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Planet Paradise
by Lori B.

           Olympia Constantinopoulos sighed and put down her knitting. Her eyes were getting tired, and it was time for her cup of chamomile tea. She pushed herself out of her La-Z-Boy recliner (a birthday present from her son, George), straightened up to her full height (five feet, exactly), and padded into the kitchen in her fuzzy slippers.

            After filling the water kettle and setting it on the stove, Olympia turned the burner knob and felt a familiar twinge in her wrist. Her arthritis had been worse than ever lately, and she blamed the cool, damp weather rather than the fact that she was 78 years old. All this rain, she thought. It isn't normal. She'd heard about climate change, or whatever people were calling it these days, but she didn't really understand it. She just knew that for some folks, the weather was hotter than usual, and for others, it was colder than usual. But wetter than usual -- much wetter -- was the current situation in Utica, New York. It had rained every day so far in May, and the weatherman on TV that morning had joked about building an ark. 

            Olympia fished a teabag from the canister, dropped the bag into her World's Best Grandma mug (the only one she ever used), and stood there listening to the rain falling steadily outside. Her thoughts drifted to Cristos. After 59 years of marriage, Cristos had suffered a stroke and died only three months before, and Olympia was still getting used to his absence. "It's too quiet around here," she said aloud.

            As if to contradict her, the water kettle let out a long, high whistle. Olympia turned off the gas under the kettle and, feeling that pain in her wrist again, poured boiling water into her mug. This caused her eyeglasses to fog up. She was wiping them on a dish towel when the telephone in the living room started to ring.

            She made it to the phone before the fifth ring. It was time for Sofia's weekly phone call, and Olympia could still hustle when she wanted to.

            "Hello?" she said into the receiver, sounding a little out of breath.

            "Hi, Yaya!"

            "Who is this?" Olympia asked.

            "It's me. Sofia. Your favorite granddaughter," Sofia replied with a laugh.

            "Oh, I thought you were my other favorite granddaughter," Olympia said.

            It was an old joke, but Sofia played along.

            "You don't have another favorite granddaughter, Yaya. You're stuck with me."

            "Oh, okay, then. I guess you'll have to do."

            "Did I interrupt anything?" Sofia asked.

            "I was just making tea," Olympia replied.



            "In your World's Best Grandma mug?"

            "Of course."

            "I'm glad you're using your mug, Yaya."

            "It's my favorite. Plus, it's the only one I can reach. All the others are up on the high shelf, where your grandfather put them."

            "Still? Can't one of your neighbors come over and get them down for you?"

            "I don't want to ask them to come out in the rain. I'll just wait until you come this summer. Oh, I should go and get my tea now."

            "Go ahead, Yaya, I'll hold on."

            Olympia was gone about five minutes. It took her that long to squeeze the teabag, add the honey, cut some lemon, squeeze the lemon into the tea, find a spoon, and stir. Then, of course, she had to put the spoon into the sink, get a napkin, and carry the mug and the napkin back to her recliner. 

            Settled into her chair, Olympia picked up the phone and spoke.

            "Who is this?" she asked.

            "It's me. Sofia!"

            "I know, I was just kidding," Olympia chuckled. "I haven't lost all my marbles yet. Just the green ones."

            "Oh no, those are my favorites!" Sofia said. "But seriously, Yaya, there's something I need to ask you."

            "If you want my permission to get married, I approve. Next question."

            "Very funny, but I'm afraid that wasn't my question."

            "Well, ask away."

            "Okay. How would you like to go with me on a trip this summer, just the two of us?"

            "What kind of a trip?"

            "A trip to paradise."

            "To where?"

            "To paradise. Greece. The old country. You used to call it paradise when I was a little girl, remember? You said you missed the smell of the lemon trees."

            "I did? That was a long time ago."

            "Not that long. Anyway, will you go with me?"

            "Won't your boyfriend miss you?"

            "We're not together anymore."

            "Oh. Well, there's plenty of fish in the sea. What about your mother and father? Don't they want to go?"

            "They're too busy at the restaurant. They can't get away."

            "I see. Well, what brought all this up, Fifi?"

            Sofia smiled. Besides Olympia, Sofia's grandfather was the only other person who'd ever called her Fifi. Now that he'd passed, Sofia was depending on Olympia to carry on the tradition. Feeling a surge of tenderness for her grandmother, she tried explaining her reason as gently as she could.

            "One of the other teachers was talking about her travel plans at work today. She's going to Italy this summer, and it made me think about Greece."


            "And another teacher said he's going to Alaska so he can see the icebergs before they're all melted."

            Olympia broke in. "I know, Fifi. Those poor polar bears."

            "You've heard about that, Yaya?"

            "Sure, Fifi. Whats-his-name was talking about it on the news last week."

            "Oh. So that made me think about how I want to see the world ... before it's too late." Sofia paused. "Everything's changing so fast."

            "I've noticed that, Fifi," Olympia said.

            Sofia didn't want to dwell on the topic of climate change with her grandmother; it was too depressing. She decided to take a different approach.

