Lately I have been telling Juniper stories from the Greek myths. This is something I have long desired to do. Even back when I was terrified at the very idea of becoming a parent, I still dreamed of one day telling a child intricate, partly-embellished versions of those myths. The stories would impart important lessons to my progeny, I believed, as they had for thousands of years. Recently, the book of graffiti letters helped pique Juniper's interest in mythology: one day she sat next to me pointing at the letters, saying the words she knew from repeated readings. "I is for Icarus," she said, and this led to the story of Daedalus and his son, a boy with wings who flew higher than the birds and even higher than the clouds, so high you couldn't even see him. He did not listen to his dada and he flew too close to the sun and fell into the water. See what happens when you don't listen to your dada? "Dada tell story Icarus flying then falling?" she now asks ten times a day.

"Icarus was a little boy who lived in Greece," I start.

"That's where Dada missed Mama," she said the first time I told the tale. I must have told her something about that at some point. How does she remember these things?

Ten years ago this week, Wood and I were living in Dublin. My classes had finished two weeks before hers, and I impetuously took off for Athens. I was studying classics and knew that if I wanted to see all of the important classical sites, this would be my chance. Archeology makes Wood sleepy. This was an era before cell phones, a time when Irish university e-mail required Eudora software and a 3.5 inch diskette. Wood's apartment had no phone. I left knowing I would not communicate with her until she herself arrived in Athens after her term ended.

I landed at the airport with one of those asshole "rucksacks" and a tent. It was two o'clock in the morning, so I spent the night slumped in a fiberglass shell chair welded to three others, one of which was occupied by a heavyset black woman from Indiana who had been in Crete visiting her boyfriend, a soldier stationed on a U.S. base there. "Raki!" she kept saying, "Damn, boy!" She was talking about some local anise-flavored drink that had left her severely hungover all day. I did not realize at the time this would be the last real conversation I would have until I picked Wood up in that same spot two weeks later. In 1997, the airport seemed more like an empty bus station, but there were a number of Greek soldiers patrolling the place with their hands on the barrels of submachine guns slung on straps over their shoulders. At dawn I took the first bus into town, spying the pillars of the Temple of Olympian Zeus amid some poplars, finally hopping off in pre-rush-hour Omonia Square, with its smoke-drenched Soviet-looking architecture and shifty gypsies making me question whether I'd mistakenly taken the wrong plane and ended up in some unpronounceable Albanian megalopolis. Up on the side of one of the buildings I could barely make out the word "Hellas." But in the pale haze of a smudge-fingered dawn, the lights of the "A" and the "S" were broken, so it simply read "HELL." I waited in Omonia for another bus that I believed would take me to the long-distance bus station; I considered this all an inauspicious start. Athens smelled. It was dirty. Everyone had a mustache. I wanted to go home.

Instead, I went to Delphi. Other than an old German man who looked at everything with a flashlight I was the only foreign tourist there, and he refused to speak with me (even in German). All the stores were open though. When I walked down the street in town I was marauded by shopkeepers and pidgin invitations to peruse their racks of baubles and t-shirts adorned with pornographic scenes from ancient pottery. For several days the only people I spoke to were shopkeepers, waiters, and the pension owners who held my passport and handed me keys. At night I would drink a big cheap bottle of Amstel, choking with boredom and loneliness until I fell asleep at sunset only to be woken in the middle of the night by random celebratory gunfire. This went on for many days: in Delphi, Olympia, Arcadia, Sparta, Mikenes, and Corinth. The restaurants were always empty. I welcomed conversations with scam artists who tried to sell me broken cameras and slip their Nescafes onto my taverna bill. Even the smallest transaction fulfilled a deep need for some interaction with my species. I smiled at ugly children. I bought souvlaki through the window of a stalled train. I stole blood oranges from trees and camped quietly in olive groves. I saw many beautiful things, but it was one of the loneliest times of my life.

