As I set out for Athens
“As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery…”
Cavafy’s words are the ones I carried before my flight from New York to Athens. I am used to changing homes but what is different this time is that I have a cultural history in this place.
My family comes from the islands of Limnos and Chios. What is left in my ancestors’ home is mostly rubble and arid soil — but I love these places. Limnos is where my great-grandfather gave me stale koulourakia and let me sit upon his donkey’s back. Chios is where I made friends with vagabond gypsies and promised to bring them a copy of a treasured video game when I returned …I never did.
So here I am again, 10 years later… my language skills mediocre, my connection to home displaced.
I did not know if I would feel anything returning to Greece because frankly, I am an American whether I am proud to admit it or not.
“Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way…”
My father, uncle, and grandmother all warned me against going and made sure to alert me about the ‘allure and charm’ of Greek men. I have been bombarded with stories of drowning refugees, fires, and murder from all accounts. However, I must learn to separate what the news (and my family) chooses to scandalize with what I choose to experience.
So far I have seen an eager enthusiasm from cab drivers, cafe owners, and passerbys about who I am, why I am here, what I study, and if my father knows an Alexopoulos from back home.
I have never felt so important in a matter of seconds.
This is what you will feel no matter who you are, I must tell you. Try not to be afraid or overwhelmed by the curiosity of many Greek people — I, too, see myself retorting with questions trying to “…gather stores of knowledge from [their] scholars…”
… but it does not matter so much if the people I meet are scholars or are barely literate. What I have understood from my ancestors is that Greece has always been with them no matter how far they travel.
My travels, for now, belong in the city of Athens where I make friends with strangers … “stop at Phoenician trading stations/to buy fine things,/mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,/sensual perfume of every kind—…”
*Cover photos from Barbara’s family archive