Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome back, how was your holiday? and some ”Quality time” (Aug21, -29days)

The image is so common. At least for me, completing now in Geneva my 5th summer… The first years we weren’t so many so you didn’t really notice or realize it but now you can tell. Most of us are back. Some tanned and most with very good stories of white and blue moments, served with generous portions of great food, impure alcohol, sea and sand. The Greeks are back in Geneva, back from their annual pilgrimage to the Greek islands and seaside mainland. Mykonos, Sifnos, Crete, Paros, Halkidiki, Kalamata, it’s not really important – the theme is consistent, always something to look forward to and surely something to talk about.

After an admittedly unsuccessful Geneva summer (try 2 months of only 5 days of consecutive real sunshine and you’ll easily agree with me on the word “unsuccessful”) we’re all back, welcoming each other with the same question: “Welcome back, how was your holiday?”. Most of us actually mean it: we want to hear what the others did, where they went, did they have a goodtime? It’s so easy to describe these holidays: only the names of places and faces change – the core, the essence is really the same. Sea, sun and lots of fun. Some family moments, catching up with friends and the occasional boy/girl story. And then back “home” (well my home at least…)

I wouldn’t say he was delighted to be back - you could tell that much. Despite the messing about and jokes from the rest of us, he wasn’t thrilled. Either because he had a fantastic time back “home” or just because the perspective of another Swiss winter (his 3rd) simply seems too daunting. Tanned, slightly slimmer, although he’ll always be a big guy, he matter-of-factly told us where he had been. It all sounded wonderful. You could see something was still missing. Well it wasn’t the duration of the break: almost 3 weeks if you include the “work from home” concept that we’ve invented. We’re so many Greeks now in Geneva that ask for this: try to work a few days (he had a whole week) from the “home office”. It makes sense after all. Not all your friends are on holiday, some are still Athens working, so you might as well do the same and see them at night. Also to remember what it was like working there. It seems so long for me, the location of the office has even changed in the meantime…

Back to my friend and that nostalgic look on his face. He spent good time back home, no debate. But did he spend enough time? For some of us it seems it is never be enough… For some of us it’s not about the days away from home but about the days we spend in this place. Not because we might not speak perfect French or because some things in Geneva are really weird by Greek standards (yes we can be the champions of weird but there are things in Geneva that even the kings/queens of weird find difficult to understand). It’s not about integration, it’s about belonging somewhere. For some of us no matter how long we spend away from that place and despite the fact that we could probably name 10 negatives for each positive if we were asked, we still love it. We long for it. I have been unable to answer the question: do I miss the place or the people that I keep really close to my heart that connect me to that place? For those that haven’t understood what “that place is”, start reading from the beginning, I am referring to Greece…

As I said, I haven’t managed to answer the question. I know I sure miss the people, my friends, and my family. It’s probably the biggest sacrifice one has to make when living abroad. And it’s a price you have to pay. Not only in money (flights and phone calls are one thing) but in real physical and psyche effort: you need to make time to see them all, to catch up with them. It’s hard. They move on so fast and things change so quickly. Sometimes I’ve felt I am in a speed-dating game. Limited time, basic information. The only difference is that I’ve known these people for a long time, with some we go back many years, familiar faces from the past & present but still it always feels that you can’t penetrate the surface of their stories and day-to-day life over a quick coffee or dinner.

It would also be unfair to do this. To get to that you need to spend time together. Quality time. How do you define that? I define it as time where you do absolutely nothing with the other person. Do nothing. Just be with them. No fancy trips, dinners, spas and outdoor activities. All wonderful, no debate but all these are ways to be with someone. These are the glue and color of the memories you build together and no-one really likes black-and-white TV so we all desire them. But they’re still the method, not the objective. They are the means not the end. I really believe this and I got to realize it more and more as the years go by and things seem to move a lot faster than before. At the end you don’t need much, you don’t need “surroundings” to be with someone. You need the person. This is the biggest reality I have to face being away from the people I love and miss: friends, family, the girl that’s on my mind but not close enough…I’ve had the most wonderful of times in the most simple surrounding and tough situations. From the shitty military base with my army buddies to the dark run-down bar in Athens where I went as a uni-student, to the old shabby Citroen my dad had and I used for my first outings, up at Imitos mountain. Just sitting there, radio crackling, friend in the passenger seat and a can of beer in my hand. That's when time slowed down and other things started to matter, the real things...

