Cultural Heritage

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Who Was Doris Hedges?

Who Was Doris Hedges?

The Search for Canada's First Literary Agent
edition:Hardcover
tagged : women
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After the Holocaust

After the Holocaust

Human Rights and Genocide Education in the Approaching Post-Witness Era
edition:eBook
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Peace by Chocolate

Peace by Chocolate

The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada
edition:Paperback
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Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Memories of a Doukhobor Life--Community, Protest and a Peace Movement
edition:Paperback
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Working in the Bathtub

Working in the Bathtub

Conversations with the Immortal Dany Laferière
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Dany Laferrière on how to become a writer: "First off, you need to not do things. Second off, you need to not know how to do things."

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Reaching Mithymna

Reaching Mithymna

Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Border straits

The only other person aboard the bus, the driver, shakes me awake. I see myself in duplicate in his aviator shades. “Mithymna?” I ask. He nods.

His dangling crucifix bears a crudely rendered Christ, the body skeletal, the face large, plump and calmly self-satisfied.

Mumbling thanks, I pick up my bags and step down onto the hot road. No traffic passing, not a living thing in sight. Is it already the siesta hour?

You’d never know this part of the island was thronged with war refugees and that hundreds, thousands more are arriving daily.

The bus stays put, idling, the driver slumped behind the wheel as if already napping behind his sunglasses. Nothing wants to be awake right now. I’ve barely slept in fifty hours—an overnight flight, a second night on a ferry—and as I close and rub my eyes, a montage of pre-sleep psychedelia starts looping.

Across the road, a town of whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs climbs the face of a high crag topped by a crusader castle. On this side of the road, olive groves fall away downhill to a long rank of cypresses, the sea glistening beyond.

I turn onto a dirt lane and let the slope carry me down through the olive groves past a few shuttered houses, gaping worksheds, a weedy lot where the hulks of cars sit rotting. I pass between two cypresses and here is the seafront, a paved road running north-south along a narrow beach of white sand and pebbles. The shallows look tropically turquoise. Orange buoys bob offshore. The sea smells of kelp and something I can’t place at first . . . associations of fear, distress . . . it’s iodine, the intensely stinging stuff my mother painted onto cuts when I was small.

On the low seawall, beside a pack of Greek cigarettes and a half-empty water bottle, there’s a coil of rope, some barbed steel hooks, and a cookie tin full of chicken feet the raw grey-pink of earthworms. Beyond them sits a white plastic pail. I look inside: a glutinous, translucent mass of octopods, motionless, though they give a faint impression of [trembling].

No sign of the fisherman, who might be napping in some nearby shade.

I follow the paved road south along the beach. There are supposed to be hotels and rooms for rent down here. Off-season now they might be cheap, especially for someone who means to stay for a month. But the small places on either side of this T-junction are boarded up. The buildings to my left—two storey hotels, cafés, clubs—are all shuttered. Would they normally be closed at this time of year or has the refugee influx damaged tourism even more than I’ve heard?

Something odd appears up ahead at the waterline. The sun in my eyes, I squint to focus. It looks like an immense sea animal, beached and decomposing, an elephant seal, a small whale.

I drop my bags and walk diagonally down the beach—a matter of a few steps—and continue along the water. As I approach the carcass I step over an orange life vest half buried in wet sand and realize those buoys offshore must be life vests too. Of course. Now my eyes make sense of the wreckage ahead: a half-deflated dinghy, its black rubber snout aground on the beach, stern wallowing in the shallows.

I find the dinghy’s aft section full of oily water. A red parka floats there, arms outstretched, amid empty water bottles, a plastic diaper and a few banknotes, maybe Syrian.

This vessel is no roomier than a large kiddie pool but will have ferried at least sixty people, reportedly the minimum the human smugglers will squeeze aboard.

I walk further. Another dinghy is half-submerged some distance out and drifting shoreward. On the tideline and in the shallows, more life jackets, water bottles, disposable diapers, a saturated hoodie, an infant soother, cigarette butts.

Two sodden workboots, the laces loose and weed-twined.

A map turning to gruel in a plastic sandwich bag.

A green headscarf, the clasp-pin still attached.

A tiny shoe with pink laces tied—surprisingly, since the sea is reputed to loosen and unknot everything, gradually undressing the drowned. Then again, any parent who has laced the shoes of a small child knows that you knot them with special care before embarking on a journey.

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