Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France

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9780143117971: Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France

The New York Times bestselling memoir of pilgrimage and metamorphosis by the author of The Secret Life of Bees and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. Look out for Ann's new novel, The Shark Club, which will be published in June 2017.

Sue Monk Kidd has touched the hearts of millions of readers with her beloved novels and acclaimed nonfiction. Now, in this wise and engrossing dual memoir, she and her daughter, Ann, chronicle their travels together through Greece and France at a time when each was on a quest to redefine herself and rediscover each other.

As Sue struggles to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel, and Ann ponders the classic question of what to do with her life, this modern-day Demeter and Persephone explore an array of inspiring figures and sacred sites. They also give voice to that most protean of human connections: the bond of mothers and daughters.

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About the Author:

SUE MONK KIDD is the author of the novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and the memoirs, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, When the Heart Waits, and Firstlight, a collection of early writings. The Secret Life of Bees has spent more than 125 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was adapted into an award-winning movie. The Mermaid Chair, a #1 New York Times bestseller, was adapted into a television movie. Each of her novels has been translated into more than 24 languages. The recipient of numerous literary awards, Sue lives in South Carolina with her husband.


Ann Kidd Taylor is a graduate of Columbia College in South Carolina. She has published articles and essays in Skirt! magazine in Charleston, SC, where she worked for two years after college as an editorial assistant. She left to pursue a career in writing, working on a book about her travels, which evolved into Traveling with Pomegranates, a memoir she co-authored with her mother Sue Monk Kidd. It is her first book. Ann lives near Charleston with her husband and son.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Sue

National Archaeological Museum–Athens

Sitting on a bench in the National Archaeological Museum inGreece, I watch my twenty-two-year-old daughter, Ann, angle hercamera before a marble bas- relief of Demeter and Persephoneunaware of the small ballet she’s performing— her slow, precisesteps forward, the tilt of her head, the way she dips to one knee asshe turns her torso, leaning into the sharp afternoon light. The scenereminds me of something, a memory maybe, but I can’t recall what.I only know she looks beautiful and impossibly grown, and forreasons not clear to me I’m possessed by an acute feeling of loss.

It’s the summer of 1998, a few days before my fiftieth birthday.Ann and I have been in Athens a whole twenty- seven hours, agood portion of which I’ve spent lying awake in a room in theHotel Grande Bretagne, waiting for blessed daylight. I tell myselfthe bereft feeling that washed over me means nothing— I’mjet- lagged, that’s all. But that doesn’t feel particularly convincing.

I close my eyes and even in the tumult of the museum, wherethere seem to be ten tourists per square inch, I know the feeling isactually everything. It is the undisclosed reason I’ve come to theother side of the world with my daughter. Because in a way whichmakes no sense, she seems lost to me now. Because she is grownand a stranger. And I miss her almost violently.

Our trip to Greece began as a birthday present to myself and a collegegraduation gift to Ann. The extravagant idea popped into myhead six months earlier as the realization of turning fifty set in andI felt for the first time the overtures of an ending.

Those were the days I stood before the bathroom mirror examiningnew lines and sags around my eyes and mouth like a seismologiststudying unstable tectonic plates. The days I dug throughphoto albums in search of images of my mother and grandmotherat fifty, scrutinizing their faces and comparing them to my own.

Surely I’m above this sort of thing. I could not be one of thosewomen who clings to the façades of youth. I didn’t understand whyI was responding to the prospect of aging with such shallownessand dread, only that there had to be more to it than the etchingsof time on my skin. Was I dabbling in the politics of vanity or didI obsess on my face to avoid my soul? Furthermore, whatever roomI happened to be in seemed unnaturally overheated. During thenights I wandered in long, sleepless corridors. At forty- nine mybody was engaged in vague, mutinous behaviors.

These weren’t the only hints that I was about to emigrate to anew universe. At the same time I was observing the goings- on inthe mirror, I came down with an irrepressible need to leave my oldgeography— a small town in upstate South Carolina where we’dlived for twenty- two years— and move to an unfamiliar landscape.I envisioned a place tucked away somewhere, quiet and untamed,near water, marsh grass, and tidal rhythms. In an act of boldnessor recklessness, or some perfect combination thereof, my husband,Sandy, and I put our house on the market and moved toCharleston, where we subsisted in a minuscule one- bedroom apartmentwhile searching for this magical and necessary place. I neversaid out loud that I thought it was mandatory for my soul and my creative life (how could I explain that?), but I assure you, I wasthinking it.

I felt like my writing had gone to seed. A strange fallowness hadset in. I could not seem to write in the same way. I felt I’d come tosome conclusion in my creative life and now something new wantedto break through. I had crazy intimations about writing a novel,about which I knew more or less nothing. Frankly, the whole thingterrified me.

