Παρακαλώ και ευχαριστώBy Emma Pearson
September 22, 2023
Main photo by Sergio Garcia on Unsplash
3 June 2023
Back in the very early 1980s – or perhaps it was even the very late 1970s – I am not entirely sure… my mum started to learn Greek. I don’t know why she started, (nor why she eventually stopped), but she engaged a private teacher who showed up at our house in Brussels on Saturday mornings at about 9 am (so my memory tells me).
I always liked languages, and had a bit of a “thing” for them, so it made utter sense, to my not yet teenage self, to accept my mum’s invitation of “Why don’t you learn too?” So I joined in with the lessons. Quite happily. I don’t remember too much, but I do remember becoming very comfortable reading the exquisite alphabet (which I can still just about decipher), and to this day I can say Please, Thank you, Good Morning and Good Evening in Greek. But not a lot else remains.
And two of those four words have already come in handy today as I find myself in Greece for the first time since 1985. I have only been to Greece and the Greek Islands twice – 1984 and 1985 – mostly Island hopping at the end of a long Interrail, and I truly don’t remember much. Other than Greek yoghurt with honey, Greek salad, amazing feta, gorgeous black olives, fresh fish, and of course ouzo.
But I am back again, for a little bit of sun and salt water, courtesy of the open water swimming tour company, SwimTrek, that has offered me – and a handful of others – this trip for free. I call it our “hush money” trip. It’s to reward-compensate-acknowledge the scarily awful and awfully scary experience we had exactly a year ago today, 3 June 2022, just off Isola Maddalena, when our boat suddenly took on water and promptly sank.
It was a thoroughly shaking experience, and while none of us was hurt, and we only lost material stuff, it could quite easily have been shockingly bad. I wrote about it here, the next day, waiting for my flight to go home. http://www.widowingemptynests.com/2022/06/03/worse-things-happen-at-sea/
It’s good to be back. Even if I am in Athens right now, in a posh-beyond-my-means hotel downtown, rather than in the more modest “rooms” on the island of Milos, that will be home for the week. For my connection time between flights dwindled in direct proportion to the delay on the ground before taking off at home, and I didn’t make it.
I was sitting there in the plane, on the tarmac in Geneva, doing my “relativiser-ing” thing that puts pretty much any plan-scupperer in perspective…I figured I’d missed the connecting flight before we even took off. Nah – this delay is not going to matter in five days, and probably not even in five hours. No biggy. No-one died. I’ll get there eventually. The next flight – the final one of the day – was full, so I will simply travel tomorrow, and miss the first day of swimming.
I notice I feel some relief. I do want to swim – truly – but the kind person who took on organising our hush money trip swims a kilometre in open water in 12 mins (over distance), whereas I now take about 22 mins. She’s planned for us to do an average of 8 kms a day. I think that would be fine for running, but swimming? In open water? Along windy coastlines and crossings? I notice my ease with the idea of not doing it all. No big event to train for this year (not a swimming one, anyway), lots of reading and writing and designing for work projects…. I think I would be quite happy staying put at the Milos accommodation.
But I will do my best to join in – if only for some of the days and swims and dinners. These group things are still hard for me, even though I will have met about two thirds of the group before. Conversation with semi-strangers can feel alien. Especially at a group level. It stays more surface level. Doesn’t go deep. Talk is of “others” rather than “ourselves”. There’s only so much chit chat I feel capable of.
But that’s okay. It’s good to be somewhere new, even if flying feels wrong and is wrong, and fills me with guilt. And, as I stepped into the lift in my swankier than I would normally afford hotel courtesy of the airlines, I noticed that the bar-restaurant is called JuJu. The tagline is, “Where reality and dreams come together”.
Yup – that’s my Julia. Dreams and Reality crashing. Day and Night experiences of her so very different. Life and Death in such a short, fraction of a time span. What was real? What is a real memory? What is an imagined memory? Already, not even four years after she died, I hesitate to trust my memories of her. I want to say she would have loved to come to Greece, little mermaid and water baby that she was. Seeker of sun and sand and all things summer. But I can no longer know for sure.
So instead I see her name on the inside of the lift. It makes me smile rather than weep.
I am glad she made it here after all. One way or another. I’ll go check her out.