Summer Writing Workshops in Greece: Imagine an Island for Writers

 

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Summer Writing Workshops in Greece  Imagine an island awash in a turquoise sea — and your own writing room with a balcony overlooking the blue. Yes, sort of like Lawrence Durrell, when he wrote  Prospero’s Cell.  Imagine working intensely for a few hours at your desk, then plunging into the sea to revitalize your brain and body. Imagine workshopping your new fiction and essays together with writers from all over the world and sharing exquisite meals of fresh produce, fish, and cheese, accompanied by the robust reds and tangy white wines of this sunbaked soil. These and other impressions are all yours at the Aegean Arts Circle  where I had the pleasure of leading workshops for a couple of years. This year’s group is taught by Kitsi Watterson. Previous teachers include Thomas E. Kennedy, David Lazar, and Robert Owen Butler. There may be a place or two left. Contact Amalia Melis at the website linked above for information.
If you can’t join the fun this year — try your hand at these exercises from my 2016 workshop  Ten Writing Prompts on the Theme of Islands

Or check out this video interview with director Amalia Melis here

If you’re heading for Greece for this workshop or just for fun, check out this free guide to the 100 best things to do in Greece  assembled by Jen Miller.

For more writing exercises focusing on place, see Linda Lappin’s The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook- Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci, winner of a Nautilus Book Award in Creativity.

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7 Food Writing Prompts

Food writing, focusing on the personal experience of food — combining memoirs, recipes, technical information, and history in a literary or journalistic text, is a relatively recent genre, popularized in the 20th century in the USA by the incomparable MFK Fisher — although there have been some notable precursors, such as Marcel Proust. In turn, it has given rise to one of the most creative and remunerative forms of blogging today.  A quick glance at Instagram or Twitter feeds will show that we are obsessed with our food and with what other people are eating and cooking. That should be no surprise: a great deal of human history has focused on food.

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Etruscan cook preparing food for a banquet

 

From a psychological point of view, food is our connection with our mothers, with our most archaic identity as a newborn for whom the very first physical sensation as an independent being is hunger. Food and hunger define who we are.

To write about food is to write about our evolution, our feelings, and our deepest identity, or as some might say, our soul.

Below are seven food writing prompts to investigate your food memories.

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1. Set a scene in a kitchen from long ago evoking a meal you cooked, shared, or tasted. (Florence, 1972)
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2. Write about a a visit to a market you find irresistible. Describe colors, sounds, flavors, texture, people, atmosphere, and the art of choosing produce. (Paris market, Rue Mouffetard)

 

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3. Tonight you may dine anywhere in the world and eat anything you wish. Where will you go, with whom, and what will you eat? Describe the food, setting, atmosphere, and company of your ideal dinner out.(Ikaria, GR)
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4. Recall the flavor of a food freshly picked, baked, or caught, and eaten on the spot. Use concrete sense details in your description.
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5. Write about preparing and eating a food you love but that not everyone does. Include a recipe and say why it appeals to you so much.
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6.Write about a laborious dish you prepare only for special occasions.
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7. Write about tasting wine in a special place. Describe the atmosphere, company, and flavor of the wine.  (Methoni, GR)

 

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For more food and travel writing prompts, please see my craft of writing book: The Soul of Place – A Creative Writing Workbook

The Christmas Presepe

It’s just like a presepe, people say of the village where I live half the year – a massive hunk of chiseled grey rock on which hundreds of tiny stone houses, domes, and towers have been built, with cellars hollowed deep into the rock face itself.   Approaching from the old road snaking through hilly terrain, you catch sight of it,   checkered window squares aglow above a mossy canyon.

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it looks just like a presepe!

Presepe  is the name given to the Nativity Scene – the Christmas crèche,  where by Italian tradition, the figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men and  farm animals are placed  in rustic settings –with the backdrop of old stone barns and houses, like the ones still standing here. St. Francis has been credited with creating  the first presepe in 1223, at the Appenine hermitage of Greccio.  St. Francis’ presepe wasn’t a fixed tableau assembled from  life-sized figures or miniatures.  Wanting  worshipers to see “with the eyes of the flesh” Jesus’s birth in a humble manger, he  set up a straw-filled crib,  placed a portable altar on it,  brought in an ox and a donkey, and celebrated mass there on Christmas eve.   From there the tradition caught on, mingling faith, folk-art, local traditions, and pageantry, eventually becoming the heart of the Italian Christmas.

In the past, Christmas trees were a rare sight in Italian homes. The presepe was the household Christmas decoration. You built it yourself, changing it every year, out of brown paper, cardboard, moss, pebbles, and  twigs, mirrors, electric lights, star-studded dark blue paper for the night sky.  The more ingenious equipped them with running water,   mechanical figures, and music.   In addition to the main players, dozens of extras were attendance – angels,  shepherds,  huge flocks of sheep, and often the figures of wood, plaster, or papier maché,  were passed down like cherished heirlooms. In celebration of the medieval corporazioni,  many statuettes  represent  the different tradespeople bringing offerings to the newborn Christ:  the chestnut vendor, the woodcutter, the laundress, the wool spinner, the weaver, the baker, the fishmonger.  Presepi from different regions and artistic periods have their distinctive flavors, with Naples being the queen of presepi, with an entire street, San Gregorio Armeno, dedicated to the artisans who produce the settings and figurines, some still authentic, but most, these days, made in china.

In Naples, where life=theater and theater=life, the presepe mingles  the sacred and the profane, for each year celebrities are added to the crowds of worshipers scattered around the crib. Obama, Sarkozy with Carla Bruni, Osama Bin Laden, Francesco Totti,  the football player, are some of the past stars, embodied in collectible statuettes you can buy in the shops along Naples’ presepe street. Most recently, Donald Trump, Pope Francis, and Kim Jong-un have made an appearance, slipped in among the Three Kings.

The presepe may actually have pagan origins, for the figurines are akin to the Penates,  the statuettes  that the Ancient Romans kept in their kitchens, symbolizing gods of abundance, which they put on the table at dinnertime.  They are also related to the Sigillum, literally “small image” of the Lares,  the ancestral spirits celebrated in Ancient Rome and Etruria on December 20th in a festival known as the Sigillaria, when figurines representing spirits of dead loved ones were exchanged, and often displayed at home in miniature settings.

The presepe has also been at the center of our Christmas celebrations, too, ever since we rediscovered our passion for miniatures and pageantry after a visit to San Gregorio Armeno, where my husband renewed his connection to his Neapolitan roots.   Our presepe  is constructed from odds and ends collected over the months, like Styrofoam cubes, soup bowls,  candy boxes, and  is dedicated to a changing theme related to the year’s travels or place-based obsessions.  We’ve had Tibetan stupas, Sardinian nuraghi, Etruscan necropoli, and  New Age menhir sanctuaries. For the last few years, though the emphasis has been on the Cyclades!

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Our presepi reflect our yearly travels and place obsessions. This was inspired by Santorini!

 

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Another Presepe in Cycladian style.
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This presepe commemorates our 2 trips to Ikaria. Baby Jesus rocks in a little red boat and the star of Bethlehem comes from the beach of  Faros.

 

In addition to the regular characters present at every Christmas pageant, we also have a turtle, a unicorn, a pilgrim from St James’ Way, a tiny elk, several pigs,  Saint Michael the Archangel, and an E.T.  all gathered to celebrate the birth of the semi divine human spirit, born the very same day as the Mithraic Sol Invictus!

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characters from our presepe

Presepi designed by S. Baldassarre, Photos by S. Baldassarre, Linda Lappin, and Leah Cano