxos, Athens & Environs (Delphi, Olympia, Nemea, Aegina, Hydra, etc., etc.), Mykonos & Delos, Santorini, Anafi & Sikinos, and Messenia, Kalamata & Environs. If chapters are temporarily “down,” they’re in the process of being updated, so come back soon. Plunge ahead now and read online “Elizabeth Boleman-Herring’s Greece: The Thinking Traveler’s Guide to Hellas.”
When not offline on some remote island (where creaky phone lines preclude logging on easily), you can reach me at [email protected] (or in a pinch, contact my webmaster, Tim Bayer, at [email protected]). I want to hear from you, and indeed part of this site will comprise responses and recommendations sent in by readers—by you, my fellow philhellenes.
So, let us begin planning, a year or so in advance of your own personal Greek odyssey, and let us begin together. Kalo taxithi (ka-LOH tahk-SEE-thee)! (That’s Greek for Bon Voyage. . . .)
Email: [email protected]
Click to download: Curriculum Vitae
PS I thought you might like to read an excerpt from my collection of essays, “Greek Unorthodox,” which deals with being a stranger in a strange land—and enjoying it.