Saturday, May 12, 2012

Naxos – Another Goodbye

Greece is a maritime country and its freeway of choice is the sea. By sailing the immensity of its endless “wine dark” waters as Odysseus once did, you fully experience the journey with every one of your senses alert and reach your destination after a magical journey. Such was our ferry ride from Mykonos to Naxos.

The ship we boarded was in a totally different category from the rusty, creaky ferries we’d experienced while backpacking in the ‘70s. The Sea Jet 2 was brand spanking new with the leather seats and lounge areas of a modern cruise ship and a smooth, fast ride that had us to Naxos in just over two hours, including a stop on Paros. We first saw the Portara, the 20-foot tall great marble doorway to the ancient temple of Dionysus (or Apollo, depending on which guidebook you reference) and the island’s signature symbol that sits on a hill on an islet beside Naxos Town. It’s like a vigilant magic picture frame whose one side watches over the arc of the busy harbor and the other gazes out to sea. With minimal trappings of a typical tourist destination, save the dozens of inviting tavernas along the waterfront, Naxos is an island on which to experience simple, daily Greek life.

We met all who worked at and lived in our sweet little blue-shuttered, family-run hotel just a block from the beach and a 10-minute walk to the port. The exact relationships were never quite clear, but they all revolved around three year-old, curly-haired Georgios who was oblivious to the hotel guests as he played with his boats and trucks in the lobby and by the pool. The various players checked us in, served us breakfast and cleaned our room and we felt more like houseguests than hotel patrons. We became part of the clan over the course of our stay, as we smelled what they cooked for lunch, overheard their conversations and shared the comfy couch in the registration area in front of the big-screen TV. The hotel interiors were swathed in bright white Naxian marble from the famous nearby quarries, which we later drove through on a road trip to the rocky north shore where we had lunch by the bay in the sleepy fishing village of Apollon on the island’s tip. After a full week in Greece, we’d gotten into the swing of saying kalimera to those we greeted during the day, kalispera in the evening and kalinihta at night and offering a quick yassou to those we passed on the street. Greece was feeling like home.

What we enjoyed most during our four days on Naxos was the simple nature of the unscheduled, relaxing time with our children. We had plenty of time to discuss our favorite subjects (books, movies, politics and history) and spent many hours reclined on the beach and by the pool reading, resting and soaking up the sun. We enjoyed eating outdoors, watching lovely sunsets, beholding starry nights and then sleeping in late. I enjoyed some alone time with each of the children -- a several mile hike along the beach with Chris and a couple of runs and a shopping trip with Caroline. We wandered the old town along the narrow whitewashed streets and shaded passageways crossed by thick archways that led up to and around the Venetian castle and then back down the stairs past bright red potted geraniums to the lower town. At one point, I was arm-in-arm with my son, my daughter held my other hand and Joe snapped a picture, freezing the image and making time stand still as I so wished I could. I was just happy and content to be with my family – the four of us together, on a Greek isle, no less. Chris has long towered over me and Caroline can look down on me as well. As we strolled along the harbor trying to decide in which of the string of tavernas to stop and have dinner, they rubbed my back, patted my head and called me their “Little Maman,” one of their most apt pet nicknames for me. When did I suddenly get so tiny in between my now adult children?

While we met neither the Cyclops nor the Hydra on Naxos (although Joe and Chris lamented the fact that we encountered no nymphs), we did face the trial of having to once again say goodbye to our progeny. Having and loving children opens up your heart to joys a-plenty but it also exposes you to the possibility of very real pain. There’s the deep ache you feel when they are hurting, especially when they are hurts of the emotional kind, the difficulty of letting them make their own decisions and inevitable mistakes along the way and the realization one day that your babies are gone and that now standing before you are a young man and young woman with lives of their own. And while letting them go is the ultimate goal of successful childrearing, it is never easy to do so or to fill the chasm that remains when they finally leave home for good. You just hope and pray that you’ve given them the gifts of sound judgment, common sense and an open heart that will lead to good decision-making – at least most of the time.

I don’t know exactly what we did as parents to encourage and cement the bond between our children, but they have always been the best of friends, often communicate in a language we fail to understand and simply enjoy each other’s company. Knowing they would be making the trip home side-by-side helped lessen the feeling of loss just a bit. You never stop worrying about your children, no matter what their age, and we felt the familiar anxiety as we hugged and kissed them multiple times before finally letting go at the single Naxos gate. They boarded the prop plane, together, which then whisked them off to Athens for their international flight home. There we stood, choking back tears, peering through the chain-link fence at the tiny airport, waving at the plane as it took off as if they could actually see us.

The first few minutes after a goodbye are the most difficult but bit-by-bit the sting of separation finally subsides. We made a hasty escape from “family Naxos” to “couples Santorini” -- a worthy distraction if ever there were one -- to assuage the sharp, short-term sadness of missing the kids so acutely. We needed a view of the world’s most stunning island to help us move on to the final third of our trip.

Pictures of our adventures:

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