The Mountain of Memory

Jason Fry
Jul 15 · 24 min read

After four decades, a return to the rural Greece of my childhood

Several summers when I was a child, my parents headed off to Greece without me. But this isn’t a tale of injustice — they were going to work, not play. My mom was an archaeologist, and worked at the museum in Ancient Corinth, where her duties included cataloging votive figures left for Demeter and plucking stray plants from cracks in the capitals of columns.

A shot of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, with the mountain Acrocorinth behind it
A shot of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, with the mountain Acrocorinth behind it
The Temple of Apollo in Corinth, with Acrocorinth beyond.

That may not sound like Indiana Jones stuff, but they had their share of adventures — for instance, they have a plausible claim to be veterans of the Greek military. In 1974, Greece was on the brink of war with Turkey, and the Greek government assumed the barbaric Turks would immediately bomb Greece’s archaeological sites. So the army directed my parents and other foreigners working on archaeological digs to catalog the nation’s cultural treasures, which would then be buried to protect them from the Turks.

The Turks never bombed anything, but it was a good idea to inventory everything dug up at Corinth over a century or so — that had been done haphazardly, to put it kindly. My parents got to work doing their duty for the Greek army. When the bottom drawer of one ancient dresser proved impossible to open, my dad resorted to a prybar, and discovered the drawer was filled with gold coins — a small fortune that had been dug up, put away and forgotten.

In 1976, when I was seven, my parents decided I was old enough to come with them, and brought my best friend Andrew along with me for company. After a sleepless night in Athens — so this is jet lag! — and a couple of days amid that city’s wonders and chaos, we got on a bus for Ancient Corinth, where we’d be spending the summer in a little pensione near the museum and the dig site.

Ancient Corinth was startling for a kid from suburban Long Island. It wasn’t much more than a village: a few streets around the plaka, surrounded by hardy, squat trees — olives and oranges and figs, with the open areas nibbled by sheep and goats. Below us, across the plain, was the deep blue of the Gulf of Corinth. In the center of town was the museum and the dig site. The ruins were mostly Roman — tumbled walls that delineated ancient streets and the stumps of houses, now far below street level. But the centerpiece of the site was the Temple of Apollo, reduced to a single corner — seven columns in an L.

I loved that temple from the beginning, and it always felt complete to me, even though I understood it was just a small remnant of what had been. To this day, reconstructions of ancient Greek sites feel impossibly busy, with their arcades and cellas and what-not. Why go to so much fuss, when all you need is a corner?

Close-up of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth
Close-up of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth
Perfect to my seven-year-old eyes!

I think I also liked that the Temple of Apollo was small enough for a kid to take in — some steps, some columns, a couple of horizontal slabs. It didn’t knock you over with its grandeur, the way the Parthenon in Athens did. But then there wasn’t much in the way of grandeur in Ancient Corinth — unless you turned around, to face away from the sea.

Looming above the town was Acrocorinth, an outcropping of ancient limestone — a horst, if you want to be geological about it — that rose from the plain in a great clump, and was crowned with the remains of an ancient castle.

Long Island is basically an oversized sandbar — geologic litter left by a retreating glacier a few thousand years ago. I hadn’t grown up with mountains; I’d barely grown up with hills. So I was transfixed by Acrocorinth. I was always aware of the mountain — it would change colors with the advancing hours, cast its shadow over the plain, and somehow remain a presence at night, a huge invisible thing whose weight never receded.

And needless to say, I loved that castle. It was the stuff of storybooks — towers and battlements and serpentine walls. Squinting up at Acrocorinth, it was easy to imagine ancient Greeks glowering down at you through the almond-shaped eyeholes in their fearsome helmets. Maybe they weren’t up there any more, with their clashing shields and bright spears, but it felt like they’d only just left.

I should note something here: The castle of Acrocorinth dates back to the ancient era, but most of what’s visible atop the mountain was built by Frankish warlords or Venetian occupiers. I knew this as a child but smoothly elided it from my imagination. Surely those Giovanni-Come-Latelys had followed the architectural lead of the Greeks, like sensible people would. And if not, well, a crusader castle was close enough.

That was Ancient Corinth the place — hot, dry and dusty, but somehow also lush, an oasis of nectarines and oranges and lambs and goats. It felt like a magic trick to me — that a place so harsh could also have so much life.

