I’m excited to tell you that Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story
, arrives in bookstores today!
Lately, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions about the book’s publication. The most frequent one has been: What is it like co-authoring a book with your daughter? Followed closely by: Where in the world did you get the title?
As for the first question, I think Ann and I would both say that all the probing, divulging, discovering, commiserating, crying, and laughing we did during the writing deepened our relationship. As for the second question, I’ve put together the following excerpts from Traveling with Pomegranates
that will give you a big hint about the answer.
The hotel concierge recommends a restaurant in the Plaka. He writes the name on a piece of paper bearing a watermark of the Grande Bretagne and tears it off the tablet.
“We need good directions,” I tell him. “We’ve been lost in the Plaka once today.”
“All the streets there look alike,” he says and pulls a map from behind the desk. Using a yellow highlighter, he draws a spiraling path from our hotel to the restaurant.
“The yellow brick road,” I say. For no apparent reason.
“The road isn’t brick,” he explains.
“Right.” I say, deciding to stop while I’m not ahead.
“There is music and dancing,” he informs us as he marks the destination with a big star.
“Oz,” Mom says.
I give her a look that says very funny...
We follow the swath of yellow on the map until Mom stops suddenly on the sidewalk. I’m already a few paces ahead of her when I hear her say, “Look, this is the same store. And it’s open.”
When I turn back, she’s pointing into the window at glass pomegranates in a bird’s nest. We’d passed by them earlier today, but the shop was closed.
The place sells just about everything: key chains, worry beads, Byzantine icons, Zeus beach towels, miniature statues of the Olympian family members. Mom goes over to the nest and plucks out a pomegranate. It has an eye on top for slipping a chain through. On the bottom, the glass is fluted out like the knotted end of a tiny red balloon.
I learned about Persephone and the pomegranate reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in middle school. As I recall, it boiled down to three things: Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds that Hades offered her in the underworld; this guaranteed she and her mother would be separated a third of every year; and that was how winter came into the world.
“I’m going to buy a pomegranate for each of us,“ Mom announces.
“Thanks,” I say, but frankly I’m wondering, why pomegranates?
Our taxi pulls up at 10:15– the same white Mercedes that rescued us from the heat a couple of days earlier. I read the driver’s name on the card I’d saved. Alexander. From the moment I stumbled into the myth of Demeter and Persephone in the museum, I knew we would have to make this trip, but when I tell him we want to go to Elefsina– the modern day name for Eleusis, he balks.
“I can take you anywhere in Athens,” he tells us. “Olympic stadium, the Agora, the statue of Harry Truman. We will go up the Hill of Muses. You can see everything from there.”
“But we really want to go to Elefsina,” I say.
He is not impressed with our sightseeing skills. From the driver’s seat, he twists around to face us. “It is 20 kilometers. There is nothing much to see.”
“But there’s the Sanctuary of Demeter. And the museum– ”
He shakes his head and turns to stare over the steering wheel, as if waiting for us to remove ourselves.
It occurs to me no taxi will take us there, that we will not get to Eleusis at all. I offer Alexander more money. He politely refuses. As Ann and I open the doors to climb out of the car, he watches us in the rearview mirror, noticing the newly bought pendants that dangle from chains around our necks.
“You are wearing pomegranates,” he says abruptly. “You are mother and daughter?” I pause half way out the door. “Yes,” I tell him. “Mother and daughter.”
“Demeter and Persephone. All right, then.” He motions us back inside and starts the car.
Sanctuary of Demeter, Eleusis/Elefsina
As I step from the car, I drop my unzipped bag in the street and out rolls the big red pomegranate that had been on the breakfast buffet at the hotel, part of the decorative centerpiece. To Ann’s embarrassment, I had convinced the server to wrest it from the display and give it to me. Alexanders stares at it lying beside the car tire.
Ann’s look says UN
I grab the fruit and stuff it back into my floppy purse.
“I’ll wait for you,” Alexander tells us. “You cannot get a taxi back to Athens from here on Sunday. How long do you need? One hour?”
“Three,” I say.
“Two,” he tells me firmly, and I don’t argue.
This will sound outlandish, considering my age, but I’ve never tasted a pomegranate. Not in my entire life. I have no idea why this is so. It has simply never entered my mind to eat one. Now, in the space of days I am wearing them, begging them off waiters, dropping them in the street, consumed with their mythological meaning and engrossed in their symbolism.
They are lavish symbols of fertility... In some parts of Greece, a groom hands a pomegranate to the bride when they cross the threshold, in others, farmers break the fruit against their plows before planting. As I contemplate the fertility I hope for in my fifties and beyond– the regeneration of my creativity, the refinement of my spirituality, a new relationship with my body, the rediscovery of my daughter, indeed an inner culmination I cannot fully articulate to myself– I realize it cannot be plotted, orchestrated, controlled, and forced to bloom. It can only germinate naturally out of my experience... or not.
I retrieve the pomegranate from my bag and slice it open with my knife.
“I’m going to eat some of the seeds,” I tell Ann. “Do you want some?” Of course, this is what I’ve had in mind all along, ever since I spotted the leather-skinned fruit on the breakfast buffet ...
I pick out a handful of seeds and eat them one by one. I let the tart, acidic, sweetness saturate my tongue. It becomes an initiation. A ceremony of consent. Traveling now... with pomegranates.