            "Besides, I want to learn about my roots."

            "Ah, just try a little hair dye. I'll give you the name of my beautician."

            "Always with the jokes, Yaya! I'm serious. I mean my Greek roots. Would you come with me and be my tour guide?"

            "To the old country?"

            "Yes. Let's get out of this rain. It'll be good for your arthritis. We can go to Santorini Island and eat mezedes."

            "Ah, mezedes. Have you been watching those travel shows? The ones with what's-his-name, Rick Stephanopoulos?"

            "It's Rick Steves, Yaya," Sofia laughed. "And yes."  

            "Well, he seems to know a thing or two."

            "So then, you'll go?" 

            Olympia remembered Santorini Island. She closed her eyes, and she was ten-year-old Olympia Dimitriou, standing under a lemon tree with handsome twelve-year-old Cristos Constantinopoulos. That really was paradise.

            "Okay, Fifi, you've talked me into it. When do we leave?"

            "In one month, Yaya."

            "Good. I want to go and stand under a lemon tree."

* * * * *

            It was still raining a month later when Sofia arrived at Olympia's house. 

            "Come in and dry off, Fifi," Olympia said, after giving Sofia a hug and two kisses, one for each cheek. She was relieved that Sofia had arrived safely after driving all the way from Chicago. "We'll have some tea," she told Sofia. "I bought you a new mug."

            "Thanks, Yaya," Sofia replied. "I could really use a cup of tea after driving in all that rain."

            Olympia put the kettle on and handed Sofia the mug, a white one with the words Best. Granddaughter. Ever. on it. 

            "I don't understand why they had to put a period after every word," Olympia remarked. "Maybe it's supposed to be funny."

            "It IS supposed to be funny, Yaya," Sofia laughed. "And I love it."

            They drank their tea, talked about their trip, and later that evening they packed Olympia's suitcase. The next morning, they were sitting beside each other on a Boeing 757, waiting for departure. Olympia had the window seat and was already asleep. Sofia checked Olympia's seat belt and then settled back into her own seat. Best. Trip. Ever. she thought, as the plane took off.

* * * * *

            The sun was shining brightly when their plane landed in Athens eighteen hours later. Sofia looked over at Olympia who was snoring softly, and tapped her on the shoulder.

            "Look, Yaya, we're in paradise!" she whispered.

            Olympia yawned and looked out at the tarmac. "It looks nice and warm," she said. "But I expected paradise to have more leg room than this. Even I don't fit in this seat."

            "Just wait, Yaya. We'll be on Santorini Island soon. And then you can walk around on the beach and stretch your legs as much as you want."

            "I'll just be happy to see a lemon tree," Olympia said.

            Sofia helped Olympia, who was walking with a slight limp, off the plane and through the crowded airport to the luggage area.

            "Do you want a wheelchair?" Sofia asked.

            "No, I don't think it would fit in my suitcase," Olympia quipped.

            "Ha ha. Do you think you can make it to a taxi?"

            "Yes, Fifi. I'm fine."

            They made it out to the busy street with their luggage and Sofia hailed a cab. The driver was friendly and spoke a little English.

            "Welcome to Athens," he said, helping them with their bags.

            "Wow, lots of tourists," Sofia remarked. "Is it always like this?"

            "Many tourists, yes. Very crowded," he replied.

            "More crowded than usual?"

            "Yes. Many people come to Greece this year. They want to see the islands. They say they are sinking."


            "No, wait. Shrinking. That is the word. The islands are shrinking, because of the ... the okeanos."

            "Oh. Does that mean 'ocean'?" Sofia asked.

            "Yes, that's it. The sea level. The beaches, they are smaller now, because of the climate change."

            "And the lemon trees? Are they still here?"

            "Not like before. They are dying."


            "The land is dry now. And we have fires. Last year, big fire in Athens. Maybe you heard of it?"

            "Yes, it was on the news in America. Very sad."

            "Yes, very sad."

            The three of them were quiet the rest of the way to the hotel.

* * * * *

            The next morning, Sofia awoke to see Olympia, up and dressed, sitting on the edge of her bed.

            "Wow, you're an early riser," she sleepily said to her grandmother.

            "Paradise awaits," Olympia replied.

            "Can we see the Acropolis first?" Sofia asked.

            "Whatever you like, it's your trip," Olympia answered. "I just can't climb a lot of steps."

            "I already checked. They have a chair lift. It'll be fine."

            "Did Rick Steves say so?"

            "No, but I'm glad you finally got his name right!"

            "As your grandfather used to say, I'm not as dumb as I look."

            "You look a lot better than I do right now, Yaya. I'm going to take a shower."

            After a quick hotel breakfast of Greek coffee, yogurt, and fruit, they took a taxi to the Acropolis. Again, traffic was heavy. By the time they'd arrived at the entrance, it was already eleven o'clock, and the line for the chair lift was long. Sofia thought maybe it was too hot and crowded for Olympia.

            "Well, here we are," she said, brightly. "Have you seen enough?"