Drawing of the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth, c. 1840.
Drawing of the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth, c. 1840.
Acrocorinth as John Harrison Allan saw it around 1840.

There’s another layer to my memories, though — the people of Ancient Corinth. I remember they seemed sun-dried — their skins dark and leathery and hard. They looked nothing like Americans, whom I suddenly thought of as pale and soft. From the way the villagers moved I somehow knew they were people who worked hard, outdoor jobs. They struck me as impossibly old but also vigorously alive, bright-eyed and constantly aware of everything around them.

To my American kid’s eyes they were garrulous and loud, with big sweeping gestures whenever arguments started or points had to be made emphatically, which was a lot more often than at home. And they demanded respect from children, including foreign ones. But unless you crossed some invisible line of offense, they were kind and indulgent, delighted to hand over a nectarine, share an interesting bug, or teach me and Andrew their names and the words a kid living in the village needed to know.

I finished the summer of 1976 in command of a very strange subset of Greek words. Andrew and I played soccer with the local kids, our field defined by the dusty road in front of our pensione, with invisible but well-known boundaries that dated back generations. I suspect the local kids were amazed that Americans were so stupid, unable to communicate and pathetically ignorant of soccer. But games need numbers the world over, so they and we persevered, and by the end of the summer I didn’t know how to ask when the bus was coming but I could parse offsides rules in minute detail and make my case with the vehemence necessary to (occasionally) have an impromptu jury of fellow kids rule that I was in the right.

The other vocabulary I mastered was how to order dinner and tally up the bill. Because the center of our lives in Ancient Corinth wasn’t the Temple of Apollo, or the museum, or the mountain. It was the taverna down the street from the plaka, which was run by a man named Tasso.

I loved the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth, but nothing compared with the taverna. Andrew and I would troop down there with my dad at the end of the workday and wait for my mom to emerge from the dust, hot and tired and needing a beer. Then we would sit at one of Tasso’s tables, eating and drinking into the night. For me and Andrew, that meant horiatiki (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and feta cheese), brizoles (beefsteaks), gazozas (lemon soda located somewhere on the Sprite-Fresca axis), and best of all Tasso’s patates tiganites, or fries.

The adults would do adult things, passing around bottles of beer and jugs of wine and talking about whatever adults talked about. That was their world; as kids, we occupied an adjacent one we found much more interesting — mopeds and tractors and whether their rates of speed were acceptable, skinny cats and dogs and whether they were friendly, and outsized bugs and pests and whether they were dangerous.

Andrew and I respected and feared the massive wasps that would descend and lay claim to stray bits of our brizoles, and we’d experiment with exactly how big a piece of meat had to be before it was too heavy for a determined wasp to bear away as a prize. (Answer: bigger than makes you comfortable.) And we were always on the lookout for spiders and scorpions.

Being unfamiliar with the latter, we found their exploits fascinating. We’d been warned that scorpions came up out of the drains in the pensione’s bathrooms at night, and instructed to shuffle our feet so we wouldn’t surprise them. That was the best way to avoid being struck by the stingers they carried over their backs like ancient Greek spears. We were sure being stung would leave us scarred for life, if not dead, and I distinctly remember how I’d be instantly awake before turning on the light, possessed by equal parts hope and fear.

That summer scorpions were simultaneously as common as they always were and never around when I was paying attention. The summer was a parade of scorpion sightings for which I was always a minute too early or too late. The worst day was at the dig site, where Andrew and I were breathlessly watching the workmen excavate an ancient grave. When brought to light, the bones proved disappointing — a vague lump of a skull and some beige bits that might have been ribs — but then there was a flurry of excitement as a scorpion angrily shot out from wherever it had been hiding. Down in the grave, the digger struck at it with his shovel while his colleagues shouted what my dad said was less than useful advice, and it was only Andrew who saw the scorpion hightail it for friendlier surroundings. I sulked for days.

There were no scorpions at the taverna, though we kept careful watch. But there were ornery wasps and mysterious cats and carefully subservient dogs and the laughter and arguments of the adults, and in the center of it was Tasso — to us the absolute monarch of Corinth.

