Macedonian blockheads and other Grecian turns

Dinner with Persephone: travels in Greece by Patricia Storace, Granta, pounds 17.99

To dine with Persephone is an extravagant fantasy, but I am sure that she would serve pomegranates as lush as those on the cover of this work - cut open to reveal the insides, as it were, of sea-urchins. One of my earliest memories of Greece is of an old French diplomat tranquilly diving for those black-thorned marine hedgehogs with his wife. Whenever they found one, they ate it fresh. The taste is piquant - like that of Patricia Storace's book, which makes the Greece I remember seem as dull as a faded photograph.

The writing here is like that in a magazine, Granta now or the New Yorker as it was in Auden's time: perfectly acceptable to pass an hour or two, and memorable maybe once in 20 pages. The traveller is a New York poet of some wealth and eccentricity. She trots around many of the classical sites, though she is not your old-fashioned Philhellene. She crosses many glittering seas, and visits many shadowy islands. Paros is made of marble; Andros of stone and silk; and Storace has an excellent nose for the innocent nooks of provincial life.

But she is modern, and a New Yorker. Her life in Athens often reminded me of the writer Taktsis (a transvestite who was murdered): it's an accurate depiction of the lower reaches of the population, though merely a foreigner's and not as deep as that of the obsessed novelist. The New York element comes out in unexpected ways. Storace is knowing about whatever would interest an anthropologist (including mythology), but not knowledgeable. Yet her sheer eagerness, her appetite for life, makes out of the year- in-Greece exercise a victorious book.

The only classical text to which she is devoted is that of the dream interpreter Artemidorus the Daldian - "the great Oneirocritical Master", as Thomas Browne called him. Dreams are back in fashion with NY intellectuals, so perhaps he has been recently translated. Artemidorus used to interest me because of his occasional insights into poetry. He tells you it is a good omen if nymphs reveal their breasts in a dream - as they do in Catullus, "standing up breast-high from the white foam" when Peleus first saw Thetis. The result was Achilles, but old Professor Frankel said that the image reminded him of some famous actress photographed in her bath.

Patricia Storace's year in Greece was an energetic one. She spoke the language, and endured many conversations with blockheads about Macedonia. There are moments when she registers a near miss: as when she thinks how like pomegranate trees are to decorated Christmas trees, and when she calls retsina "wine's equivalent of sea-water". But she is enthusiastic enough to visit Evrytania, the most rugged and roadless of provinces when I was last there, with soldiers who had stood guard on bridges - for no obvious reason - for 25 years. Travelling on her own, she is much subject to chance wooers, and records them all gleefully, but scorns to record the physical hardships of modern travel. She has conversations which are seldom enlightening but almost always cast light on character - as on the night they decide that Christ died not to save man, but to save God.

The book has a climax, as travel books ought to have. Travelling by boat from Lesbos, she suddenly, at Istanbul, produces an ace of trumps from her sleeve. More than one theme is picked up there, as children in their finest clothes are off to be circumcised. She goes home by way of Athens, and on the last night a friend reproaches her for having lived a year in Greece without seeing a blue video. They watch a number together, including one in which a coffin has an erection and someone makes love with it: "this must be what the angels do in heaven". What would the great oneirocritical master make of that? Grind your teeth, Henry Miller.

What I liked about this book was that it was full of pep. And I liked Storace's sense of the langauge, "not voluptuous or lilting but stony and earthy, a language full of mud and volcanic rock and glittering precious stones". I also liked the well-told tragedy of a Kiphissia lady, so moving that I thought Storace could be a novelist more easily than a poet - but that, I'm sure, is because I do not know her poetry. She is probably the first true poet to have taken the Thasos ferry since Horace ran away from the Battle of Philippi; and that is a good omen, at least.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected