Despite the fact that Greece is currently on fire, I am flying in to Athens tomorrow. Spending two weeks with my family is painful enough. But two weeks on islands sans internet connections and cell phones and avec women with mustaches? Oh boy. I’m bringing books with me to keep me from going stir crazy, and a bottle of Klonopin to keep me from killing someone.
James Joyce – Ulysses; Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls; D.H. Lawrence – Women in Love; D.C. Noir – Various. Those are the books. If I finish all four, then you’ll know that I spent a lot of time away from the family, but more importantly, away from the Baklava. Christ, I doubled up on the running just in anticipation of all the fucking Baklava that will be shoved down my throat.
Besides not being funny, David Sedaris doesn’t do it justice. Greeks are fucking crazy. The Greeks have this phrase they say when a baby is born or christened. Na Sas Zisi! It means “May he/she live for you.” The irony here is that most Greek parents not only expect their children to live for them, they demand it. You all saw the movie. It’s sort of like that. It’s exactly like that. I remember the day my brother re-worded something my mother had said to him during an argument (an argument that spanned several years by the way and continues to this day) and he came back with, “So I owe you? For raising me?” My mom said yes. She doesn’t see anything wrong with that.
Growing up in Connecticut, everyone was either Italian or Irish. It was weird to have a background that is so rare. You don’t bump into Greeks every day. But when someone does, you will most definitely hear about it. “Oh, my doctor’s wife is Greek! She’s a nice girl!” Or, “Oh, there was a Greek guy down at the Dupont Market last weekend. What was his name? He had a funny name. Spiropolous? Do you know him?” No, you asshole. We don’t all know each other. But to a non-Greek, knowing a Greek is apparently as elusive but as claim-to-fameish as holding the winning Powerball ticket.
When I moved to the south, no one was Greek. No one was Italian or Irish either. No one was anything as a matter of fact. The south is where you find the people who have been in this country for so many generations that they can’t even trace their history back to one European country. Blasphemous! You mean to tell me that people intermarried? Savages! TI KRIMA! The Greeks didn’t even marry anyone from the next village. In church, my grandmother used to poke my father and his sisters (who I call Patty and Selma, not to their faces,) point at some other family and say “Don’t talk to them. They are from the next village!” My grandparent’s marriage was arranged. I think my grandfather was like 20 years older than her too. Score! Oh, wait, I guess that was scandalous. My grandmother was 17 when they got married.
I have never known anything other than that my grandparents all emigrated (cough, if you call jumping ship “emigration,”) from Crete and Andros. I am hoping now it will come full circle exactly why my grandparents chose to come to America. Though, I’m sure the stories have done it justice. I get it. We were poor. I don’t have to dine alongside rats and shit in a hole in someone’s backyard to understand how poor we were.
Life here was not a huge improvement over life on the islands in Greece. But here, there was opportunity – something lacking in a country historically torn by war and poverty; a country so geographically vulnerable that one day you may wake up to find your country was now occupied by the Turks. TI KRIMA! I love my family’s and ancestor’s relationship with money. They never had it, now they do and they stuff it in the bank when they get it and won’t part with it for anything. I’m the same way. It’s comical to me that there are so many people in this country who “came from money,” yet, they don’t have any. The American way. Spend spend spend. Why save? I mean really. You can file bankruptcy and someone will bail you out. That someone will probably be me by the way, and the rest of the immigrants who pay cash for everything and don’t incur any debt. Shit, my grandfather paid cash for his house. In 1930!!!
Greece is close to the Middle East. It holds its place in Europe only because Yugoslavia hasn’t let go yet. It is a couple hundred miles from Egypt. With hundreds of islands out there exposed in the Mediterranean, Greece has had to fight for everything. More irony, considering that most Greeks who come to the states end up fighting and hating each other. Just the other day my father started the story again about how the Greek Priest. Yessssss dad……..I already heard this story…….. like 100 times…….
Anyway, the quirks of my ancestry that I used to take for granted I am hoping to finally appreciate. Another tattoo will be in order upon my return. That is, if the fires don’t kill us first.
Someone keep an eye on the cops while I’m gone…okay?