Zeus and Goats: A Letter From Naxos

With three weeks remaining, I need a day of rest, so camping out on Naxos seems the right thing to do. I plan to spend a good portion of the day in Heaven, the Internet café around the corner from my (could it possibly be?) blue and white hacienda.

Pictures from my two days of wandering have already been  posted—one set from the port and central city of Chora, and one set from my erratic drive through the spinal mountains of the island.

If I misled you by saying one might visit the cave where Zeus was born, I should correct myself now. Zeus was not born on Mount Zeus on Naxos, but on Mount Ida on Crete. Perhaps his mom Rhea, having lost all her other babies to her devouring hubby, decided to keep the baby godlet (I do hope that’s a new word) safe by spiriting him off from island to island for his inaugural tour. I visited Mount Zeus yesterday and took the long, winding, climbing path up towards the cave. The sights (and photos) are only one fraction of the delights. The breeze on such a hot day was as great a blessing as the shady grove surrounding the mountain-fed spring of delicious drinking water. (The water in the port smells manufactured, so the coffee is horrid.) Cicadas greet every visitor, grow timorous and fall silent as he comes near, and mockingly start up again as soon as he passes. Thus, every tree has a vigorous vocal life most of the day. And then there are the goats. At one particularly terrifying curve in the long road up, up, up to the cave area, the guard rail ends just as the road makes a deep bend, the gravel seems to loosen under your tires, centrifugal force entices you to the verge, and your stomach reckons that the fall ‘perpendicularly down,’ as Edgar describes the Dover cliffs to his blinded dad, is about twenty miles, at that very spot there is affixed to the cliff side a Goat Crossing sign. No kidding. Happily, goats did not block my road for some hours yet to come, and that was on a road safe enough for goats and thee, loves.

Anyway, I was talking about sounds and goats. Every goat I saw, and that was hundreds, wore a bell, large as a cowbell, and useful as a GPS tracking device. These melodious bells were tuned to so many different pitches, timbres, depths, resonances that scales tumbled over melodies and chords bounced from stone to stone as the animals sought out some succulent thistle where the very tugging at the purple fodder produced a glissando throughout the feeding herd. The cicadas and even the songbirds gamely tried to keep up their ends of the musical bargain, but goat bells ruled the day, the mountain, and my affections.

A note on churches: I’ve often thought that the ultimate function of theology was to drive anyone away from religion who paid attention to the arcane arguments and proofs of what might otherwise be open to simple faith alone. This may be why Christ suffered the children but not the theologians and PhDs to come unto him. Naxos provides another kind of proof. The island is not without inaccessible peaks, and atop some, hundreds and hundreds of feet up sheer cliffs, stand tiny chapels for two or four or six parishioners. It would take most of Saturday to arrive on time for Sunday mass, and you’d barely get home in time for Lent. I can see a whole new set of penances for my petty sins: “Say three hail Marys and climb to St. Stephens every Tuesday for a month.”  Bless me.

And you, too.

May your legs stay sturdy.

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