After being crammed in the tiny apartment for so long I beganto think we’d lost our minds by tossing over our comfortable oldlife, I was driving alone one day when I took a wrong turn that ledto a salt marsh. I stopped the car by a FOR SALE sign on an emptylot, climbed out and gazed at an expanse of waving spartina grasswith a tidal creek curling through it. It was low tide. The mudflatsglinted with oyster shells and egrets floated down to them likeplumes of smoke. My heart tumbled wildly. I belong to this place.Perhaps living here, my creative life would crack open like one ofthose oyster shells. Or sweep in like the tides, brimming and amniotic.In those moments, the longing I felt to bring forth a new voice,some new substance in myself, almost knocked me down.

I called Sandy. “I’m standing on the spot where we need to live.”

To his everlasting credit he did not say, “Don’t you think I needto see it first?” Or, “What do you mean you don’t know the price?”He heard the conviction and hunger in my words. After a pause,a fairly long one, he said, “Well, okay, if we really need to.”

Later I went to the store and bought a red leather journal. I carriedit, blank and unchristened, to the lot beside the salt marshwhere we now planned to build our house. Construction hadn’tstarted, wouldn’t start for a few months. I sat on a faded beachtowel beneath a palmetto palm and began making a list of 100Things to Do Before I Die. It started off with a 10K race and riding a hot- air balloon over Tuscany. I didn’t like running andreally had no desire to travel by balloon. I turned the page.

Finally, I began to write about becoming an older woman andthe trepidation it stirred. The small, telling “betrayals” of my body.The stalled, eerie stillness in my writing, accompanied by an achefor some unlived destiny. I wrote about the raw, unsettled feelingscoursing through me, the need to divest and relocate, the urge toradically simplify and distill life into a new, unknown meaning.And why, I asked myself, had I begun to think for the first timeabout my own mortality? Some days, the thought of dying gougedinto my heart to the point I filled up with tears at the sight of thesmall, ordinary things I would miss.

Finally, I wrote a series of questions: Is there an odyssey the femalesoul longs to make at the approach of fifty— one that has been blurredand lost within a culture awesomely alienated from soul? If so, whatsort of journey would that be? Where would it take me?

The impulse to go to Greece emerged out of those questions. Itseized me before I got back to the minuscule apartment. Greece.That would be the portal. I would make a pilgrimage in search ofan initiation.

A few days later, flipping through a small anthology, I stumbledupon four lines in May Sarton’s poem “When a Woman FeelsAlone”:

Old Woman I meet you deep inside myself.
There in the rootbed of fertility,
World without end, as the legend tells it.
Under the words you are my silence.

I read it a half- dozen times. I became entranced with the verse,which attached itself to the side of my heart something like a limpet on a rock. The image of the Old Woman haunted me— thisidea that there was an encounter that needed to take place at the“rootbed” of a new fertility. Who was this Old Woman who hadto be met deep inside oneself? Sometimes I woke in the middle ofthe night thinking about her. About her dark fertility. About thesilence beneath the words.

When I made my first trip to Greece in 1993, I’d inscribed a quotationon the first page of my travel diary— words by theologianRichard Niebuhr: “Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.”Recalling this, I recopied the words in the new red journal.What I wanted— at least what I was trying hard to want— was tocreate in myself a new poetry: the spiritual composition of the OldWoman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey.

I imagined the trip as a pilgrimage for Ann, too. She had goneto Greece almost a year and a half ago on an academic trip andfallen in love with the place. Returning would be the graduationgift of gifts for her, but I also wondered if it might become an initiationfor her as well. She was officially exiting the precincts ofgirlhood and stepping into young womanhood— another thresholdthat wasn’t all that defined and acknowledged— and she didseem daunted lately. Not that we talked about it. When I inquired,she said she was fine. But on the flight over, during the hours shesat next to me, she stared out the oval window, at the SkyMallcatalog, at the movie playing on the monitor over our heads, andthere was an emission of sadness around her, like the faint dots anddashes of Morse code blinking secret distress.

I realized it was conceivable that Ann and I both, in our own way,were experiencing a crisis, which according to its definition is: (1) acrucial stage or turning point, and (2) an unstable or precarious situation.At the very least, Ann was struggling to figure out the beginningof being a woman, and I, the beginning of the ending of it.



Now, though, I sit on the museum bench and consider this newepiphany, how surprising it is that for all these months I’ve thoughttraveling to Greece was basically a pilgrimage about crossing bordersinto foreign regions of the soul. About meeting the OldWoman. I haven’t considered it has anything to do with mothersand daughters. With Ann and me. With us.

I watch Ann hone in with her telephoto lens on Persephone’sface, the nose of which is partially missing. If you asked me todescribe Ann, the first thing I would say is: smart. Her intelligencewas never just scholastic, though; it has always had a creative,inventive bent. When other eight- year- olds were busy with lemonadestands, Ann set up a booth for dispensing “Advice for PeopleWith Problems”: minor problems cost a nickel; major ones, a dime.She made a killing.

