‘Flatpacking Santorini’: One-woman photo exhibit exploring Greece, post-double mastectomy

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Carolyn Choate basking in the solitude of self-discovery.
Carolyn Choate basking in the solitude of self-discovery.

NASHUA, NH — On Saturday, October 3, 2015, St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church, 500 W. Hollis Street, Nashua, will hold its third annual Taverna Night of live Greek music, dancing, and mezzethakia – traditional finger foods, desserts, and cash bar – from 7 to 11 p.m. with a little extra “Opa!” on the side courtesy of Nashua resident, Carolyn Choate. Choate will present her first-ever photo exhibit, “Flatpacking Santorini,” during the festive evening.

In 2014, two years after a second mastectomy without reconstruction, the long-time TV producer/host with tv13 Nashua and food columnist for Manchester Ink Link, got an offer she couldn’t refuse. “My older daughter, Sydney, was working for the Aspen Institute at the time, serving a several month assignment in mainland Greece when she called and said she was going to spend four days on the island of Santorini before coming home and did I want to join her,” recounts Choate.

Initially thrilled by the invitation, the reality of such long-distance travel with multiple flights plus the added complication of getting to the island by six-hour ferry for a mere four day getaway wasn’t Choate’s idea of a good time. And then she had an epiphany.

Photographic celebration of a trip of a lifetime for Carolyn Choate.
Photographic celebration of a trip of a lifetime for Carolyn Choate.

“I loved studying Homer’s Odyssey in college,” says Choate, “the whole notion of Odysseus “finding” himself on that epic voyage through hardship and adventure, and it occurred to me that this could be a similar opportunity for me. A female version in which I would go not only to see my daughter but, find me, this “new” me in a body I hadn’t yet quite accepted but needed to embrace, to love and believe in.”

Choate’s personal voyage of self-discovery post breast cancer in the Cyclades quickly took the form of a two-week solo backpacking adventure, one she soon dubbed “flatpacking,” a wry yet dead-serious allusion to her determination to leave her prosthetic bra behind and dare herself — or anyone else — to make her feel any less of a woman.

Gordon Jackson, her husband of 28 years, while understandably nervous, was totally on board.

“Anyone who knows Carolyn knows what a visionary she is and often times her ideas have been in service to others,” explains Jackson. “This was about her self-esteem as a woman, as a person, and I am so proud of what she accomplished, both physically and emotionally. Carolyn’s photos are a testament to a trip of a lifetime.”

On September 25, 2014, armed with months of planning, a backpack, and a Sony NEXC3 camera, Choate flew from Logan to Frankfurt to Athens where she caught a ride on public bus #98 to the port city of Piraeus before boarding a high-speed ferry to the island of Santorini. Once there she took a local bus to the far northwest corner of the island to the town of Oia, high on the caldera cliff, and backpacked to her Airbnbd accommodations in the valley below. It would be her home base for the next ten days until her daughter, Sydney, arrived by air in the eastern beach town of Kamari.

Choate “flatpacked” the entire region including Oia’s fabled cliff walk where she indulged in both traditional and gourmet Greek fare in some of the town’s 80 restaurants including magazine-worthy gems like Ambrosia and 1800 where “slow food” and “sea to table” concepts have been practiced for generations.

Another high point was the personal tour Choate arranged at one of Greece’s most celebrated wineries, Domaine Sigalas, a scenic, coastal, “flatpacking” stroll several miles from Oia.

“Frankly, given my previous experience with Greek wine, my expectations were low. Then the intense methodology and love came together in that tasting room and, oh my, did I fall in love with Nychteri, a 100 percent Assyrtiko, the native grape of Santorini, a dry chardonnay-like body with a kick-of-honey flourish at the end,” said Choate.”Like nothing I had ever tasted in my life!”

Other Conde-Nast-like travel moments captured in Choate’s photo exhibit, “Flatpacking,” include sunsets overlooking the brilliant azure Aegean Sea complete with Oia’s quintessential white and blue capped Greek churches – Anastaseos and Agios Spyridonas, Oia’s iconic windmill, the black beach of Kamari, hiking Kameni volcano and the neighboring island of Thirasia.

“Meeting my mom after her week of “flatpacking” Santorini solo made our reunion in Kamari an incredible celebration,” said her daughter, Sydney. “You’d think I’d be used to it by now, her beating breast cancer, her helping women going through cancer, her fighting to stay in the TV business, her writing a memoir, but she still manages to surprise me. I have the best role model in the world; my mom can do anything.”

Tickets for Taverna Night, Sat., Oct. 3, at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church, 500 W. Hollis St., Nashua, featuring the Greek band, Ta Pethia, are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Proceeds benefit St. Philip benevolent services. Call 603-930-2422 for tickets and/or more information.

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