So what is it at the end? Do I miss my childhood memories & friends or do I really miss “that place”. I guess the answer is not the same for everyone…

4 comments:

George "Teriax" T. said...

What to say for this text... ? Only that i see that my dear and long time friend "kostakis" is getting very philosophical about his connection with motherland and other places where he lived in... I have expressed my opinion to him, but that is another story...

Now, what do you miss more; the people and the memories OR "that place" ?

In my opinion, when you say "that place" you include everything:
The traffic (Athens people, Athens!), the cool evenings, relaxed way of life (sometimes Too relaxed; try going to DEH or IKA!!!), driving in paraliaki with the music ready to break your eardrums, the smells, the people...

Its all these things together that get "planted" in your genes...They will stay there forever and they get activated once you go to places like Anavysos, sit at your balcony with a glass of wine and having the sea breeze hit your face. It is the same thing with the "kafrila" (dont ask me to translate) you meet at the public sector and the driving and the guy who throws out of his window the garbage...

But isn't it the same everywhere you go ? It might not be the garbage getting thrown out of the window but it could be that you can not put the music a bit louder at 9:00pm OR if oyu laugh too hard you will have your neighbour ringing the bell of your door...

What I want to say ? The people you like and love will always be available to be with you anywhere in the world...But the experience will not be the same if you do not have the same backdrop/background...and then when all these come together you have once again "that place" coming to life...

I am waiting you to go to ARISTON GEUSIS man...

(the above is an example of what i was talking about in the text above)

:)

VK said...

Indeed the image is common! I am referring to the "ouzo & meze in front of the beach" photo that accompanies your post. You just cannot have ouzo & meze by the lake! It's not the same (it smells ducky instead of fishy...)!

I think the feelings are stronger during the summer- just because summers are so unique back home (note that I used home for Greece)! And their uniqueness for me is related to the sense of freedom that goes with them... (I remember all the things that we were planning on doing when the summer came... We would wear earings, do tattoos, get rid of helmets for the bikers, do all kinds of wild things, as if there were no constraints...)

Of course, this was back then (as you would say) and not now. Fair - I am not sure I would do a tattoo now... or any wild living for that matter... but there are other ways of escaping reality and Greece offers a lot... And I would definitely want my kid-to-come to live the same summer spirit...

As for the winters, God forbid!

odevoted said...

Can u imagine asking this question 70 years ago? Wouldn’t it sound odd to most people’s ears back then?
Nowadays however it is a rather common question….

Eventhough the answer can’t be the same for everyone, most of us think of a recurrent theme…childhood, family, friends, holidays, the age of innocence …home is where the heart is, and being a recently wedded and repatriated guy, I can confirm it.

‘Teriax’, Vk and many others (myself amongst them) will probably say the same thing, ie, under the confusion of the daily Greek life (each one of us has his/hers own demons) lies the reality of this place which, like it or not, runs through our veins.

Perhaps this AroundTheWorld trip will enlighten you with the answer, or maybe (probably if you ask me) it will make you realize the fact that you already hold the answer to this question.

On a different note now : at least we have the choice and luxury of satisfying the answer … most people don’t…

A nice related read :
http://www.swissinfo.org/eng/front.html?siteSect=109&ty=st&sid=9568565&front=br

PaniosBanios said...

Kosta,

So true the article... Indeed our common friend came back with this nostalgic smile on his face that even 2 months in Greece wouldn't have been able to dismiss.

For some of us in Geneva "home" will always be Athens. And some of us will want to go back there every time while others will want to leave as soon as possible.

It's like staying home with your parents. Some do it until they become 35, some get out when they're 24.

For me Athens was "home" for 24 years. Geneva has been home for 2 years now. Who knows where "home" is going to be next.

But Athens (or Greece) is always the place where 2 (or 3 or 4) weeks of holidays will make you cry when you're gone. Just because you only see the good side of things and the "dark" side (salaries, chaos, traffic, anarchy) isn't there to get to you.

My 5 cents.