Gesture of kindness Roberta...

A MEMORABLE PLACE A

April 29, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

A gesture of kindness

Roberta Sandler

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With every stop during my cruise vacation to the Greek islands, I discovered beauty.

Along goat-trodden, hilly terrain, I explored the ruins of Doric temples. In the fertile, pine-clad valleys, I saw olive groves overlooking the blue coastal waters. But it was in the garden of a small Greek village that I found unexpected friendship.

My cruise ship made port at Kithira, which lies at the crossroads of the sea routes to the Ionian, Aegean and Cretan seas. According to mythology, Aphrodite sprang from the waters of this ancient village.

On the side streets of Kithira, royal blue shutters and red flowers jutting from window boxes gave a vibrant flush of color to the white stone houses. I passed a grass-carpeted alleyway garden guarded by a gate. The alley, separating twin houses, was adorned with small trees and vibrant pink and red flowers in large clay pots.

Three women were behind the gate, gathered around a wooden table laden with bowls. They were wearing long-sleeved cotton dresses. One of the women wore an apron.

I wanted to snap a picture, but I felt as though my camera were an intruder. The aproned woman saw me standing outside the gate. I held up my camera and raised my eyebrows questioningly.

She understood and smiled as she rose from her chair. No, I didn't want her to pose. I wanted a candid shot of the three women around the garden table. But the aproned woman wasn't posing. She motioned for me to join them and opened the gate.

I felt as though I was interrupting, but the woman gently took my wrist and drew me inside.

"Do you speak English?" I asked. The words had no meaning to her. In Greek, she posed a question. I couldn't decipher it.

We shrugged helplessly, and laughed. The other women grinned. I could see that some of the bowls were filled with nuts, perhaps from the almond tree at the rear of the garden.

As I stood there, the aproned woman took my hands and turned them, as though she planned to read my palms. She dipped her hands into a large bowl of nuts and scooped them into my palms. The other two women quickly copied her. The three women laughed as they filled my hands.

The aproned woman directed my filled palms down toward my skirt pockets. The two seated women nodded approvingly and, with their cheeks rounded by smiles, they speechlessly urged me to deposit the contents into my pockets.

"Thank you so much," I said.

The aproned woman patted my back and walked with me toward the gate. She smiled and said something -- probably "goodbye" or "good luck." It didn't matter. She had given me more than a gift of almonds from her garden. She had welcomed a stranger to her land by offering a gesture of kindness and hospitality.

Roberta Sandler lives in Wellington, Fla.

MY BEST SHOT

Shuttle launch

Don Glassner, Baltimore After a day at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., my wife and I returned to our resort to find a number of guests standing at the entrance looking at the sky. The shuttle Atlantis was about to be launched. The launch was 50 miles away, but the orange and white trail of smoke left by the great ship was breathtaking, especially in relation to the moon.

READERS RECOMMEND

Amsterdam

Patrick McGough, Baltimore

"Amsterdam's Jordan District is filled with beautifully restored homes dating back to 1610. Away from the busy Damrak -- a bustling street of shops in the heart of historic Amsterdam -- I enjoyed the quiet walk down tree-lined streets."

Route 1, California

F. Lester Simon, Towson

"We traveled to the West Coast in search of birds and seaside scenery. After perusing Monterey's wharves, we headed south along cliff-hugging Route 1 for a visit to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. It was here that we spotted an American Dipper, a little black bird that actually swims underwater, chasing insects. In all, we saw some 90 species of birds."

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