            "We've come all this way, Sofia, we should go to the top."

            They stood in line another thirty minutes and finally had their reward: the hilltop view of Athens was amazing. But after a few more minutes of sweltering heat and throngs of tourists, Sofia and Olympia were ready to return to their hotel. Best. Trip. Ever. was also Most. Crowded. And. Hot. Trip. Ever. But, to Sofia, spending time with her beloved grandmother made it all worthwhile.

            "What's next?" Olympia said in the cab on the way back to their hotel. She sounded tired.

            "A nap, I think," Sofia said, "and then lunch."

            "Let's have lunch first, and then a nap," Olympia said. "I'm hungry for some moussaka."

            "Okay, Yaya, that sounds good."

            "And tomorrow we go to Santorini Island?"

            "Yes, we can relax there for a whole week. The hotel I've booked has a nice flat path that leads to all the little shops and restaurants, and our room has a balcony with a view."

* * * * *

            After a packed ferry ride the next day, they arrived at the hotel in Fira. Their room was on the third floor, and there was no elevator. Sofia wished she'd thought to ask about accessibility before making the reservation. 

            "I'm so sorry, Yaya! I didn't think!" Sofia exclaimed.

            "I guess world travel is for the young," Olivia said. "But at least I saw a lemon tree outside."

            "Tomorrow I'll try and find us a better hotel."

            "This one is fine, Fifi. The exercise will be good for me."

            Sofia sighed. She was learning a lot on this trip. Mostly, she was discovering how resilient her grandmother was.

            All the hotels on the island were booked solid for the next month, so the two had no choice but to stay put. Every morning, they'd rise early, stand under the one lemon tree outside of their hotel, and inhale deeply. The fragrance was faint, but lovely. Then they'd walk along the crowded pedestrian pathway to one of the nearby restaurants for Greek coffee, yogurt, and a pastry.

            Olympia still spoke enough Greek to order food and serve as interpreter for Sofia, who loved to chat with the waiters. It was in these little coffee shops that they learned more about what the taxi driver had meant about the drastic effects of climate change on the Greek islands. The word klima (which Sofia guessed meant "climate") was one Sofia heard frequently, often accompanied by shakes of the head or furrowed brows. Then they'd visit the crowded shops, where they'd noticed newspaper headlines with the word okeanos. The rising tide was definitely on everyone's minds.

            After buying bread, fruit, and dolmades and carrying them back to their hotel, Sofia and Olympia would enjoy lunch in the peace and quiet of their balcony (or in their room if it was too hot on the balcony, which it usually was). One day they took the ferry to nearby Sifnos Island, known for its sandy beaches and pottery. The beaches were surprisingly small, and unsurprisingly crowded, so they didn't stay long. Before they knew it, their week long adventure in paradise had come to an end.

* * * * * 

            It was still raining when they returned to Olympia's house in Utica. After leaving their bags just inside the door, Sofia collapsed on the sofa while Olympia padded into the kitchen to make tea.

            "Aren't you tired, Yaya?" Sofia called to her grandmother.

            "Yes, but not too tired for tea," was Olympia's reply.

            "Do you want to watch the news?" Sofia asked.

            "Of course. I never miss whats-his-name," Olympia chuckled.

            She returned from the kitchen ten minutes later with a steaming mug in each hand. Once she was all settled in her recliner, she turned on the television, sat back, and sipped her tea.

            After the first few minutes of "breaking news," a story about climate change caught their attention. Greenpeace was organizing a day of "green protest marches" around the country. They were calling for the government to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. The person being interviewed mentioned the devastating effects that rising temperatures and ocean levels were having on island nations. Marchers were asked to wear green.

            "Yaya, I think we should go," Sofia said.

            "You go without me," Olympia said. "I'm too old to march."

            "We could rent you a wheelchair," Sofia said.

            "Well, let me think about it."

            "Okay, Yaya, fair enough. But can I ask you a question?"

            "I already gave you my permission to get married."

            "Very funny! No, I want to know if you'll teach me to knit. I want to knit some green hats for the Greenpeace march."

            "That I can do," Olympia said. "Let me go and get my yarn."

            Olympia pushed herself out of her chair and walked slowly to her bedroom. Sofia watched her grandmother go, noticing her slight limp again. While Olympia was out of the room, Sofia retrieved a slim paper bag from her own suitcase and carried it to the fireplace. A black and white photograph of her grandparents on their wedding day stood on the mantel. They were so young, she thought. They had their whole lives ahead of them.

            Sofia pulled a postcard out of the paper bag and propped it up next to the photo, on her grandfather's side. It was a picture of a lemon tree.

            When Olympia appeared again, she was holding a ball of green yarn in one hand, and a pair of knitting needles in the other. Stopping at the mantel on her way back to her chair, she gazed at the photo, and then at the postcard.

            "You really are my favorite granddaughter," she told Sofia.

            Then, turning to face Sofia, she added, "I think I will go with you on your march. We need to save Planet Paradise."


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