A few weeks before I turned 21, I bought a one-way ticket to Europe, paying a hundred bucks for an American Airlines buddy pass to Manchester, England. Never mind what I paid to take my luggage with me from England to Greece, except it crushed the thought that adventure comes cheaply. Yet, when my flight to Rhodes, Greece departed, I was on it.
The climate shifted from cool-rainy in England to hot-dry desert the whole summer. I was relieved when the first thunderstorm in September signaled a weather change, and then the coldest winter on record conjured me reluctant in the northern mainland - a non-touristy area - finally immersed in the Greek language. It helped that American movies, mostly 90's action (not my) genre, with Greek subtitles aired on the TV every night, supplementing my lesson book and adding to my limited conversations with Greeks. The Sydney 2000 broadcast of the Olympic flame-gathering ceremony aired one night, in lieu of a mediocre movie. It was over the top, dramatic, out of the ordinary. But what set the ceremony apart from an American action movie was its ritualistic tribute to beauty, nonviolence, and an obsolete deity - and with a cast of all women, priestesses to be exact.
Among other surprise inspirations from moving to Greece, I felt compelled to participate in the Olympics.
Of course, the struggle to meet daily needs takes precedence and inspiration is easily forgotten.
Back to Rhodes for the summer again, but speaking Greek with more ease, I worked in the old town for a handmade arts shop owner who couldn't afford to pay me and then for my godfather's jewelry store, who could afford to pay me but could make me cry with just his presence.
I moved back to the US in the fall. One thing led to another and I started singing with a traveling Greek band. From nursing a headache hiding behind the gigantic speakers one night, I emerged to sing my set at a Greek wedding in St Louis and inspired an Olympic-commissioned artist to fill in the profile he envisioned for his US Olympic team poster in Athens, 2004.
From being inspired, suddenly I was inspiring.
Painter: Rip Kastaris