Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inspired by Place


Two weeks ago I returned to Toronto after an entire summer in Greece, the Peloponnese near the island of Spetses to be exact. The writer and the historian in me are both inspired by place and in Greece the ancient landscape speaks to anyone who is willing to listen, be it a moss-covered column drum from a once beautiful temple, or even the shiver of the leaves on a single branch of olive along a country road. The voices of the past speak readily and from those voices come a wellspring of inspiration.

Now that I am back 'home' with the subway rumbling my flat and the idle of buses thrumming in the background, my longing is far more acute and I try to conjure up the images of this past summer as vividly as possible, in a way no digital picture can replicate. Sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, all of it. Right now I'm in danger of going off on a philosophical tangent but I can't seem to help myself. It is both exciting and humbling to set foot in a place where legends have trod, where gods were worshipped and heroes sailed (you can still find the occasional flower or olive branch carefully laid in offering on many ruins). I supposed the awe is something akin to what one feels upon entering the place of worship of his or her particular divinity; for this writer, the sea, the landscape, the very air of these ancient places are a sort of temple. The key however, is to leave.

I am constantly reminded of a quote by the writer John Fowles who used the island of Spetses as the setting for The Magus. In his forward to a later edition of The Magus, Fowles gives a phrase he and other artists of the time used to describe how they felt after returning home after a spell in Greece: the "Aegean Blues".

Fowles goes on to say:

“One has to be a very complete artist to create good work among the purest and most balanced landscapes on this planet, and especially when one knows that their only conceivable human match was met in a time beyond re-entry. The Greece of the islands is Circe still; no place for the artist-voyager to linger long, if he cares for his soul… I had escaped Circe, but the withdrawal symptoms were severe. I had not then realized that loss is essential for the novelist, immensely fertile for his books, however painful to his private being.”

The above words certainly ring true for myself after my long sojourn in the light, and colour and heat of the Mediterranean world. It has also been so after visits to Tunisia where Roman cities lie in wait in the most out-of-the-way corners, and in Britain, where I also dwelt for a spell, and in whose green landscape so many tales of Arthur were born and embellished upon.

One thing I discovered is that one can take things for granted in even the most beautiful spot in the world and so when it comes to place loss definitely is essential for the novelist.


And so, now that I am back in industrial and extremely flat southern Ontario I am seeking to remedy my case of "Aegean Blues". My heart is aching but my pages are all full.
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