Tasso had known my mom for many summers, and looked after her as if she was another daughter, proudly presenting a bottle of Amstel the moment she arrived from the heat and dust of the dig site. He gave me a kid’s version of the same royal treatment, bestowing fries and gazozas. And then, when it was finally time to go back up the hill to the pensione, he would sit with me and have me add up the bill, simultaneously testing my command of math and Greek numbers. That was the source of my other subset of Greek vocabulary.

So at the end of the summer I could say thank you and please/you’re welcome (efcharisto and parakalo), as well as yes and no (ne and ohxi, an apparent reversal of English that fascinated Andrew and me). That much I still remember. I could also identify a variety of foods, fruits, animals and bugs (lost to memory, alas), argue soccer rules (also long gone) and add up numbers (vanished).

Honestly, it was more than enough to get me through the summer.

My dad helped out at the dig site — he was handy with tools, a whiz at organizing things and had a mind that lent itself to the investigations and categorizations of archaeology — and so many days Andrew and I were left to our devices in the village. Other days, however, my dad would take us on trips.

Our most frequent destination was the beach at New Corinth, the modern town a few kilometers away, which struck me as an uncouth and perilous metropolis by summer’s end. (I still have a little dog that my father carved out of driftwood on one of our beach trips — I named him Skele, after skilos, the Greek word for dog.) We’d get on the sweltering little bus that wended its way to the shore, with Andrew and I praying that no old women would get on — one of the absolute and inviolate rules of rural Greece was that we had to give up our seats for old women the moment they stepped aboard the bus, a social compact the elderly enforced with heart-stopping tyranny.

Skele, the little dog made out of driftwood that my father carved for me in 1976.

We went other places as well. I forgot most of them over the years, but the one that stuck in my mind was Mycenae. I’d been raised on the Greek myths — my mom taught me to read from the Homeric Hymns — so I knew Mycenae had been the kingdom of Agamemnon, who’d gone off to Troy and returned only to be ambushed in the bath by his ax-wielding wife Klytemnestra. (He also had the coolest name in Greek mythology. Sorry, Achilles.)

My memory of Mycenae is that it was hot and dusty, even compared with Ancient Corinth, and somehow felt far older. But it also held a marvelous secret — a cistern tucked away in the corner of the citadel that might or might not have been Agamemnon’s. (I knew it of course was.)

My father had been an Eagle scout, and never went on a journey in his adult life without at least one flashlight. So on the day the three of us explored Mycenae, he was prepared. A dank mouth in the rock led to the cistern, and you reached the water by descending an impossibly long, steep flight of stone steps. I vividly remember being both thrilled and terrified by this adventure, like I’d become a string vibrating at high C. In my memory it was pitch black in there, the light having dwindled from a brilliant triangle above us to nothing at all, but I was amazed and a little dizzied by the thought that the water hidden beneath the ground was the same water that had sustained Agamemnon’s warriors in desperate times. (The historical record suggests otherwise, but close enough.)

Another favorite activity that summer was to climb Acrocorinth, tacking back and forth across the face of the mountain along hot farm roads until we came in sight of our first landmark: a smaller mountain off to one side, crowned with its own ruined fort. This mountain — a hill, really — bore the rather goofy name Pentascuvi (or at least that’s how I remember it) and you could reach the fort by following a goat track through thistles infested with locusts and gaudily colored spiders.

But the real prize was the castle atop Acrocorinth. As we ascended, we would play a game my dad had thought up, imagining ourselves as brave warriors who’d been captured on Acrocorinth and sentenced to die by being hurled off the walls. We’d take turns thinking up elaborate, obscene insults that we’d shout while plummeting to our deaths, with extra credit if you could imitate the rising pitch of someone’s voice as their body fell.

The top of Acrocorinth was outlined by winding walls and dotted with ruined structures from various periods in its history. The one I remember best was the Upper Peirene, an ancient spring that had supposedly bubbled up on the spot where Pegasus’s hoof struck the mountain. I didn’t necessarily believe this, however much I wanted to, but I did understand that a spring atop a mountain was an oddity to be celebrated, and invoking Pegasus seemed as good an explanation as any.

