Poet and essayist Storace creates a lively, richly textured, anecdotal synthesis of the glorious--and inglorious--modern Greece. Fending off aggressive Greek men, negotiating with near-comic bureaucracies, visiting the spectacular Greek islands, Storace insinuates herself into quotidian Grecian life--all the while recording a wryly perceptive impression of the land of constant disputation and anomaly. She finds a people who speak of Alexander the Great in the present tense and who blame Coca-Cola for stealing the Olympic Games. Distressing for Storace is the pervasive subordination of women (TV programs, she notes, frequently feature knocking women about as a prelude to love-making); yet the society is also one of maternal worship, and Storace encounters a surprising tolerance for transvestism. Beyond its sexual contradictions, however, Storace perceives a counterintuitive cultural layering, a people whose seemingly conflicting Classical, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences survive in unremarked combination. (Writing of the language from hymns heard at a Lenten ceremony honoring the Virgin: ``Like Persephone, Mary is a divine bride, like the Demeter of the Orphic hymns, she is . . . the divine nursing mother . . . like Hecate, Athena and Tyche, she is the defender of a city.'') Added to this book's wide breadth of history, philosophy, and language are intimately drawn portraits of the countryside and its inhabitants. Storace cruises to the islands of myth, such as Andros and Naxos; visits cemeteries with life-size stone tableaux; attends a lavish wedding (noting that she can never be married in the Greek sense, the word for ``marriage'' being pandremeni, or ``to be under a man''); and hikes into the northern province of Epirus, made famous by Lord Byron, where she finds ``the countryside is crystalline, the trees full of language in the form of muttering bees.'' This is not a book to be quickly devoured, demanding instead reflection and appreciation, but the payoff, in its lush prose, wealth of history, and sly commentary, is well worth it.