Thursday, July 26, 2012

Waiting for the rooster in Milos

Everything in Milos is either 50 meters or 3.5 kilometers away. With dust from the dirt road caught in my eyelashes, I step out of the car to ask for directions to the village of Klima. The only person to ask is a shepherd.

"Excuse me, sir?" I shout into the wind.
A goat bahs, the shepherd does not react.
"Καλησπέραααααααα!" I yell good afternoon across the valley. What was I thinking "excuse-me-siring" my way through a Greek island!
The shepherd turns around. "Is this the way to Klima?"
"Yes. But what are you doing in a dirt road?"

I am learning to love the roosters that block my path. Nobody honks on a Greek island. You cannot cut a conversation short. You stop to ask for directions to that one tavern, and you end up answering questions about your life path and "is that auburn hair your natural color?" There can be no rush to inspire the honking or the quick "thanks for the directions." Milos is the kind of place that expands time, that stretches the interval between your getting in the car and your paying for the souvlaki. The real Milos does not lie in the volcanic cliff formations, the couples backlit by the sunset, or even the blue domes of the churches. It lies in the cracks, the back-roads, the donkeys and roosters that block your path, the conversations you are required to have if you are to ever navigate away from the water. The distraction is the attraction.

In addition to fostering a warped sense of time, Milos appears to possess a unique sense of space too. The gas station that is allegedly 50 meters away is at least 2.5 kilometers from here and you pray that the whining Hyundai can crawl there before giving up and stopping mid-dirt road. The beach the sign tells you is 3.5 kilometers away is no closer than 7 kilometers. You keep second-guessing yourself. "Did I miss it? Is the map wrong? Is the sign wrong? Should I turn around?" Milos teaches you to keep going. It is a twister of an island, spinning you around, reminding you that you do not always need direction. That this is your first time traveling without evacuation insurance or Imodium in your suitcase, and it is high time you remember how to live in a way not dictated exclusively by deliverables or impact or risk assessments.

I am not sure why the locals are so attached to 50 meters and 3.5 kilometers as the false units of distance they use to respond to your questions. Then again, are we ever more than 50 meters away from immeasurable, unimaginable beauty?

A and R leave their mark on a dusty window.

Island home reflected onto door

Octopus dries on a clothes line.

The village of Klima. Winter population: 3 inhabitants. The waves crash onto the balconies pictured above.

A fisherman boards his boat at sunset in Klima, Milos.

Stay tuned for Part II: The beaches of Milos coming soon. If the rooster gets off my path.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

For the tavern girls

Haroula is in the left boot, Maria in the right.
The other Maria and my cousin Eleni are nestled in the carafe of wine.
I wrapped Nantia into a sock and Nikoleta in the underwear. 

Elijah has affectionately dubbed them "the tavern girls." When I think about their company, I can taste fried zucchini and calamari, melitzanosalata and tsipouro. The stuff of Greece. Because of them, I can feel grains of sand still etched into the lining of my shoe and skin peeling on my lower back. The tavern girls are woven into memories of home and love, sea and late-night sky. They are the memories of a Greece the news does not cover -- of a Greece that exists in our hearts.

On my last morning in Thessaloniki, Haroula and Nikoleta surprised me by showing up at my house. In my front yard they re-created the tavern: a carafe of wine, and seven glasses, each with our name on them. "So you can take us with you," they offered.

The past three years have shown me the bearable lightness of being. They have hammered home the appeal of a simple, weightless life, anchored by love and memory. I am in the process of packing this life up for a transition -- the kind of transition that involves bikinis and snow boots in the same suitcase. Once again, it is a life in two bags. Three hours before I had to leave for the airport, I removed three sweaters from the suitcase to make room for the types of memories that truly keep me warm in life:

The wine glass that says Χαρούλα is in the left boot. Μαρία in the right.
The other Μαρία and my cousin Ελένη are nestled in the carafe of wine.
I wrapped Νάντια into a sock and Νικολέτα in the underwear. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Greece

Homes are committed to my memory in color. Cairo was the dance between beige and gold. Jerusalem was rosy-hued. Guatemala was terracotta. Uganda was red.

Greece is a memory in green and blue.

