This is why I return again and again to Greece. I return because it holds the magic aura of “home” of belonging. It holds for me the memories of my idyllic childhood. I was the first born for my parents who had tried unsuccessfully to have children, I was more importantly, the first grandchild within physical proximity for my grandparents who doted on my every move. What most draws me is the awareness of love. Greece was the first place I felt genuinely loved. Those moments paint my memories in a hazy pinkish glow—beach holiday, hard boiled eggs on the verandah, olive trees swaying, chocolate bars hidden in Pappou’s lapel jacket. For me to return to Greece is to return to the omphalos, the amorphous womblike stage, half rocked in the amniotic ooze of sweet oblivion. And love, I was bathed in love. It is to dip into the warm waters of primordiality—a way to be born again by returning to the place where I was most wanted. I physically recreate the circumstances of childhood bliss—the brief heaven on earth I tasted before the fall before the American dream sucked us like a tornado into it. The love of those times still is palpable for me—even if the gritty reality of Greece of paradox and even utter chaos as a tourist trap registers more forcibly. for me Greece is the eden I lost and still yearn for.
This year after returning six or seven years to it, the veil of dream-like reality has started to lift. It cannot protect me from the truth—that my loving family is vying for its own interests; that the cloak of hospitality is a ploy for the tourist dollar that my fellow “generous” compatriots are nothing but superficial double crossers, in so much competition they would rather drown the ship rather than see the next guy succeed. Greece is made up of those who sell out the holy ground still wet from the blood, sweat, and tears of their ancestors who fought to defend it from their former enemies to the highest bidder. Greece is a place where the majority live hand to mouth with salaries of 500 to 700 euro per month yet living as if they could blow a month’s salary on a wild weekend in Mykonos.
Greece has always relied on its golden past to provide it with its daily bread. But I am tired of inhabiting ghostly narratives, memories and dreamy visions of how things used to be. I want to see things realistically. Without the trance that my own feelings would smudge on me. I want to walk on the ground as it is—a city with deteriorating infrastructure, reality the sidewalks cracked, single eyed cats, refugees scavenging for scrap metal in garbage dumps. I have realized that I have become strong enough to remove the blue-tinted glasses that idealize a place in order to make it livable for us to survive its ugliness. I have emerged from the dream haze and can say that this is a place of extremes, of armies clashing in the night, of drama, the authentic filotimo that was the distinguishing value for the ethnos has been replaced by ego and self-absorption. It is a dog-eat-dog world. The soul of the people has grown cold.
It is a place you come to wrestle with gods and angels and sleep with nymphs. And then, you find a quiet cave to write the long, long epic of your journeying.