Sunday, April 8, 2018

είναι η άγκυρα Be the anchor. (We are in Greece!)

We got behind on our blog project. We've been busy seeing new places and meeting friendly faces, but we haven't been recording our experiences and interactions.

So, we're not really in Greece right now, but we were about a year and a half ago!

We visited Corfu, the Peloponnese peninsula, Santorini, Athens, and finished with four nights on a beachfront cabana on the quiet island of Paros, post-tourist season, zipping around on a motorcyle, risking our lives.

Let's talk about two perfect strangers we met first in Olympia then a few days later on a gondola in Santorini. Picture a "seasoned" couple, probably in their 80s. The man looks like Abe Vigoda. He wears a blazer with elbow patches and a Homburg hat, uses a cane, and walks doubled over from what appears to be severe kyphosis, also known as hunch back. "Abe" was struggling to get up some steep ancient stone stairs at the site of the first Olympics: Olympia. He tested the bricks a few times looking for a safe place to anchor his cane, his wife trying to help him to no avail.

I reached out my hand to him, not knowing if such a gesture is rude in Greek culture.  He frowned at my hand then at me. I smiled, and re-extended my hand; his eyes softened, and a smile lit up his face. He took my hand in faith, unsure if I'd be a dependable spotter. 

I have some experience in helping seasoned persons get around. Here's the trick. You put your hand or arm out and hold it steady. Don't grab their arm or hand, and don't try to hoist them. Let them do the hoisting. You be the anchor. 

I held my hand out firmly, and he hoisted himself up then said, "Thank you, young lady." I detected a New York accent. 

His wife stood on the bottom step, looking fretful about the climbing the steps. I held out my hand, and she knew just what to do.

I spent the rest of my time in Olympia on the look out for this "cute little old couple." In a museum, I heard a tour guide apologizing to her group that they had to move slowly so the elderly couple could keep up. 

I was a butt-inski and spoke for the group: "It's no trouble at all."

If you saw them, you might be tempted to say, "They are so cute." You would literally say, "Awww..." It's what I did: they fascinated and inspired me. They were an elderly--let's say "seasoned" couple in their 80s, traveling the world. You could say that physically, the odds were stacked against them. Yet here they were, determined to walk through the fabled panoramio, the arch leading to the first Olympic race track.


Panoramio
Site of first Olympics
Olympia, Greece



But "awww..." isn't really a term of inspiration, is it? In fact, it could even be a bit insulting. Would  you like someone to look at you struggling to get up some steps and say, "awwww...."? I sure wouldn't. Yet there I was.

Fast forward a couple of days later, and I see them in line for a gondola headed back to Fira on the island of Santorini. We ambled through the crowd and managed to get a place next to them. A word about Santorini. It is nothing but vertical, winding treacherous steps. This couple "with the odds stacked against them" made it just fine. 

They remembered us from a few days earlier, and we got to talking. This was their third such trip. The previous year they went to China. They travel with Viking Cruises because they get excellent service and tours.

He introduced himself, "I'm Phillip." His wife spoke up, "And I'm Muriel, but you can call me 'Mim.'"

Phillip and Mim have lived in Manhattan their entire lives. 

They work in the same building.

They still work? I thought to myself incredulously.

"I'm a corporate litigator," Phillip offered.

"I'm a psychoanalyst," Mim informed us.

They worked in the same office building when they met some sixty years ago, and now in their 80s, they work in the same building again, which is just across the street from their apartment.

Right about now, I felt like a real schmo for thinking them as being "cute." I suddenly pictured Phillip taking down IBM. I pictured Mim profiling a serial killer. 

Years ago, I was in a play, and my parents came to see it. A member of the cast later said to me, "Awww, your parents are so cute and little and old."

I got mad on all three counts. My parents are none of those. How dare he. (They are both 5'3", but they are not small, if you catch my meaning.)

So how dare did I?

I don't want anyone ever calling me cute.

So here's some advice for me and for you. Extend a hand. Be an anchor.

But keep your "awwwws" to yourself.


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A note on talking to Perfect Strangers

In some ways, I find it easier to talk to strangers than to people I actually know, which is how I started this blog in the first place.

But interviewing Perfect Strangers is a bit different.

We've had mixed reactions from people. Some people can't wait to tell their story, while others can't figure out why we'd care. Some people we can't rid of, and some people can't get away from us fast enough. Is there something voyeuristic about this venture?

We've found that 100 percent guaranteed, artists, especially performing artists, want to talk about themselves. This is why we wound up with a disproportionate number of stories about artists. I love talking to artists, so it's a win for me, but there is no lack of public conversation about artists, is there?

But loving what you do, no matter what you do, is an art form too. Whether it be  painting, writing, acting, traveling, litigating, psychoanalyzing, gardening, running, hiking, star-gazing, sheep herding. We are drawn to people who are loving what they're doing.

Phillip & Mim seemed like perfect candidates with the perfect story. But we were so caught up in actually engaging with them that we forgot to chronicle it. And that's the paradox of social media: Chronicling an experience often occludes the experience itself.

I'd love to have a photo of Phillip and Mim. I enjoyed talking to them, and I appreciate the lesson they inadvertently taught me. One of these days, we're going to figure this out. Engage and chronicle and share. And not scaring our Perfect Strangers with our peculiar hobby!

We are Xenophiliacs and love to travel. We've been all over the world and should have been writing about our experiences. We write these stories to share, but really, its most useful purpose is to help us remember why we love it. Art is love. Love is art. 

If you write about something, you experience three times: First, when it's happening. Second, when you're writing about it. Third, when you read it again months or years later. It lives eternally. 

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