It is frappe foam at the bottom of a cup and sand in the anti-itch cream.
The constant waving of arms above a salad to chase the flies away from the feta.
It is sand trapped in your sunscreen, flicked onto your legs by children racing to the sea.
It is grains of sand and salt at the roof of your mouth.
It is sand between your toes, sand everywhere.
Sunscreen spots on a Kindle. The constant turning of pages, the squint of eyes reading in the sun.
The redness of a nose or a shoulder that got away from the constant lathering.
Body heat on the sheets.
Turning over the pillow for a sunburned cheek to meet its cool match.
The strumming of a bouzouki at a tavern, the jingle of the same six summer songs.
Everyone hums the lyrics. Three summers from now, these songs will be 2012 in our memory.
It is the constant scratching. The mosquito in your ear, the fly landing on your leg to wake you up.
The whooshing of boats. The sails backlit by the setting sun. The waves that ring after their passage.
Marmalade and fresh tomatoes and crushed ice. All in the same meal, because you can.
Tsipouro, mine with anise, hers without.
Exposed backs, visible collarbones. Legs that will stubbornly not slide into pants. Legs everywhere.
Sandals with criss-crossed ribbons over feet. Bracelets jingling when the arms dance.
Dancing. Feverish, drenched-in-sweat dancing.
Dancing on beach chairs, in the street, on sand, on tables even. Summer is for the swaying of hips.
For remembering a laugh you had forgotten you had. For giggling into the night.
For soccer, for the game debrief on the balcony.
For the balcony.
It is for the car windows. Up and down. A/C on and off. And windows again.
Hair swirling in the wind, sweat dripping onto the back seat.
Greek summer is for non-problems: warm beer, a book that was finished too quickly.
The Sunday night traffic jam. The slow crawl into the city. The stop for calamari along the way.
The cooler stuck between us in the back seat. Everything stuffed on top of it and into it and behind it.
Greek summer is for the heavy cars, filled with girls, and ice, and umbrellas, and memories.
Greek summer is for gratitude, for green and for blue.

Reflections of the sun on the surface of the water - Halkidiki, Greece

Sailboats in a cup of iced water - Halkidiki, Greece

Frappe foam at the bottom of the cup - Plaka, Athens

Man in a canoe - Halkidiki, Greece

Droplets drying on my back. Willing them to stay.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eternally Nostalgic

The first sugar packet read ζάχαρη γλυκιά σαν την αγάπη μας: sugar sweet as our love. The one behind it: "sweetheart", the one behind that "oh sugar...honey, honey!" Bringing up the rear was "Σε γλυκοφιλώ" -- I am giving you sweet kisses. 

Sap overflowed at my solitary breakfast, as the sugar packets conspired to make me long for a cup of coffee across my own. This is the kind of moment that had not been possible for me in Cairo or Jerusalem. Tea arrives at the table in a cup free of its handle and it is already masboot: sweetened to the point of tooth decay. That, and sugar packets do not encourage kisses or call breakfast-goers "sweetheart" in the Middle East.

In the story of there and here, I am still in between, perpetually in transition. Eternally Nostalgic. That is the name of my new column over at Equals Record, where every Wednesday I will be exploring questions of memory and forgetting, attachment and loss, home and away. An excerpt from my first column, out today: 
I have the kind of wandering eardrums that long for Colombian salsa in Kosovo and Greek music in Guatemala. I have the kind of fickle tastebuds that long for arepas in Uganda and falafel in Mexico. All of me is punctuated by a serial infidelity to place; enamored as I may be with where my feet are currently meeting the ground, I will let the senses wander to the other places they once called home.
For more on my serial infidelity to place, wander over here. I'd love your suggestions on what you'd like to read about and any other feedback you may have. Until then, I'll be here in Greece, between billowing curtains and golden seas, sun-kissed hair braids and affectionate sugar packets.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hope on the walls: Graffiti in Athens, Greece

A capital A inscribed in a circle used to be the most popular autograph on Greek walls. Armed with the ubiquitous cans of spray paint, anarchists left their marks on the exterior of buildings ranging from foreign banks to government offices. In the midst of the financial crisis, Greece is breathing in anxiety and exhaling anger. When I walked in the streets of Thessaloniki in February, I was unsurprised by the messages of popular disappointment or by the calls for resistance to the austerity measures of the bailout packages. Five months later, the disappointment and anger remain -- but they have been supplanted by messages of camaraderie and love. Greek youth have transformed the walls into receptacles of hope and humor, with the required doses of political commentary and social critique. A glimpse into the walls of Athens from my latest photo-walk:

Satire of former Prime Minister Papandreou: "Everything good."

On the steps of the convention center in Thessaloniki

In my heart, (there is) lava; in yours, (there is) a cramp... Next to an empty store for rent in Cholargos, Athens.

Life is a carnival - Plaka, Athens

"Freedom. Camaraderie. From human to human." 

"Live, love, and learn." - Effie, April 15, 2012 in Plaka, Athens

"When you see a priest, hold your balls." (Direct translation...)

"Step 1: Wake yourself up. They are afraid of your power."

"This is a poem."

Karagiozis, an iconic image in Greek folklore.
Plaka, Athens

"Step 2: All of your fears stem from television."
The last stage of evolution: stone-throwing?

"I love you."

Same graffiti, different corner of Athens. No "I love you" caption -- but that's the Acropolis on the top left...

Some Euros, a little bit of heart, a bit of conspiracy, a lot of Africa.