The Royal Danish Ballet's 2011/2012 season begins on Tuesday, and while I am ready and excited to begin work again, I cannot help but look back on the wonderful summer holiday. After a month-long return to the motherland United States, an extra week with my one-of-a-kind family in New York, and a quick stopover back in good ol' CPH, I took a trip with my very best friend to a little place called Greece and escaped the real world for two whole magical weeks.
Forget the sun, the beach, the food, the drinks. There's something about Greece, something that I don't think I will ever have the vocabulary to adequately describe. The people are as warm as the summer weather; the language is as beautiful to listen to as the island waters are to look at. In the face of national economic uncertainty, the Greeks showed no fear, only a love of food, fun, and each other. As someone who has never had an easy time relaxing, and who spent the first two days feeling frantic for not having mastered a very foreign language before arrival, I left Greece with a face full of freckles, significantly tighter jeans, and a strong urge to 'accidentally' miss my flight.
There's "big city" beauty--the nonstop, neon allure of New York or Paris. I always considered myself a true, blue, concrete-loving city girl. I have lived in New York and Miami Beach, and spent summers in San Francisco. I have never met a neon light or a skyscraper I couldn't get along with. I spend most of my time indoors in studios, and my pale skin reflects this affinity for artificial lighting. I have never been camping. I get cold if it dips below summer temperatures, and I can tolerate sweltering temperatures in 10-minute increments in a sauna. I don't pee unless it involves four walls, a door, and proper indoor plumbing. I don't consider bugs to be a satisfactory source of protein, and unless it's one of the approximately eight spiders a year involuntarily swallowed by the average human being, I really try to keep a more-than-safe distance from most insects. In short: I am nobody's nature girl.
But Greece is different. To be sure, we saw big cities. Athens is massive, Thessaloniki and Larissa are true cities as well. But for the most part, I was confronted with a completely different kind of beauty, one with mountains and sand and swamps and stretches of nothingness. I saw dragonflies in shades I never expected, spiders the size of gum balls, more shades of green and blue than I could ever imagine. Each day, I awoke to a clear view of Mt. Olympus and a schedule filled with hours and hours of relaxation. At first, I admit, it freaked me out. I cannot ever just do nothing. And in Greece, the daily schedule read something like: wake up, breakfast, beach, two-hour lunch, nap, beach, snack, do nothing, two-hour dinner, sleep. My stomach was not built for this schedule. The letters weren't letters, and because I love languages (and am a very nosy individual who likes to understand what people are saying and writing) I found my inability to understand or communicate frustrating. I mean, in Greek, my boyfriend's name started with what appeared to be a triangle. That's a shape. Also, I am not a person who does well at the beach; my skin simply can't take the heat (literally) and my mind can't take the lack of activity. I wear contact lenses, so I don't enjoy saltwater, and after an unpleasant childhood encounter with a rabid jellyfish, I'm not keen on swimming too far out. Plus there's the whole existential freakout I have whenever I find myself looking out over a large expanse of water; it's a situation that goes on in my mind something like: "Saltwater oceans are 71% of Earth's total surface, there are over 6 billion people on the planet, Earth is one of nine planets in our solar system, which is part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of billions of galaxies in space, which means I am very small indeed..."
A couple of days in, however, and I was hooked. By the end of the vacation, I was expressing a desire to "just bring a tent and camp on the beach" next time we visited the islands. The sun was my best friend; the saltwater brought my skin and feet back to childhood softness; my stomach learned to not only accept but thoroughly enjoy the seemingly endless plates of food involved in daily meals. The ancient ruins nestled among modern villages and cities, the freshest food I have ever tasted, the unbreakable sense of fun everyone I met seemed to have, the addictive sound and look of the language, I love all of it. And the daily small adventures made the trip that much more perfect. My first lesson in the art of drinking raki; the small but Olympic-fast turtle we adopted (until he escaped); running up to the Acropolis with just ten minutes before the last visitors were admitted; tooling around the hillsides of Santorini on an ATV; the small island whose one ATM ran out of cash, resulting in a 1am race onto a visiting ferry for cash; water fights at lunch--I miss the indescribable mix of whirlwind amid hours of leisure. It was infectious. I wanted to be like this, all the time. There was a sense of frantic humor in almost every situation, and I could not get enough.
Vacation cannot last forever. This is why, like Christmas and birthdays and any other favorite time, they are so special. Greece was something I will never forget, and something I hope to repeat very soon. Because for the first time in my life, I spent over an hour in the sun, on the beach of a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, and I didn't feel the urge to do anything or go anywhere. I didn't think. I didn't worry about fitting into skinny jeans, I wasn't nauseous about the releve section in Etudes, I had soft skin and healed feet and no sore muscles. I found my happy place.
After I had a bike accident on a tiny island, I was sitting by the side of the road crying and bleeding while disinfecting supplies were fetched. A total stranger passing by stopped and said, "Why are you crying?" I held up my bloody hands and stuck out my swollen, bleeding and bruised left leg as an answer. He smiled and said, "It's ok, don't worry! Look around. You're in paradise." And so, with another long, busy season ahead, I look forward to it being a great one, with new opportunities and challenges. But in the back of my mind, I will try so very hard to keep that feeling of real, honest-to-god bliss I achieved this summer. ευχαριστώ, Ελλάδα. You taught this neurotic mess to turn off her brain and just enjoy life (and a whole lot of food).