On the other hand, it must be said that Ann’s defining qualityis kindness. I don’t mean politeness so much as tenderheartedness.Growing up, she railed against animal abuse and was unable tobear even the thought of a squashed bug, insisting we carry allinsects from the house in dustpans. Indeed, whatever her sensitiveand fiery heart attached itself to, she was passionate about it: bugs,dogs, horses, books, dolls, comic strips, Save- the- Earth, movies,Hello Kitty, Star Wars.

The list of attachments revolved continually. Her constant testamentsto these passions were the poems and stories she wrotethroughout her childhood, filling one composition book afteranother.

The only thing that seemed to curb her fervency was the otherpredominant thing about Ann— her natural diffidence and theway it often veered off into self- consciousness.

I wrap my arms across my abdomen and look away from her toward the room we just left, which like this one is a clutteredboneyard of sculptures and myths. I have the most absurd impulseto cry.

I’ve had intimations of this feeling of loss before, but it was ashadow passing in the peripheries, then gone. After Ann left home,I would wander into her room and catch the scent of dried promcorsages in the closet, or turn over an old photograph of our beaglesand find myself staring at her handwriting— Caesar and Brutus1990— or come upon her poem “Ode to a Teddy Bear,” or open acookbook to her perfected horse head sketch in the margin, and Iwould feel it, the momentary eclipse.

I tell myself it’s natural for the feeling to surface now, with thetwo of us captive in each other’s presence, brought together in away we haven’t experienced in . . . well, forever. Once, when Annwas twelve, we’d traveled— just the two of us— to San Francisco,but that was hardly comparable to this. At twelve, Ann had notbeen away for four years during which time she transformed intoa young woman I barely know.

Her backpack is plopped open between her feet while she copiessomething from the sign beside the bas- relief into a blue spiralnotebook. It has not escaped me that Demeter and Persephonehave captured her attention.

We have by this point tromped by a few thousand antiquities atleast— frescoes from Santorini, gold from Mycenae, bronzes fromAttica, pottery from every nook and cranny of ancient Greece—but this is the spot where I told Ann my feet are in abject miseryand I need to take a break: before Demeter and Persephone. At theintersection of mothers and daughters.

I wander over to the marble canvas and stare at the two robedwomen who face one another. Their myth is familiar to me.The maiden, Persephone, is picking flowers in a meadow when a83100hole opens in the earth and up charges Hades, lord of the dead, whoabducts Persephone into the underworld. Unable to find her daughter,Demeter, the great earth Goddess of grain, harvest, and fertility, lightsa torch and scours the earth. After nine futile days of searching, Demeteris approached by Hecate, the quintessential old crone and Goddessof the crossroads and the dark moon, who explains that her daughterhas been abducted.

In a rage and too dejected to keep up her divine duties, Demeter letsthe crops wither and the earth becomes a wasteland. She disguisesherself as an old woman and travels to the town of Eleusis, where shesits beside a well in despair. Zeus tries to talk some sense into her. Hadeswill make a nice son- in- law, he says. She needs to lighten up and letthe crops grow. Demeter will not budge.

The earth becomes so desolate Zeus finally gives up and ordersPersephone returned to her mother. As Persephone prepares to leave,however, she unwittingly swallows some pomegranate seeds, whichensures her return to the underworld for a third of each year.

Mother and daughter are reunited on the first day of spring. Interestingly,Hecate shows up for the occasion, and the myth says from thatpoint on, she precedes and follows Persephone wherever she goes. (Acurious piece of the story that rarely gets noticed.) When Demeter learnsabout the fateful pomegranate, her joy is tempered, but she stops hermourning and allows the earth to flourish again. After all, her daughteris back. Not the same innocent girl who tripped through the meadowpicking flowers, but a woman transfigured by her experience.

Later, I would learn there’s a name for this mother- daughterreunion. The Greeks call it heuresis.

I dig through my travel tote for my map and unfold it across thebench. I find Eleusis, the ancient site of Demeter’s temple, locatedjust outside of Athens in what’s described as an “industrial area.” Contemplating a visit before we leave Greece, I stuff the map backin my bag and wander off to find Ann, who has disappeared intothe next wing.

I want my daughter back.



I find Ann circling a tree rack of postcards in the museum giftshop, and notice she has plucked off a card depicting a statue of theGoddess Athena.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” she says, holding it out to me and diggingin her purse for the drachmas we exchanged for dollars in theairport.

A few moments later we step into the blare of sun and car hornsand walk in silence, or possibly in stupefying shock at the heat, whichwas a hundred and five degrees when we left the hotel earlier. It’slike slogging through pudding. Athens in high summer is not forthe fainthearted, but I love how it spills into the streets, with sidewalkmarkets bulging with apricots, loquats, nectarines, and melons; thebougainvillea hanging in hot- pink awnings over the outdoor cafés;the white apartment buildings etched with grapevines.

We plod several blocks in search of a cab and are rescued on thecorner of Voulis and Ermou. The taxi is ...

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