That was my world in the summer of 1976 — the mountain, the museum, and the taverna. I lived in it and loved it and then all too soon it was time to go home, back to the world of superheroes and McDonald’s and Saturday morning cartoons. Within a few months my Greek had eroded to a handful of words — so long, addition and points of soccer etiquette — and within a few years the day-to-day memories had faded too. Years went by, as they do, and I was left with a few stark, isolated memories and a blur of impressions: Acrocorinth, Tasso’s and the Temple of Apollo. The escaped scorpion and the wasps helicoptering meat. The cistern and the fountain. Soccer in the street and hikes up the mountain. Horiatiki and nectarines. Heat and dust, and the life that sprung from it anyway.

I wouldn’t get back for 43 years.

My wife and son had heard my tales of Greece and Ancient Corinth many times, and it was Emily’s great ambition to engineer a return trip, with our son Joshua seeing the places I’d been and all of us learning from my parents. But life got in the way — all of us were busy, and next summer always promised to be easier than this one. Joshua passed the age I’d been when I went to Greece and accelerated into his teens.

But once Joshua aged out of the summer camp he loved, Emily pounced — and a trip took shape for June 2019. The five of us — me, Emily, Joshua and my folks — would spend a week in Greece. I’d drive, with my mom as backup. My mom picked out an itinerary: Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Epidavros, Napflion, Mycenae and Ancient Corinth. Corinth is given short shrift in many guidebooks, and mostly attracts Christian tourists interested in its connection with St. Paul, but I insisted that it be part of our tour. There was no way I was leaving Greece without seeing Acrocorinth and the temple again, or trying to find Tasso’s and the pensione whose street had been our soccer field.

June seemed impossibly far away, but it eventually arrived and so did we. Our first stop was a hotel practically beneath the Acropolis, where I was struck by how the Parthenon dominated the views of Athens, offering an attentive viewer a seemingly endless succession of interesting angles. I tried to imagine what the Parthenon must have looked like to a visitor in Athens’ heyday when it was painted and complete, illuminated by torchlight, above the heart of the greatest city in the world.

The Parthenon in Athens, surrounded by tourists
The Parthenon in Athens, surrounded by tourists
A relatively uncrowded moment atop the Acropolis in Athens.

The world looks different at 50 than it does when you’re seven, of course. As a child I hadn’t understood the various periods of Greek architecture, or got Greek history particularly sorted out, so it was interesting to realize that the Temple of Hera in Olympia was a rough contemporary of Corinth’s Temple of Apollo, and gratifying to be able to ask questions that hadn’t occurred to me back then: the function of buildings, how archaeologists knew what they knew, the details of Greek religion and worship, and what my mom and dad been doing all those summers, in their mysterious adult world.

I was now part of that world, starting with the driving … which was interesting once we got into the Peloponnese. There, two-lane roads routinely accommodate three cars abreast and occasionally four. This works better than you might think: All drivers understand cars come across the center line to pass, learn to anticipate when they’ll do so, and scoot onto the shoulder to avoid them, getting a head start by keeping two wheels in the breakdown lane as standard practice. I enjoyed the combination of nerve and constant attention this required, though my family was a little worried by how quickly and avidly I learned to drive like a Greek.

The kid world belonged to Joshua now, though he was 16 where I’d been seven. Still, it was a joy to watch him absorb new vistas, work to decipher street signs, and get overly excited about tourist bric-a-brac. And while I was careful to give him space to have his own experiences, I did try to connect what I’d seen and done in 1976 with what he was seeing and doing in 2019.

One of those moments came in Mycenae. I had no memory of the Bronze Age Lion Gate leading into the citadel, to say nothing of the cheap motels along the road to the site. (An amusing sign for those familiar with mythology: KLYTEMNESTRA ROOMS — WITH BATH.) But the cistern was as I remembered it — a cool mouth in the rock, leading into darkness.

Looking down the stairs leading to the cistern at Mycenae
Looking down the stairs leading to the cistern at Mycenae
The cistern at Mycenae. Not pictured: the rope.

Except a rope had been stretched across the entrance.

I had arrived at a moment of temptation. Joshua is given to lawyering ambiguous situations and pointed out that the rope did not, in fact, stretch completely across the stairs, and thus could conceivably be interpreted as a suggestion. My father, still the Eagle scout, fished a flashlight out of a pocket in his shorts.

