Then she said yes



Listen. Have you ever heard something calling you under the whisper of the wind, inside the rustle of sheets, or along a brush-stroke as it pulls through your hair? Perhaps just the faintest articulation, yet you knew it was meant for you?




September 1987: I said yes to adventure, put University on hold for a semester and traveled on my own in Greece for two months. This is how I ended up in the port of Piraeus, eyes squeezed shut, finger hovering like a Ouija board planchette over the list of departures for the day. This is how I ended up aboard a ship bound for the island of Naxos, flipping through my tattered Let's Go guide to learn about the place before I got there. And later, it's how I ended up in the tiny villages in the Peloponnese, milking goats, stomping grapes into wine, and marveling at how children gathered around me whenever I left the house of my hosts.

Somewhere there in the dry, red earth and olive groves I left a piece of my heart. 



Back in Canada, every part of me wanted to return. I meant to. But these were pre-Facebook days and I lost touch with the friends I made there. I finished school. Was underemployed. Went to school again. Got a better job. Had relationships with varying degrees of success. Got married. Honeymooned in France, where all those years of French language study finally paid off. We bought a house in suburbia, had a family, and life marched on. Greece was beyond back-burnered. Greece was not even on the stove. Greece had fallen off the menu. 




September 2008: I had been working hard. Ten years on the board of the Canadian Authors Association and the better part of a year coordinating a kick-ass national conference for writers left me burnt out and in agony with carpal tunnel issues that rendered both hands nearly useless. I wore wrist braces 24/7, and spent sleepless nights worrying about whether or not I would write again, how I would work if the pain wouldn't stop. My BFF suggested a restorative holiday in Quebec. Part cabin in the Laurentians, part apartment inside the pulse of Montreal, it was two weeks of lazy afternoons, confidences over wine, good food, lots of laughter. It was a perfect tonic for the spirit.


In Quebec I wanted to respect the setting by speaking French, but I was having trouble making myself understood. It was not only that my French had been so neglected I had to dig deep for words, it was that half the words I pulled up were not French at all, but Greek. No one understood me because I spoke halting Fr/eek. I wondered how it was that these words from such a short period of my life so long ago kept rising to the surface. And secretly, I savoured the feel of each and every one of them on my tongue, even the ones I could not yet reconnect to meaning.


My BFF and I were at the depanneur, one of the little convenience stores that are ubiquitous in Montreal, stocking up on bottled water and salty snacks. My ear shaped itself to the conversation going on at the counter, as the boy dispensed lottery tickets and cigarettes to a grandfatherly type. I did not understand a word, but something in me cracked open, expanded into a love-like lightness. There was a familiarity to the cadence of their discussion; I knew it was Greek, and I couldn't stop smiling.


This is where it started. Or rather, re-started.
Greece was not finished with me yet.


Greece, that insistent whisper, would not leave my mind. There were times before this when I said I would love to take a group of writers to Greece. I thought they, of all people, would be able to see and love the Greece that I knew, and I wanted it to feed their souls and spirits and imaginations the way it had mine, and so many writers before me: Byron, Durrell, Levi, Miller, Fermor, our own Leonard Cohen. I finally asked myself: Did I mean to do it, or was it all talk? And if I meant to do it, what on earth was I waiting for?


September 2011: After loads of research and planning, a few setbacks, a reconnaissance mission the previous year, and a series of small miracles (or, if you prefer, a very high rate of fortuitous coincidence), I did it.

I created the kind of retreat I would want to go on, myself: lots of unstructured time to refresh and restore our spirits and imaginations; lots of room for the things we needed to experience to find us; just enough fish-out-of-water feeling to sharpen the senses and jump-start the imagination; plus sweet, small secrets that visitors tend not to find on their own.

It was an amazing two weeks for our little band of creative adventurers.


Olivewood & Laurel was born at the convergence of two of my deep loves: writing and Greece. It was meant to be a one-time thing, something to check off my bucket list. But I can't seem to stop, now. 


It was born in the faces of my fellow travellers seeing the Acropolis for the first time, or tasting their first ripe fig. It was born in the joy of experiencing the Greece I love over and over again with fresh eyes, as if it were the first time, through the eyes and hearts of the people I travel with.


With gratitude I offer my new friends room to think, freedom to write, and a magical place to just be.


Olivewood & Laurel is yes to the whisper. Yes, and yes, and yes.

What will you say yes to?


   In the Peloponnese, Greece, 1987



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