Since my first trip to Greece many years ago, I have kept a travel journal. It began as a small, sketchy affair and has grown over the years, and of course I have been interested in other people’s travel journals, though, alas, none of my friends keep them, despite my frequent urging. This will explain my piqued interest when, in a little coffee shop on a small Greek island on a rainy morning I saw, at the next table, a lady writing in a small, pocket-sized journal.
She was a woman of about my age, dressed in sensible clothes, accompanied by a quiet young boy of perhaps twelve or thirteen, similarly dressed. For some reason, I determined that they were Dutch. They were, I decided, either a widow and her only son, or an aunt and nephew. In either case, the older woman was determined that the boy ought see something of the world and for that reason had brought him here to the birthplace of western civilization. That she was writing in her journal indicated that the arts and letters were valued in their home, and in later years the boy would likely write fondly of this time, much as Gerald Durrell had done of his mother’s taking their family to Corfu in the years before the second war.
Having decided that they spoke Dutch, a singularly opaque language, I had no hope either to speak with them or to appreciate what she was writing in her journal, but thought I might at least get some feel for it by a glimpse of the layout of the pages, her treatment of text and space and perhaps things she might have pasted in or interleaved, or even drawings or watercolour sketches she might have made. I knew that a travel journal in the hands of an artist could be a thing of beauty. Feigning a need to cross the room, I passed close behind her chair and stole a glance at the opened pages of her journal.
She had just entered what they had paid for coffee and rolls. The equivalent of perhaps eighteen cents, US. Other entries were of a similar import. That was all there was. In the land of Hector and Odysseus, of Homer and Leonidas, of Phidias and Jason, of Zeus and Athena, of Aphrodite and Dionysius and Zorba, of fauns and satyrs and wine and wonderful food, of beaches and sunshine and blood feuds and vampires and the Evil Eye, her only notations were of nickels and dimes spent for coffee.
It is always possible, of course, that the boy may have since grown up and written about their trip, though if he did it might not have been in the wistful spirit that I had been imagining.