Emily was in the minority for this impromptu debate, but she was an implacable minority. I wavered, remembering what it had been like in that secret little cyst inside the mountain, and wanting Joshua to have that memory too. But there was the rope, the slick stairs and their steep angle, and the possibility that a trip down them would be followed by a trip to a rural Greek police station, a hospital, or both. Pinned by my wife’s glare, I surrendered. Honestly, there should have been a rope in 1976.

My mother leads a tour of the archaeological museum in Corinth with my father, while my wife Emily and my son Joshua listen
My mother leads a tour of the archaeological museum in Corinth with my father, while my wife Emily and my son Joshua listen
My parents, Emily and Joshua at Corinth’s archaeological museum.

There were now ropes in Ancient Corinth too, keeping the few tourists at a safe remove from the Temple of Apollo. I still wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice in Mycenae, but Corinth’s ropes didn’t bother me. Rather than rampage through the Temple of Apollo, we toured the museum with my mom as guide, noting votives like the ones she’d dug up years earlier — tiny limbs and minute models of bread loaves offered to Demeter long ago. The museum had sprouted new rooms, but the door to the “mending room” where my mom had worked was where it had always been, and I persuaded her to pose in front of it.

My mother at the archaeological museum in Corinth, outside the mending room where she used to work
My mother at the archaeological museum in Corinth, outside the mending room where she used to work
Mom outside the mending room.

Outside, looking over the old Roman town, I asked my mom what it was like being back for the first time in two decades — in late 1990s, she and my father had led a trip for college students, with Corinth one of the stops.

“I’m glad those kids aren’t here,” she said at once. “They complained about everything.”

That hadn’t been what I meant, which she knew perfectly well.

“Existential questions aren’t really your thing, are they?” I asked, amused.

“Nah,” she said, and marched off to show us something else.

Existential questions were on my mind, however. I kept looking up at the bulk of Acrocorinth. I wondered where our little pensione was, and if kids still played soccer in front of it. And I was determined to find Tasso’s.

The plaka was now paved and crammed with souvenir shops, tavernas and markets. But on the little road leading to the plaka from the motel where we were staying was a restaurant which billed itself as the TAVERNA TASSOS, and claimed that it had been there since 1959.

That sounded right, and we sat down at a table beneath a porch, with fig vines hanging overhead. But the place didn’t fit my memories — I recalled Tasso’s as a cluster of tables spilling out into a rowdy square, while this restaurant was contained by its columned porch and sat on a quiet one-lane street across from a laundromat.

A street view of the taverna that might or might not be Tasso’s
A street view of the taverna that might or might not be Tasso’s
Tasso’s? The sign suggested it was so. Memory disagreed.

But my memory of a lot of things had proved a poor fit with places I knew had changed minimally, if at all, since 1976. In Athens, I’d remembered the olive tree and the spring atop the Acropolis, the products of the ancient contest for the city between Athena and Poseidon, but not that they were located beside a wall of the Erechtheion. The Temple of Apollo looked mostly right to me, but I could have sworn there was a fallen capital on the steps, next to its column. There wasn’t, and there was no sign of it in old black-and-white pictures of the site, either. Even Acrocorinth wasn’t quite as I’d remembered it — the shape was the same as in my memory, but the battlements of the castle were sharp and saw-toothed, where I only recalled tumbled ruins.

I wasn’t the only one trying to make sense of mismatched memories. My parents recalled things about Tasso’s that I didn’t — that Tasso himself was named Anastasios Daphnis, or that he shuffled around in shoes that didn’t fit, with the backs bashed down to make them into clogs. Their memories of the taverna were different, too — to the extent that they questioned whether we were in the right spot at all.

On this point I refused to yield. I was convinced it was the same place — mostly because I wanted it to be, but also because of that sign, which would have been a pretty big coincidence otherwise. And there was something else. My favorite food at Tasso’s had been those patates tiganites — big slabs of steak fries cooked in olive oil. The ones I ordered in 2019 looked the way I remembered them, and their smell and taste were like a key turning in a lock somewhere in my brain. I accepted that a lot of my memories had decayed or drifted, but that one felt sharp and true.

