Bret imparting his Olympic shotput techniques to the next generation.

Bret imparting his Olympic shotput techniques to the next generation.

Wednesday we returned to city life with two final days in Athens before going home. Our sense of fragility and gratitude is heightened by the fires that have claimed at least 81 lives and 2500 homes. I had been scheduled to cover Cyprus Theatre Organization's production of Aeschylus' The Persians, the only of our 32 Greek tragedies to enact contemporary events, for American Theatre magazine. Due to the fires and three national days of mourning, the performance was cancelled. We join our temporary compatriots in sadness over what, according to a taxi driver's insight, is partly Greece's fault for not making it impossible to build on banned lands. This same driver, who took us to the airport today, demonstrated an inspiring worldview in the face of Greece's more than 25% unemployment (double for young people 18 to 25), summing it up, "You have to stay optimistic. Compared to the fires, this [the economy] is nothing. For this we have solutions."

Cyprus Theatre Organization's  The Persians .

Cyprus Theatre Organization's The Persians.

It was a tearful good-bye in Santorini. We had fallen into one of the brief yet profound relationships that travel allows with our host grandmother, Maria, the mother of our Airbnb's fabulous owner, Ioanna Vasilopoulou. New to Airbnb, the family has poured years of efforts and income into the stunning two-home Harmonia House in Kamari Beach area of Santorini that I would recommend to travelers of any heel. They were ecstatic to have us and it was a love affair all around. In spite of expressing how nervous she was to cook for "a restaurant man," Maria couldn't stop doing so. Day One was pastichio, Day Two tomatokeftedes—my new favorite food on earth, and Day Three "fava" (a fava spread), another Santorini specialty, plus local cheeses, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden, the to-die-for Santorini mega-capers that literally grow on trees and are not brined but get their salt from the air. She couldn't give us enough.

If we permed Cleo, they'd be twins. Such was their bond that surely when we get a house and dogess, she already has a namesake.

If we permed Cleo, they'd be twins. Such was their bond that surely when we get a house and dogess, she already has a namesake.

Our emotional departure reminded me of how deeply I love and have missed the aliveness of travel: the reliance on instinct to stay on course, the unguarded dependence on others' advice, the Platonic love of fast friendships as impromptu families are formed. It was awful leaving Maria yet I welcomed the heartbreak of saying good-bye to someone we may not see again, the discomfort of adult tears, the weight of gratitude.


Back in Athens we came full circle, seeing the frescoes that survived the Santorini volcano at the incredible National Archaeological Museum of Athens:

A three thousand-year-old mural preserved by ash from the volcano that consumed its makers.

A three thousand-year-old mural preserved by ash from the volcano that consumed its makers.

A fitting finale to our trip's narrative was arriving at the Archaeological Museum to find a special exhibit on display: The Countless Aspects of Beauty, a narrative in four parts (Eternal Aesthetics; The Beautiful and the Desirable; Focusing on the Body and The Endless Quest) that "highlights the aesthetic dimension of the ancient works, inviting at the same time the spectator to look for the spiritual basis of aesthetic choices." It asserts beauty as the "thread that transcends human creativity."

Aphrodite, the original Miss Universe, muse of  Mamma Mia , and picture of ideal beauty.

Aphrodite, the original Miss Universe, muse of Mamma Mia, and picture of ideal beauty.

I think about beauty for a living and my boss Trish McEvoy has always taught us, team and clients alike, to approach beauty and aging in the best, most empowering ways. She's been with me in spirit as I've faced a 20th Anniversary trip and the spectre of my eighteen-year-old self. I've long been wrestling with the classical ideals of beauty we inherited from the Greeks, and how they have shaped, for better and worse, our aesthetics and relationship to the perceived perfection of symmetry and balance. My personal Beauty approach? To zealously control the things we can and to laugh hard at the things we can't. To stumble on this major and beautifully executed meditation on the topic was, well, fate. By the end of the exhibit and with the end of our trip in sight, more tears fell at this remarkable expression of male beauty* that reminded me of the face I call home.

*To paraphrase the exhibit's curators, "[In this] expressive portrait of the mature man from the island of Delos unfolds the thoughts and feelings of a man that seems to wonder about human nature, the truths and essential values that constitute its worth and beauty. The question of Socrates, "What is Beauty?" has engaged the thoughts of philosopher, mathematicians, poets and artists of antiquity... When looking at the evolution of ancient Greek art, one can perceive that the pursuit of beauty, even if it does not end up [sic] to an absolute truth, it can lead to acknowledging our inner self. The Countless Aspects of Beauty offers a multifaceted understanding of our inner world and a more profound access to human nature."

1. A seriously hot bust. 2. Ancient Mycenaean fragrance re-created by Korres! "Closely linked with Aphrodite, perfumes and scented oils are mentioned in quite a few ancient myths as an indispensable accessory for gods and mortals when preparing for a breathtaking appearance." We at Trish have to agree! 3. It always struck me as weird that Eros, the god of romantic love, is a chubby baby. Somehow it now adds up! 4. Oh la jewelry! Cordelia had a little trouble understanding why we couldn't try or buy it...