By Sagi Melamed and Guy Melamed
Sagi: After concluding eleven years of fundraising for the Yezreel Valley College, I prepared a wish-list for the next few months. I wasn’t after anything extreme or ultra-challenging – it was just a list of dreams to pursue now. One of the entries was to finish the book I had begun writing and to try to do it a little differently. To step away from the bustle of life. To sit on the beach and write. And to write with Guy. Not only because he is my son. Because he is also a superb writer.
So we set out. A direct flight to Rhodes. Searching for our muse around the island. Struggling again and again with the temptation to give in to the waves, the pool, the delicious food.
Before I left, my wife challenged me, “Inspiration, inspiration. You won’t manage to write more than two or three hours a day. The sea and the food, with a nap in between to balance them, will take up your time.” “No way! We’re going to work!” I replied, but in my heart I feared she might be right. A challenge indeed – to engage in the serious work of writing while experiencing the here and now. The serenity of Greece.
Guy: When Abba invited me to join him for a writing trip, I didn’t hide the hesitation in my voice. I already had plans to spend semester break hiking and partying on a beach in Central America. My life as a twenty-something year old medical student in Tel Aviv has been one of long hours in front of a laptop, fighting the urge to escape to the beach. So why would I fly with Abba to a vacation abroad, only to agonize there over the same question – why I am in front of a screen instead of vacationing far away on the ocean waves. “It’s been several years since we spent time together, just you and me,” my father urged me. “Come help me find my inspiration. It will be fun.”
Sagi: The book I wanted Guy’s help with, was born in Vietnam. In January 2018, I met up with him in the middle of his post-army backpacking adventure. One day we remained in the hotel to write a short story. The short story I wrote in Vietnam became the kernel of the current book. “Guy, come help me finish the work”, I asked.
Before we left for Rhodes we talked about the work plan. What I would do and what Guy would do. Chapter outlines, characters, objectives. The night before we left, I decided it would be best to come with an open mind. We would decide when we got there. We would let the atmosphere and the inspiration we were hoping for, determine the nature and the rhythm of our writing. It was the best decision pre-trip.
Guy: We set down on the lone landing strip of Rhodes’ Diagoras International Airport. “I can’t believe we’re out of Israel,” I said to Abba. “A short flight, like going to Eilat, and we didn’t even need a COVID test.” In the tiny airport terminal, more the size of a suburban train station than an airport, we were greeted with smiles. The taxi driver who waited for us outside the terminal knew three words in English. Yes and no made up two-thirds of them. Little more than an hour later we arrived at our hotel on the other side of the island. I began to understand the pace of this vacation – everything is close and quick. Except, perhaps, the writing.
Sagi: We arrived at the hotel. Before we began to write there were several urgent tasks. The first, an evening swim in the clear welcoming sea. The second, an introduction to the renowned Greek cuisine. First, we swim and eat. We can discuss the writing over dinner. The Greeks really know good food. And then self-discipline kicked in: we tasked ourselves with seven hours of writing each day. Our schedule began with exercise and meditation in the morning and ended with summing up the day and determining the subjects for the following day’s writing.
Guy: My father has a knack for picking hotels. The Atrium Prestige resort sits on a secluded mountain top, built on countless terraces covered with enormous swimming pools that splash from terrace to terrace, like the hotel on a giant cruise ship. “Where’s the bar?” I asked the reception clerk, as I began to fantasize about the sensation of a chilled bottle of Greek Mythos beer in my hand. “The bars, young man. Plural,” smiled the clerk and pulled out a map to show me the path to the treasure. I looked at Abba, who smiled encouragingly, but the look in his eye seemed to hint, “Son, don’t forget that we’ve also come to work, okay?”
Sagi: The days flew, and time seemed to speed up from day to day. Every two hours we changed our writing location. In the breakfast dining room. Next to the upper pool. At the beach. On the other side of the beach. And then at a different pool. We used mealtimes: at breakfast we reviewed the writing from the previous day. At lunch I read to Guy what I had written and asked for feedback and creative ideas. And he responded, “Let loose even more. Add drama, Abba! Write emotion!”
“Wait for me on the beach. I’m going to chase after my muse and emotion,” I said to Guy. I left the laptop on the chaise and took three steps to the crystalline water. I began to swim along the shoreline, increasing my pace and raising my pulse. Concentrating on every stroke. Apologizing to the schools of fish whose peace I had disturbed, I dived deeper into myself, into worlds of feeling and trauma. After twenty minutes of swimming I came out of the water and returned to the laptop.
Guy: I got into the rented car and hit the road. No cellphone and no Waze. Armed with a map of the island, the radio tuned to Greek music, in a tiny stick-shift Fiat. Europe, after all. Reviewing my father’s drafts is challenging, to say the least. To stand in my father’s literary shoes, to view the plot through unbiassed eyes and to offer suggestions that will meet his high standards. There is nothing like the sensation of movement and unfamiliar landscapes to shake up the mind and thoughts. Like the good shake of a dusty rug.
Sagi: One morning, as we were walking along the shore, facing a majestic sunrise, Guy, in a gesture characteristic of his generation, slapped his pocket, “Where’s my iPhone?”
“Forget it, Guy, there’s no point. No photo can do justice to such beauty,” I reassure him.
“I guess you’re right, Abba. But even if I try to tell someone in the future ‘Wow, what a magnificent sunrise we saw,’ I won’t be able to describe this amazing place properly. So what do we do?”
“We write,” I answered him and myself. “Because what is writing, and what is the challenge and beauty of it, if not to capture a moment in time, real or imagined, and to try to convey it in words”.