After dinner, my mom called over the owner — a bald older man with kind eyes above a white beard. He didn’t speak much English and my mom’s ancient Greek is a lot better than her modern, but she got across that we had frequently eaten at Tasso’s every night a long time ago and wanted to know if this was the same place.

He smiled and said he remembered Tasso well indeed — because he’d married Tasso’s daughter. And with that he brought out his wife, who stood shyly beside him as he told her what we’d been discussing. My mother made a connection I’d lost, recognizing the quiet, dutiful teenaged girl who’d brought food and cleared dishes in the summer of 1976. She did the cooking now, using her father’s recipes — the fries I’d just enjoyed were Tasso’s fries in every way that mattered. And inside, above the register, was a picture of Tasso and his wife — a Tasso much younger than my vague memory, wearing a coat and tie and the pinched expression of a man not used to them. But the face felt right to me.

A distant shot of the mountain Acrocorinth
A distant shot of the mountain Acrocorinth
Acrocorinth awaits!

The next morning, I got up early and decided I would walk up Acrocorinth. Joshua bowed out, which I suspected was wise — it was hot even at 8 a.m., with the promise of ferocious temperatures to come, and the mountain looked intimidatingly high, with little shade on the roads leading up it. I told myself that if I’d climbed up there at seven years old I could surely do so at 50, but as I trudged through the growing heat I wondered if I was wrong. I had longer legs than seven-year-old me, but back then I’d spent my days playing soccer and running around dig sites, instead of hunched over a desk. Soon after leaving the town behind I was breathing hard and my heart was beating fast. The mountain was still high above my head, and the time to destination on my phone’s GPS wasn’t shrinking as quickly as I’d like.

I fell into bargaining with myself: go to that tree and rest a bit, see what’s around that corner and then take another sip of water, walk until the phone shaves three minutes off the journey and then pause. Anyway, I was having fun, to the extent that an out-of-shape man risking passing out from heat exhaustion can. The smell of the harsh dry landscape was wonderfully familiar, as were the thickets of scrub and the thumb-sized locusts crashing through them. I thought about recreating the game Andrew and I had played with my dad, shouting defiant oaths into the sky, but I needed all the air I could get.

By now I’d walked high enough to see the Temple of Apollo below me, a miniature sculpture amid ancient rectangles, and beyond the plain the sea was a deep blue and the mountains a darker, grayer variant of that color. And then I got a bit of good luck. It was early enough that the next switchback put the sun behind the mountain. There were still 20-odd minutes to go, all of it uphill, but most of it would be in shade. Heartened, I walked a little faster, and pretty soon I came around a corner and ahead of me was the gate of the fortress, and in front of it a parking lot, a couple of stray cats and a little café clinging to the side of the mountain.

The café wasn’t open yet, but that was all right — pleased with myself, I sat on a bench in the shade and looked happily down at Ancient Corinth, up at the fortress, and across to Pentascuvi. (Had Andrew and Dad and I climbed up to its ruined tower one day, or was that another trick of memory?) I was still sitting there when the car arrived with my parents and Emily and Joshua.

A view of Ancient Corinth and the Gulf of Corinth from atop the mountain Acrocorinth
A view of Ancient Corinth and the Gulf of Corinth from atop the mountain Acrocorinth
Looking down at Ancient Corinth from the top of the mountain.

My apologies to Corinth’s tourist bureau, but Acrocorinth is not long on amenities. (On the other hand, it’s free.) There are only a few signs, and most of them have been bleached blank by the sun. The paths are steep, treacherous or both — particularly in the lower reaches of the castle, where centuries of feet have worn the stones so smooth that they’re like ice. My parents, a little wobbly with age, stayed down at the café while Emily, Joshua and I explored the mountain. We stood inside a ruined, cylindrical building whose top had been shorn off — an old church? a storehouse? — and Joshua and I squeezed ourselves up the narrow stairs of a minaret, which were so worn that we may as well have been climbing a broken ladder. (I swear there was no rope in front of its entrance.) We peeked over battlements and through holes in the walls, the mountain falling hundreds of feet away below us.

