Monday, January 31, 2011

Lizzie’s Paradise

Caribbean Sea---There was a Greek island we visited 9 months ago called Trizonia in the Ionian Sea. It was there that I told about the story of Alison Fraser, the woman that ran Lizzie’s Yacht Club until her sudden death from an untold illness. Somehow I connected to her story and wanted to know more. I asked around the village and talked to people who knew her but it still explained little. (see blog post "Who was Alison" on 5/16/10)

The yacht club had stood vacant for three years. What were the chances that in the time I happened to be in Trizonia, I would witness something so disturbing to me?    The second time I walked to the empty Yacht Club, I saw men clearing out the building that she had called home and work, and disposing of all the things off the side of a hill that the island called a city dump. Alison's restaurant equipment and remaining personal effects were sent spilling down the cliff and into the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. (see blog post "Trizonia's Dirty Little Secret," 5/15/10 and "An outrage: Open all day Sunday," 5/17/10)

I knew there was a book that her mother “Lizzie” had written about the adventure titled “Lizzie’s Paradise” by Elizabeth Parker, a writer in England. I tried several times to locate the book including finding an Athen’s book store online that reportedly had one copy. But when I was in Athens,  I couldn’t find the store and without my own address (living on a sail boat), couldn’t order the one copy that claimed to have.

Recently, staying in Trinidad for a set amount of time, I ordered the book, sent it to a friend in Florida and he shipped it to the marina hotel where I was staying in Trini.

Because of what I had read about the book and it’s highly illustrated artwork by artist Martina Selway, I somehow thought it was a children’s book. However when I got the book, it’s pages were filled with copy. Inside the pages a story unveiled itself of how the yacht club came to be, more of Alison’s role and personality, the struggles and illnesses of Lizzie and the dream of owning a home on a Greek island. It was a beautiful survival story of the human spirit rising to challenges and facing fears.

This all happened before Alison’s illness and death.

The story unveiled that Lizzie had survived cancer of the cervix, uterus and then breast cancer as well as the death of a husband. This changed her life and she began to pursue a dream of moving to Greece. She writes that she didn't mean to buy a business but when the opportunity came up, it fit.

Alison had been working in Paros, Greece, the Greek island where I spent almost two weeks, her mother had called her with the idea of helping with a business and she was up for it. Somehow most of her mother’s description of Alison, I already knew. It sounds crazy but I felt it in the building the day before the men cleared everything away. I had tip toed down the steep path to the abandoned building and stood on the balcony overlooking the small harbor and imagined the yacht club full of sailors, telling stories, exchanging books, having dinner… There were so many personal touches left in and around the building that I knew, someone had taken great care of the place at one time.

The book says:

“I had talked to Demitri (Alison’s boyfriend) who said the business could be build up, but he didn’t want to work there. Alison did. To her it was a challenge and so different from the hurly burly of Paros. She needed a change, maybe from Demitri too.,” Lizzie recalls inside the pages of the book.
The book goes on to say they bought the building and friends helped clean and fix the yacht club. Alison worked on the business part of the venture.

“So poor Ali struggled on planning menus, discovering the cheapest and best places to buy provisions and, of course, drinks. The logistics of getting anything to the island, then up to the tavern proved to be arduous and impractical. Everything had to be brought to the the mainland opposite by taxi or lorry, then by water taxi round to our jetty below, unloaded and dragged up a sheer set of steps, then put on to a cart, designed by Darren and inappropriately nick-named “The Rocket”...The Rocket was then fastened at the front to Alison’s even ricketier old Moped and with someone pushing behind the load would be taken thirty metres up the steep dirt track road to the bottom of the steps leading up to the taverna. The provisions then had to be physically carried up the thirty five steps into the shade of the first level terrace. It took all day to carry up the crates…” the book reported.

Illustration by Martina Selway

As I read, everything that was said came to life. I had walked that road. I had climbed those steps. I had wondered how in the heck they had managed to have a business set so high on the side of a hill. Now it all was being unveiled. It was weird and felt almost voyeuristic. I was learning the mysteries that had captured my imagination. I was finally being told the truth about “who was Alison.”

