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Saturday, November 21, 2009

ANOTHER CHAPTER ENDS

LALA, Evvia, Greece

This week another chapter ended. Yes, I finished one more chapter of SHADOW OF THE LION,but this is a chapter in my book of friends and memories of my idyllic life in the village of Lala, Evvia where I spent many happy summers. It has been confirmed, a 'rumour' first heard about a month or two ago, that my Greek/Can. friend Antonia has passed away. I found out the details this week from one of her neighbours who confirmed that Antonia had died in June after choaking on her food, due to her Parkinsons. I later learned from her daughter that they had taken her body back to Greece to bury it in the little graveyard at Lala, the same graveyard where my shepherd friend Mitso had been laid to rest five years ago.

Funny thing, I was in Lala this past June and it was a strange journey back. It seemed as if the village was deserted, a ghost town almost, like aliens had come and taken away the people. Nobody was around. Many houses were obviously locked up for good and abandoned, some had signs of life, but I couldn't find a soul around. I went to the graveyard to put a sprig of pomegranate on Mitso's grave and noticed the graveyard was in a state of disrepair, lots of the graves broken. And when I went to find Mitso, he was gone! I'd forgotten that after a couple of years they remove the bodies to an ossiary. It seems very strange now, that just a month later my friend Antonia would be interred in this very same little graveyard up on the hill overlooking the tiny village.

MY SPITAKI (before renovations)
I knew Antonia from the late '70's when she and her family ran a cabaret called "The Waterfront Corrall" that catered to the many Greek sailors who came to the port. We became friends and later, when I went to live in Greece, she invited me up to her village where she loved to spend her time. Lala is a tiny mountain village 5 k. up the mountain from the port of Karystos on the island of Evvia (Euboeia).
They had a house there and next to it was a deserted little stone spitaki, a shepherd's cottage built originally in 1754. It was full of junk, used for storage, but Antonia told me if I wanted to clean it out I could stay there. So began my pastoral life in the village which lasted up until 1989. I lived there part time during my years in Greece in the '80's. As soon as I moved out they renovated, and sadly spoiled the ambience. "They have destroyed an archaeological site", their son told me. It was true. The spitaki was never quite the same as it had been when I lived in it. Now there was an addition added (right where you see the low wall in the pix above); electricity installed, the house crammed with used furniture and junk that Antonia loved to collect, except for one room - the bedroom -- which was sort of a museum of antique Greek furniture once belonging to her mother.

After 1989 when I went there to visit I usually slept out on the porch as I couldn't bear to be inside the house any more. The magic was gone, and the harmony was definitely missing. And finally I just quit going up to stay altogether and would drop by only for visits from the city (Athens). But this cottage, this village, the people and my friend Antonia and her family had become part of my life. So it seems very sad that now this chapter is finished, the book closed. Only the memories remain and they are indelible in my mind.

Antonia was an interesting character. I could write a book about her and in fact when I write my Greek memoirs, she will have a leading role. And perhaps next year when I return to Greece, I'll make yet another 'last' trip to the village to pay my respects at her grave site.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

SAYING GOODBYE TO FRIENDS

MY FRIEND JABBAR


As I come close to the ending of my novel, SHADOW OF THE LION, I am saying goodbye to friends (characters) who have been with me for a long time, many years in fact. So it's a nostalgic time for me. Perhaps that's why writers find it difficult writing those last few chapters, knowing that when they come to THE END they will have lost those 'friends' who have lived with them and taken over their lives, for such a long time.

It's that way with real-life friends too, who have to leave whether they leave by their own choice, or if you have had to part from them by your choice, or if for some sad reason they have departed this earth.

For about ten years now I have been friends with a very talented man, an Iraqi artist, Jabbar al Janabi. From the first moment we met I knew he was actually a character I had written into my novel, the character of Nabarzanes, the Court Advisor from Babylon. Nabarzanes is a fictional character but one I have grown to love, so when I had to exile him (rather than kill him because of Olympias' jealousy), it was a difficult goodbye. Now, my real friend Jabbar (who I always call "The Babylonian") is leaving, because of the drastic cuts to the Arts in my Province. It will be our great loss, Toronto's gain. An interesting typo on the program of his show last night said he was 'going to Toronto for god" and perhaps this was an omen of good things to come for him.

