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From the Limnisa Writing Retreat

Limnisa, on the sea in Greece, is for writers either seeking a writing workshop led by a professional, published author or a place for a personal retreat in which to write on one’s own. I went there for the month of August to write on my own and used the author for critique. 

What is it like? My room looks out to the sea and is a short walk to the beach. Nooks and crannies galore to hide and write in. And the food is fabulous. There are 10 of us who have come from the UK, Egypt, Holland, South Africa and the USA. We are a congenial and talkative group, yet are respectful of one another’s space. 

I will be writing letters and sharing them with the readers of The Lakeville Journal as a series, hoping to bring some of the Greek light and warmth to the Northwest Corner.

I could not be more pleased to be here. 

Dear friends,

“You are so brave to go alone, knowing no one.” 

I heard these parting words, but also heard what they didn’t say: “You are too old!”

I did not know that the true bravery as I began the first part of my journey would be in the sitting. Two hip replacements, two hearing aids and one almost-blind eye, and off I went. 

And then the sitting began. 

Peter Carberry’s two-hour ride to JFK airport, two classy, boring hours in the business-class lounge, a seven-hour flight to Paris, another two hours in a not-so-classy lounge, then four hours to Athens.

In Athens, Themmey — my Greek driver — would pick me up. “You will recognize him. He will have a sign that says Limnisa-Isabella and he is square.”

 And there he was.

In my fatigue I am hardly aware — as I keep falling asleep — of the constant curves for two more hours. Numbly tired, I have not registered that I am really in Greece. My bottom worn, sore and luckily amply endowed has helped me survive the trip.

Arriving at Limnisa in the dark, Phillip and Mariel, my hosts for the writing retreat, meet me on the road, help me up a steep climb and feed me my first Greek meal, a delicious plate of pasta.

I unpack, not wanting to start my first morning with bulging suitcases. I wake feeling disoriented, then look out of my window and see the sea roughed by a strong wind that brings the smell of salt to me. I am really in Greece!

The shower — hot, steady and strong — releases the stiffness and ache of arthritis. Breakfast of cheese, yogurt, fruit and a mug of black coffee, and I am ready for the yoga class.

I have go down many steps toward the sea. The steps are stone and steep. I hold the sides of the wall and take each step, one at a time, like a child. The water sapphire, the sky milky blue and cloudless. The yoga mats, blue on the gray earth. Inside me, the other me is scampering down the steps.

On the yoga mat I am slow and stiff and regret not having done yoga all my life. I try the poses. In the trying, my body slowly comes awake — drowsy but awake. I remind myself not to look at the limber others: comparing, I become too aware of my lost agility; moving, I stay in the reality that I can still move.

Only three guests so far: a woman from the UK and two from Holland. How easily we sit sharing our lives, making each other laugh and finding a bond that connects — in our case the desire for escape from the routine of our lives into a space where we can find what we do not even have a name for.

At 82, I am the oldest of the group.

The goal for me in this magical month of run-away is to fully embrace my aging body. To accept that my alert mind loses words too often through an unwelcome sieve in my brain. Most of all, I want to aways allow space and time for my dreams. Then to accept with grace the loss of my youthful self: a self that still seems so alive in my most inner being.

Breakfast is spent in silence, a silence not silent, but filled with waves against stones, leaves against wind and wasps looking for flesh to bite. It is the quiet of no spoken words. A wasp stings my finger. It swells, burns and I suck it. One of the women applies ointment to it. All in pantomime. Her eyes and smile soothe more than the ointment.

Now time to write and to find my writing spot. I wander about the grounds and the long veranda like Goldilocks trying chairs. I want to be able to see the sea, but the chairs away from the veranda seem to sit precariously on the edge of the rise. My one almost-blind eye makes the height frightening. Will I tip and fall over? On the veranda, I choose a chair. Solid, the floor under me, and all around the sea, and nearby a flowering bush attracting butterflies with wings of white and brown. I have found my spot.

Isabella S. Bick, who has a Ph.D. and MFA, works as a therapist from her light-filled office in her home on Skiff Mountain in Sharon, which her late husband, architect Sherman Schneider, designed for them almost 30 years ago.

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