“…Alison lighting the way to the house which they had transformed in the space of two months. Arriving at the front door I gasped at the newly painted and orderly dining room, everyone was clamouring around, their faces showed that they were eagerly awaiting the comments on their endeavours.

“Well Mum what do you think?”

I couldn’t say anything but slumped into a chair with tears pouring down my cheeks.

“Does it look that bad?”

“No Darlings, forgive me – I just can’t believe I am here at last – that you have created this place out of the ruin I first saw and that it will actually be my home. Thank you.” Lizzie (Alison’s Mom) wrote in her book.

It was obvious in the book that Alison and her mom were close.

“We loved each other very much but with her need for perfection and my laissez-faire attitude there could be difficulties.

“We’ll discuss it tomorrow properly, but one thing – I really do not want to cook, serving is Ok.” Lizzie said in her book and Alison responds:

“No way” Ali said, “there is not room for two chefs in my kitchen, you can help serve the drinks…”

The book,  "Lizzie’s Paradise" was in itself a beautiful story. Telling the story of Alison and her mother, Lizzie, of Trizonia and the challenges with the government there, of the Yacht Club and sailors who dined and drank there.  For me, because I had written about it and wondered about them, it was like a gift to have the story told.
Sadly, now I think about her mom and how she must miss her daughter. About the dump and so many things from the restaurant that ended up among the trash on the side of the little island they loved so much. I wonder what they would think about it all now in retrospect. I wonder if it was all worth it. I have a feeling it was.

And just like the vase I dug out of the heap and the bunch of wild sunflowers I picked and put in their vase, on their little table, next to their chairs, next to their china lined up in a row with one of their signs: “Open all day Sunday”, all the items I rescued climbing over things to retrieve them scattered down that hill, things I could not take with me on a sailboat but hoped that someone walking by could. Just like all these things that formed my personal memorial to Alison, I write this to bring out her story and answer my question of who was Alison.

*all quotes from the book referenced above, are from Lizzie’s Paradise by Elizabeth Parker.


Anonymous said...

That is such a sad story. I hope someone restores Lizzie's Yacht Club to its former glory.

Jim said... do a wonderful job of telling a story. Makes me feel like I was there. Jim

Geoff said...

Hi Edee,

Sorting out some of my old travel logs and pictures and looking on the internet for some additions for the final ‘mini-movie’, I stumbled on to your blog, and haven't stopped reading yet. I too made a change of course in life, crossed the Atlantic by sail, travelled around the globe, to end up as a dive instructor in the Philippines.

But after 6 years abroad, my mother got seriously ill, and I decided to return to my home country to pick up a 'normal' life again.

However, that itch is still there. So in 2009, with a close friend, I drove from Amsterdam to Trizonia to meet up with Liz (yes, Lizzy, the mother of Ali and owner of the Yacht club, you describe). A vibrant lady, with lots of stories to tell and lots of friends to share. She gave us the keys to the club. At that time, all was left as it was when this club was once so popular. But, it needed so much work again and the problems with both the Greek authorities and the struggles as set out in Lizzy’s book, were far from being solved. The challenge of picking up where Ali, sadly and unfortunately had left it, was haunting me, but ….regrettably, I wasn't able to come up with a feasible plan.

It is ever so sad to read now that all was 'dumped', although I do understand that from a commercial point of view it was probably wise to put the property 'clean' on the market. The way it was done, as you describe it, however is heartbreaking.

By the way,did you know that Liz wrote a little other book, titled: “what NOT to do in Greece”, in the same humorous style as “Lizzy’s Paradise”. It is by far the best travel guide to Greece! I will quote the Addendum she made to it:

“However – do not expect NOT to have _ THE BEST HOLIDAY OF YOUR LIFE – in this beautiful, warm, vibrant, noisy country. The humorous, friendly, uninhibited, passionate people – The Greeks – will reach out to your heart. You will never want to go anywhere else! “

I hope to read further in your blogs and wish you a happy life.