Jabbar is an exile from Baghdad (Babylon) and has lived here since the '90's, a very talented artist who was well known in his own country before he had to escape from the evil Sadaam. He always says he is Sumerian, and if you see the ancient wall carvings you will see the likeness in him -- a regal figure, gentle, kind and handsome. Every year for the past several years he has directed a show called ANU, which is symbolic of the Sumerian sun god. The performance takes place in a circle with visual artists, musicians, singers, poets and dancers spontanteously performing when the spot-light shines on them. It's a unique form of theatre. Each year it has a new theme. This year's ANU, which will be Jabbar's last (although another person is taking over for him) was "With Love from Iraq" and featured all Iraqi performers.

THE ISHTAR GATE


There was traditional music and singing, poetry and visual artists creating while the performance went on. I was delighted to see that one of the artists was actually rebuilding the famous Ishtar Gate that was a feature of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. The Gate is mentioned in my novel too. And there is was -- blue and gold, with the guarding lions and bulls. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw this, along with the haunting music and the spoken word. I was, in my imagination, transported to the Babylon I have written about, and connected with my character Nabarzanes. When I thought of him, and how I have now said goodbye to him -- a character I had become so fond of -- and how now I must say goodbye to my real friend Jabbar, I felt so sad that it was hard not to start crying.

It's difficult saying goodbye, whether it's to your written characters or the real friends you have made over the years. I am full of nostalgia and melancholy these days as I come to the end of Alexander's world. But at least my characters will still live on the pages. And I know that my friend Jabbar, The Babylonian, is going to a city where he will be accepted and successful as the truly great artist that he is. Goodbye, my friend. I will cherish all the memories that I have of our wonderful friendship. And when I get the novel published, you (Nabarzanes) will be sure to receive a copy of it because you have been such an inspiration.





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Sunday, November 15, 2009

FIELD TRIPS

AT THE BUDDHIST TEMPLE

It's been a busy time for me between classes, house guest, field trips and writing. As of today things will slow down and I'll be able to catch up on my work on SHADOW OF THE LION. I am preparing to do some editing today and finish another chapter segment.

One thing that keeps me on the move is being a "Roving Reporter" for Planet Eye. I must write four stories a week for The Vancouver Guide. www.planeteyetraveler.com/travel/north-america/vancouver so this keeps me on the go looking for new subjects and going around town on field trips. The other day Patrick, my friend from Germany, and I went to the International Buddhist Temple for a lovely afternoon. It's such a tranquil and beautiful place to visit. I wrote about it in the Vancouver Guide and I also wrote about visiting Victory Square cenotaph as it was November 11 and we went downtown to take photos of the wreaths in remembrance of our soldiers.

I've also been writing a story a week to do with the 2010 Winter Olympics which will be here in February 2010. I'm not a huge supporter of this because frankly I believe it's become more about money than sports and the phenomenal amount of money spent on building venues should have gone partly to housing the hundreds of homeless folk who live on our streets. I had planned to go to Cuba during the Winter Olympics, however I can't afford to do that so I'll be here caught in the chaos that is going to happen during that time.
Anyway, I trip to write about it as objectively as I can, doing my part for local tourism. But there's a whole lot of grumbling going on here about the way things are being run and the way we are being dictatated to in the name of 'security' etc. A sign of the times, for sure!

My Fall classes are finished as of yesterday, but I've started a new group in New Westminster on Monday mornings and I'm running writer's workshops at home on Wednesday evenings. This will all come to an end mid December, giving me a little break in which to catch up on my own work. I am desperately trying to finish SHADOW but falling behind due to my busy schedule.

I've had a lovely time visiting with my friend Patrick. He came here a few weeks ago, then went down to Chile to visit our friends there, and then returned here for a week. So it's been a whirlwind of social events and family visits. He just left to fly back to Germany so the house is very quiet and my bird is sitting up on the bookshelf content now that his Mommy's attention is no longer diverted away from him. He's such a possessive little birdie and doesn't like it when there are other persons in the apartment, especially men. He's the 'writer bird' and likes to sit on my wrist while I'm working at the computer.

Very soon I may post more about SHADOW OF THE LION. So watch here for the updates.






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