Letter from Athens, Greece

Judith Lawrence Blish Weekly Hubris Banner Image.

“Fast forward to Weird Easter 2020. I live next to a church in Athens whose Easter program has always been the usual elaborate Friday beeswax-candlelight procession with the bell tolling and the heavily overdressed clergy, the appointed mourners carrying a flower-smothered catafalque through the local streets and a trail of parishioners singing a dirge, meeting up with the similar parades from other churches, who all dirge together.”—Judith Lawrence Blish

Pawprints on The Bathroom Ceiling

By Judith Lawrence Blish

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in mid-March. (Photo: Andrew Garver.)
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in mid-March. (Photo: Andrew Garver.)

Judith Lawrence Blish, Weekly Hubris

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—1 May 2020—I live in Greece and my children—stepchildren, legally, but heartwise my own—live in  America. (Remember America? My country ‘twas of thee?) I haven’t seen them for years. We stay in close touch on Skype. 

Stepmothers, too, see their children by maternal timescope—ever children. My Beth, a very intelligent grownup who has written a popular book on burnout, old enough to be a grandmother herself but still my little girl, has been planning a visit to Greece, touching base with her other connections in Europe. She’s allergic to my cats, and I found her a sweet Airbnb right across the street from me and we booked it for the last two weeks of May, the end of her long tour. Countdown began. Then the news came from Wuhan. She is medically trained, and when I suggest on the day she leaves Oregon that maybe she should postpone her trip till we see what’s going on “because people here are already masking,” she reiterates the then news—not that fatal, etc. I had not realized how very st—,  er, determined she’s become! 

So she lands in Portugal on March 3, spends a few days being a tourist, sending frequent messages and photos, and on the 10th starts for Madrid. And loses her iPhone. And disappears. Her itinerary says she is in an Airbnb with wifi—no phone. 

Madrid shuts down with a clang. She manages to make one call from the US embassy and at last agrees to give up and go home—and her back is giving her trouble: nothing like 18 hours on airplanes for that! 

But where is she now? Has she found a flight? Has the embassy helped any? When? Where? Ah! She has checked in with her husband and he’s booked her on a flight. Whew. But bad news is arriving like machine gun bullets. In the course of all this, I discover that if you want to know what’s happening to a flight, you enter the airline code. i.e. AA, + flight number and get a very informative site with all the departures, delays, and so forth. We think it might be good to book a wheelchair, especially if there is to be standing in lines. He does—and for those who do not know, it makes any flight a lot easier; you don’t have to carry your luggage, an attendant takes you to your connection or customs and you whiz through the queues. 

By this time the US has shut down most of the airports. We try to make sure she’s actually on the flight. I find, to my amazement, a local Greek phone number for the airline—which has been inaccessible earlier—but at 2:34 a.m. somebody answers. She’s indeed booked on that flight—but, um, er, not aboard. He very kindly explains that she’s been put on another airline going to Chicago instead of Dallas to change for a flight to Oregon. She’ll have to stay overnight. I am very worried about her backache, and then we get those awful photos of the thousands of passengers at O’Hare in Chicago, jammed together like sardines, unprotected, standing in line for six hours. . . .  I can only hope the wheelchair helps. In fact, she does get whisked through the crowd. By this time, my son-in-law and I are holding electronic hands, 5,000 miles apart. He’s doing all the bookings at his end; I’m doing online research and phone calls. Neither of us has been able to actually speak to her for what seems like weeks. 

Happily, from Chicago on, it works out as planned and to the enormous relief of us all she is safe at home. 

God knows when we will ever meet again.

Fast forward to Weird Easter 2020. I live next to a church in Athens whose Easter program has always been the usual elaborate Friday beeswax-candlelight procession with the bell tolling and the heavily overdressed clergy, the appointed mourners carrying a flower-smothered catafalque through the local streets and a trail of parishioners singing a dirge, meeting up with the similar parades from other churches, who all dirge together. Then at midnight on Saturday comes the wild clamor of bells and fireworks and the sacred candle flame is passed from one person to another so as to smoke a cross on the doorway of each house and the square is filled with cheerful cries of Christos anesti’s! And chronia polla’s! General celebration as they all head home to eat the special magaritsa soup— once long ago I had foolishly expected margaritas—not at all the same.  This year, the bells toll a little now and then. There‘s no procession. There’s a brief howl of prayer from the loudspeaker, and at midnight two or three pathetic popgun shots in lieu of fireworks, the lights go on, the bells ring for two minutes and the empty square is occupied by a couple of cats. 

Greece has done very well with the lockdown and people have been sensible. The delivery people from the supermarkets, who used to have only occasional trips, are working their tails off for extra hours. Places which normally did not deliver have started electronic shopping sites.

But we can’t ever go back any more than we can revisit our childhood. The amazing changes in the environment must give us pause. We have to redefine progress and the economy and consider what worthwhile means. So much technological change is suddenly snapping into our lives at top speed even as we come to new appreciation of the work that requires human input like, say, presidential and medical judgment, friends rallying to make needed supplies like masks. 

I have just watched a film online, Michael Moore’s new “Planet of The Humans,” whose shocking  revelations may or may not relate to this sudden, mysterious viral attack. There is no such thing as green energy.                                     

Life will never be the same as it was three months ago.

The daughter of American pulp-fiction writers Jack Lawrence and Muriel Bodkin, Judith Lawrence Blish is an American artist, poet, and short fiction writer known professionally as J.A. Lawrence. Since 1977, she has made her home in Athens, Greece, where she and her cats (multiple) live in the city's central Thission neighborhood. From 1967 to 1978, she co-wrote a sequence of short story adaptations based on episodes of "Star Trek" with her husband, James Blish, which she continued after his death in 1975. The last volume in the series, Mudd's Angels, was released in 1978. It included two episode adaptations originally by James Blish, featuring the popular character Harry Mudd, and an original novella by Lawrence. (Since 1975, she has been active in preserving and promoting her husband's work.) Lawrence and Blish married in November 1964 and moved to England in 1969. In 1977, the widow Blish settled permanently in Greece. She designed the covers to editions of Black Easter and The Day After Judgment, as well as the cover of the April 1972 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Lawrence's short fiction and illustrations were regularly published by Galaxy Science Fiction and Amazing Stories, among others, and have been included in several short-fiction anthologies. Her collected stories, both science fiction and mainstream, will shortly be available as an e-book under the title The Other Side of the Surface, named after her latest work, a long overdue answer to Blish’s well-known Surface Tension. Lawrence is presently working on her autobiography, and will accept bribes not to include what she knows about you. (Banner illustration painted by Judith Lawrence Blish.)


  • Will Balk

    I’m delighted to be introduced to your writing, and I’m especially delighted to read you here in the virtual pages of Weekly Hubris. I hope we readers can anticipate more contributions from you here. I congratulate you on the wisdom to have chosen to be in Greece when the pandemic descended upon us all!

  • Dean Pratt

    Hey, Judy, Wish ELizabeth and I were back in that little restaurant in Athens where we had lunch. Alas, closed now like so much of what was. One day we hope to meet again in Elizabeth’s second home and a country she showed me how to lve. Stay well and safe my friend.

  • Diana

    Welcome to Weekly Hubris, Judy mas. Hope to read more from you, and glad Beth made it home safely. But what a horrible period of uncertainty between losing her in Spain and finding her again.