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Uncovering Greece On a Cloudy Day

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THE Greek islands: blue skies and water, warm sun and beaches, yet still quiet and uncrowded. This was what we were expecting. Instead, it's the coldest, rainiest June in history, and history goes far back at Naxos, the island where it is said the god of the vine, Dionysus, was born from the thigh of Zeus, to lighten men's hearts.

To make the most of a dismal day, Pierre and I take a bus tour of the island, the largest and most fertile of the Cyclades. There are about 30 of us: one group - mostly Americans - listening to the tour guide in English, another group listening in German, and the small remainder in French. The guide herself is Dutch, blond, and volatile. The coach driver is Greek, with a steady hand on the wheel, which is more than necessary on the rugged, washed-out roads.

Mount Zeus, the highest mountain on the island, at 3,200 feet, is completely in the clouds. The guide points to where it should be. "It's a pity to do this tour today," she says, wanting to be sympathetic. "You'll have to come back to Naxos another time." We hear the "such a pity" also in German, "wie schade," and in French, "quel dommage."

I watch the different reactions to her dire weather forecast. Some of the Americans are taking it in their stride, they're on vacation, they'll have a good time. Some of the Germans are boisterous, still hoping to go swimming on the other side of the island, where there are long, sandy beaches. And some of the French are complaining, even when the guide is speaking in their language. Pierre, my French husband, is embarrassed and speaks only English for the rest of the tour.

We stop at Apiranthos, an ancient Venetian citadel perched high in the mountains, which was once filled with marble. Some of the white houses need repainting, but much of the former brilliance remains. Grape vines and bougainvillaea cling to the walls and overhang the terraces. We enjoy the freedom of a short visit after the long bus ride. I walk on ahead, imagining the white walls, the winding alleys and terraces, the scarlet blossoms in warm sunlight.

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