It was hot up there, my parents were waiting, and we had to check out of our motel and head for Athens. But there was one place from my childhood I hadn’t found — the Upper Peirene, with its spring created by that blow from Pegasus’s foot. I wanted to see it again before I left. Frustrated, I scanned the heights around me and peered doubtfully at an old map that I’d Googled on my phone. I should have done that earlier. I should have studied it over breakfast, getting my bearings and fixing the various locations in my head. But I hadn’t.

I was pretty sure that was the spring over by the restored building known locally as the Frankish tower, not so far away. Joshua and Emily opted out of this last adventure, so I clambered up the hill by myself, sweating in the noonday sun and trying to figure out which path was right. I found my way up the Frankish tower and waved to Emily and Joshua, then headed for the other building I’d seen.

It wasn’t the Upper Peirene, just a tumbled guardhouse. Peering at my phone, I located the Frankish tower on the map and realized the spring was on the other side of the mountain. It wasn’t too far away — unless it was hot and you had people waiting for you and places you needed to be. Retracing my steps, I paused where the path made a T. I could see the Upper Peirene now in the distance, the way I hadn’t gone. But it was too late; I’d missed my chance. I studied it for a moment, then headed back down the hill to my people.

A view of battlements and ruined buildings atop Acrocorinth
A view of battlements and ruined buildings atop Acrocorinth
Atop Acrocorinth. That building at the top of the ridge? Not the Upper Peirene.

We had lunch at Tasso’s and packed to go to Athens, where our trip would end. On our way out of Ancient Corinth, we drove down several streets above the taverna, with my parents scanning for signs of our pensione from 1976, the one with the garden of alfalfa growing in front that Andrew and I had thrown toy soldiers over. My mom looked up hopefully a time or two, only to shake her head. Ancient Corinth had changed too much, with too many new streets and houses where there’d been groves and farmland. Perhaps the pensione was gone, or its surroundings were too altered for her to recognize it. Whatever the case, that memory had slipped beyond reconstruction.

The next day planes bore us away from Greece. But a day after my parents returned to the U.S., my mother emailed me. She’d been thinking about the route from Tasso’s to the pensione, retracing her steps from 1976. And she was pretty sure the pensione was the very motel where we’d stayed in 2019.

Like a good archaeologist, my mom presented her evidence — a new office and kitchen, a wing of rooms that hadn’t been there before. I smiled as I read the email, but my mind skipped over the details. I believed she was right. Or, if she wasn’t, that it was close enough.

And I was thinking about Pegasus’ miraculous fountain, the memory I’d lost my chance at trying to recapture. I’d been disappointed to have to turn away, but while we were collecting my parents from the café atop Acrocorinth I thought of something that made me feel better.

I had first been to Greece when I was seven and returned at 50. Joshua was 16 now, older than I had been, and I was pretty sure that he’d want to come back one day himself. Maybe, I’d thought, he’d come back when he was 50, revisiting the places he’d first seen as a teenager. And maybe one of the places he’d want to see again would be Acrocorinth.

My parents would be dead by then, and Emily and I would be in our mid-80s. We’d be too old to risk falling on a glass-smooth paving stone or a treacherous path across a mountaintop, but I could imagine us able to tour museums and navigate hotel lobbies and enjoy a night sitting quietly in a taverna. If Joshua returned to Acrocorinth, Emily and I would spend the morning at the café. I’d make sure Joshua looked at the map first, loading it into his augmented-reality glasses or whatever people would use then. I’d missed my chance to see where Pegasus’s foot had created a miraculous spring — or close enough, anyway — but he would get another one.

I didn’t know if Tasso’s would still be there on the trip I imagined, but I was sure Acrocorinth would be — along with the Temple of Apollo, and the cistern at Mycenae, and the Acropolis, and the Upper Peirene. My son — and maybe his son or daughter — would turn left instead of right on the path, follow it upwards through the heat of an unforgiving Greek day, and find the fountain. They’d have their own adventure there, and maybe discuss whether or not Pegasus had really been involved. And then Joshua would take a picture, or maybe a full-immersion holo, and come down to the café to share it with me, and ask if it was what I remembered.

I write fiction (set in galaxies far, far away as well as closer locales), co-write a blog about the Mets, and goof around writing about movies, travel and lots else besides. Or see what I’m up to on Twitter.

Jason Fry

Written by

Jason Fry

Writer, Mets fan, Star Wars dork, genial malcontent.

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