The great heart of the world

Henry Miller – “At Epidavros, in the stillness, in the great peace that came over me, I heard the heart of the world beat. I know what the cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.”

I wake up with hair like the demon Medusa after a night of tossing and turning. Church bells enthusiastically chime the hour and I decide at this time of day they are not quite as charming. A shadow moving outside our window on the terrace is not a peeping tom but a middle aged man doing tai chi. I lose track of time watching his movements from behind the curtain. We grab breakfast on the move and buy a map of the Peloponnese Islands. After balancing our caffiene levels with gorgeous drinks at a cafe, we pick up our bags and head for Avis car rental.

The Avis office in Athens enjoys a scenic location across a main road from Hadrian’s Arch. We haggled here the day before for a suitable pick up time, and Thao selects a tiny silver Clio for our drive. As a lazy American, I haven’t driven a manual car in over a decade so I will assume the role of navigator and Thao will drive.

Maps in hand we make our way to Nafplio via Epidaurus. Leaving Athens is easier than expected and we are soon cruising west along E94. We speed through the industrial side of Athens and get our windshield cleaned against our wishes. Afterward the boy looks at us and Thao shakes her head and when she mouths the words No Money he simply shrugs and walks away. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding and am both surprised and grateful for the non incident.

Exiting the major highway, the coastal road is long and windy, with few cars. Our fellow motorists zoom by at top speed and we cruise along past dozens of roadside shrines, screeching to a halt in front of the most spectacular. We are rewarded with stunning views along the water and into the mountains and stop several times for photos and fresh air. I hear sheeps bells clanging in the distance and very little else. Mother earth demands your attention in this place.

Epidaurus is dotted along the landscape with houses, churches and signs for the ancient theater. Pulling into the archeological site we devour our sandwiches and enter the site behind a vocal group of French students, scowling at them for their mere presence. We prepare ourselves for the trek up what we assume will be the typical set of innumerable stairs and after just a few steps, our eyes are filled with ancient stone. It is a sight to behold: a sandy circle with a small marble disk at the center, and hundreds of steps rising stadium style around the arena in a semi circle. People of every age eye the center circle and entertain ideas of performance: oration, theater, music, dance. A brief smile as I imagine an orchestra conductor and a full house – thoughts that echo from the Odeon of Heracles in Athens.

We climb to the top and perch on the cold marble watching people below experiment with the acoustics. A tour guide speaks quietly but her voice carries to us way at the top. I am shocked when she drops a coin onto the marble disc and it sounds like she is sitting beside me.

When requesting directions on to Nafplio three Greek men point in three different directions while I stand with our roadmap stretched between my hands. We motor on through increasingly serpentine roads and a town sprawled across the hills. We encounter the sheep and their shepherd, darting across the road. They head for greener pastures and so do we.

We arrive to Nafplio in drizzling rain, txirimiri as the Spanish say. Baby-faced sailors eat ice cream in pairs or threes and I wonder how old you have to be to join the navy in Greece.

The Palamidi Fortress towers in the distance and a beautiful small town stretches to all points in front of us. Blue shutters, hand-lettered greek signs and tiny shops call out from the small streets of the old town. Hotel Agamemnon at the end of the seafront promenade will be our home for two nights. Pocket doors to the terrace do not push or pull, but slide open along a track. My jaw drops as the doors slide and I find myself looking at the small castle (Bourtzi) on the water. We settle in for a siesta and a cruise ship rolls by on it’s way out to sea and I wonder if it has taken half of this small town with it.

We have dinner at souvasomething on the waterfront, recommended by our adorable hotelier. The shrimp saganaki is delicious, the house wine cheap. Fish roe salad too salty, but the eggplant salad is good. The ouzo is of course complimentary, and upon seeing our facial expressions (a not so subtle cringe) the waiter instructs us to add water to our glasses.

We walk home at 1:30am and an ice cream store is open. An Italian man and his Greek wife offer us myriad flavors of gelato in thei colorful shop. Thao holds my ice cream cone and hers, posing for a photo op. Then she leans over and says to me “I don’t know if you know this but the waffle cone is still warm.” There is no better way to win our favor, we love this town.

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