Yesterday, late at night, I was driving home from Athens to Messinia … all I could see ahead of me was the new asphalt highway and the road signs popping up from time to time to my right.. no beloved landscapes, no sunshine.
I have already passed and left behind me Salamis, Elefsina, Corinth, Nemea, Mycenae and as I saw the sign for ARGOS written with simple capital white letters on a green background suddenly I felt deeply moved. Am I truly here in this mythical place? Do I live in that very place which throughout my whole life I studied and revered in so many ways? So many memories flooded me, memories coming from times way before I set my foot in Greece and called Greece my home: My first room with orange furnitures where as a child I was read to, in Polish, myths – fairy tales of Hercules and the lion of Nemea, the olive tree gift of Athena to Athens…. Zeus, Artemis&Apollon, Aphrodite, Persephone, Demeter, Perseus, Narcissus, the rapture of Europa, Cyclopes, the Titan Atlas, Icarus and Daedalus, Orpheus, the Argonouts with the Golden Fleece….
I remembered my school friends and how we heard for the first time about the battle of Salamis, Greek city states and Xerxes and their look of disbelief when at I tried to read Socrates during the class breaks… and I remembered how important I felt carrying his thoughts in my backpack.
I remembered my grandparents and Sunday sermons with readings of St. Paul’s “letters to the Corinthians”.
I remembered when at 15 I discovered Kavafy and read him first in Italian “E se non puoi la vita che desideri cerca al meno questo per quanto sta in te…”* and how I felt compelled to learn those lines by heart.
I remembered my many lonely walks in Prado, as I was clandestinely skipping school, seeing those Greek stories depicted throughout the ages in painting, sculpture, etchings…. Pegasus, Medusa, Centurion, Minotaur, Sirens, Hydra…
I remembered Dean&DeLuca coffee and pastries with the cool Soho crowd as I indulged there in Kazantzakis reading marathon during my studies in New York.
Suddenly I realised that since my childhood and defect these Greek faces, names and stories were my constant companions: looking at me even from the building facades in the cities I have lived in or visited in Europe and the Americas. I realized that I have relived these stories over and over in so many places, with so many people, in discussions, in experiences, in songs, in operas, in theater, in books, in films (from cult movies to …wow… Barbie films) I realized anew that people from different backgrounds, professions and nationalities have chosen to make these stories theirs by adding to them their creative output throughout centuries.
I could just go on and on with my pre Greece memories and examples from others for days…but the road from Athens to my place in Messinia is only a 3 hour drive.
Also I could tell you about so many things I did not know and discovered only here when I finally “reached my destination” and tell you about the engligted, warmhearted people who live here right now and how happy, despite of all difficulties, I feel that my road home is this very road.
one more sign left behind…
How can an empty dark road with just a handful of names bring so many precious memories from so many far far lands?
(And on a silly side…) just when my thoughts started to turn into other matters I remembered the bits of distorted reality from the petty morning news of how the current president of the European Council Donald Tusk chose to answer to a mataphoric question about the Greek Sun in terms of sunburns as if Greece was a Solarium parlor “na Marszałkowskiej”…Solarium parlor on Marszałkowska** street.
* Οσο μπορείς
Κι αν δεν μπορείς να κάμεις την ζωή σου όπως την θέλεις,
τούτο προσπάθησε τουλάχιστον
όσο μπορείς: μην την εξευτελίζεις
μες στην πολλή συνάφεια του κόσμου,
μες στες πολλές κινήσεις κι ομιλίες.
Μην την εξευτελίζεις πηαίνοντάς την,
γυρίζοντας συχνά κ’ εκθέτοντάς την
στων σχέσεων και των συναναστροφών
την καθημερινήν ανοησία,
ώς που να γίνει σα μια ξένη φορτική
Per quanto sta in te
E se non puoi la vita che desideri
cerca almeno questo
per quanto sta in te: non sciuparla
nel troppo commercio con la gente
con troppe parole e in un viavai frenetico.
Non sciuparla portandola in giro
in balía del quotidiano
gioco balordo degli incontri
e degli inviti,
fino a farne una stucchevole estranea.
Even if you cannot have the life you would,
endow the life you have with this at least:
do all you can to avoid debasing it
in the continuous contact with the world,
in the continuous restlessness and talk.
Do not debase it by walking it about —
by going often and exposing it
amid the daily trivialities
of your acquaintance and their gatherings,
till like some hanger-on it pesters you.
**Marszałkowska…is one of the main avenues in Warsaw