I was eager to get back to Athens, to get a sense of the city and wait out the final days before Wood arrived. I rented a simple room on a quiet street between Syntagma Square and the Plaka, an area largely empty of tourists but bustling with pimps and con artists. One day a very nice older man who spoke excellent English started talking to me and walked alongside me until we came to a bar where he invited me in for a drink. It was foolish, I know, but at the time I was so desperate for conversation I followed him into a dark bar where he assumed a seat next to me and a fat woman behind the bar silently opened two beers. "Do you see my niece?" he asked, nodding into the darkness. I then noticed the heavily-made-up woman who looked like Abe Vigoda wearing a peroxide-blond wig sitting in a booth inside the otherwise-empty bar. "She is beautiful, yes?" I took another look: unibrowed and squat, she easily outweighed me by 30 pounds, but this was the man's niece. "Yeah," I said. "She is."

"She would like a drink too, is that okay?" he asked. The niece smiled at me under her bleached blond mustache. "I guess," I said. The silent bartender had already made her a pale blue cocktail. It suddenly occurred to me that I would be paying a exorbitant price for all the drinks. "Do you like her?" my new friend asked.

"Um, I have a girlfriend."

The truth is, Wood had forced me to learn that sentence in Greek before I left. I said it again, in Greek, and they laughed. "Well," the old man said, "you still buy her drink."

"No," I said. "You make me pay for that drink and I'll go straight to the tourist police."

I thought Greeks were animated in normal conversation, but I had never seen one really pissed. They were shouting at me, at each other, in Greek, in English. The old woman bartender was insisting that I pay for my own drink at least. The old man was telling me I could go to hell. Wasn't I already there? I suppose I could have avoided all the Hellenic histrionics by paying the bill and learning my lesson, but, you see, I'm Dutch. We don't buy drinks for anyone, especially the manly-whore spawn of two miserable con-artists eager to take advantage of a lonely traveler.

A few days later, when I related that story to Wood, Athens was already a lovely city full of charms. It looked so nice from the Acropolis. We walked hand-in-hand through Monastiraki. We lounged outside a Byzantine church, tossing pieces of pretzel to dogs who slept on cobblestones. That afternoon we headed to Piraeus, where we bought tickets for an overnight sea voyage to Crete. We figured we'd save money on lodging by sleeping on the boat. Once aboard the good ship Aptera, we found a nice quiet room where we had relative privacy. There were a couple of other guys who'd sought out a similar arrangement sprawled out sleeping between rows of airline-style seats. I took everything valuable out of our rucksacks and put it all in a smaller bag that I would use as a pillow: our passports; our plane tickets onward from Athens to Rome and eventually back to Dublin; about $1000 in traveler's checks and $500 in Greek drachmas; credit cards; cameras and rolls and rolls of film. I went through the rucksacks again, meticulously removing everything that might tempt a thief, finally stuffing a fleece jacket in the smaller bag that would rest underneath my head. In our first year together, Wood and I had slept in the back seats of cars, on dorm-room floors and long bus rides. We made a bed for ourselves on that ship between the seats and snuggled close, so happy to be together after several weeks apart we could have slept on a rock. We fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms.

The ship passed through winedark waters reflecting the lights of the Cyclades, of Naxos, so close, reversing Daedalus' daring flight, from Athens to Crete. We woke at dawn, still hours from port. But the bag beneath my head was gone. I stood up, panic shedding all trace of sleep from my eyes, and I found it, emptied of its contents on the seat in front of us. The thief had left the fleece, but nothing else. We suddenly had nothing of any real value. We didn't even have enough coin to buy the 200 drachma phone card we would need just to activate a pay phone to make a collect call to our parents, who had just gone to bed back in America. We searched through our rucksacks. We had nothing at all between us but dirty clothes and a rudimentary grasp of Ancient Greek when the ship docked at Chania and the thief finally escaped with the crowds down the gangplanks out into the unknown.

[Next week I'll get to the really good part of the story; and Wood has promised a post for tomorrow.]

[*update* The conclusion is here]