History, and the Dogs of Thessaloniki
I am writing this from the comfort of my new bed (bed #26 - I think), on Lesvos Island. I arrived here this afternoon, after having hugged my son, my sister and my nephew goodbye and taken a short ride in a propeller plane. Once arrived at the tiny airport, I picked up my car and was asked by the man who handed me the keys if I knew that "it was insane, over there?" So, I am here and I am safe and I know I will much to share in the upcoming days about this chapter.
Tonight, and before it starts to fade away a little bit, I want to talk a little bit more about Thessaloniki. And my god there is so much I could say about it, and about my time there. SO MUCH. I could talk about the food. I could talk about the history. I could talk about my family's history and the extra pieces we found out from my mom at 1:30am last night ... hours before I had to leave. I could talk about the smiles, the lights, the sea, the uncannily comfort my family has felt walking around the streets, the people we've met, the new friends we've made, too.
But what I want to share with you is this sweetness I have encountered many times while over there: Big Stray Dogs. At first, we could not figure out what was going on with all these big, well-fed looking dogs walking around, lounging, crossing the streets (often at crosswalks) getting petted all over there place. No collars, no leashes. It baffled us. Most of these dogs are huge. Think Saint Bernard size. Could they really be homeless, we wondered?
A few nights ago, as we exited a bakery at 1 in the morning, a big pup who had been sitting on the bakery's outside mat got up and followed us for a while. He was so sweet. Thinking he may get lost, we walked him back to the bakery and asked if he was theirs. We were told he wasn't. When he caught up to us again, we were smitten and there may have been a few words thrown around about bringing him home.
Eventually, he went left and we went right, and that's when I did a quick little internet search and found out that Greece takes care of its stray dogs with special programs such as vet care and food (unfortunately no neutering). We learned that these dogs are loved by the community and well taken care of, and that because people in the city have small apartments, they love co-owning these big fluff balls.
I love that. I love that so much.
On this furry note, I am going to snuggle into my comfy bed and get ready for what might be a big day, tomorrow.
I wish you the sweetest of New Year's!
Tavernas and Bathroom Doors
A week ago, I was landing in Greece for the first time in real life. In my mind, I had arrived in the city of my roots many times before.
In my mind, it was always a heck of a lot warmer.
Making my way from the airport to the Airbnb was an adventure as - shocker - everything everywhere was written in Greek! Several people on the bus made it their job to make sure I got off at the right place and before I could GPS the address of the place where I would spend the next 12 nights, I found myself walking out of a bakery with a box filled to the rim with the special treats of my childhood.
I was welcome to the Airbnb by an American man named Ranger, who showed me the place. Ranger was visiting for a couple of weeks and within minutes, he and I were sharing the sticky sweet pastries, while he told me a little about how he had been traveling for the last five years.
I was tired from a long day and was noticing that the bathroom barely had a door. I was starting to envision 12 days of no bathroom privacy and my intestines were making small talk about shutting down for a while.
But by then I knew that things rarely are how they seem at first glance. I think that the few tears I shed when leaving Pisciotta put the final touch of this delicious and exciting bit of truth that says: wait. just wait. Allow yourself to lean into this. And allow yourself to be surprised.
A week later, I have baked a pumpkin pie in the kitchen, taken a road trip with Ranger, Maria whose place this is (Maria is incredibly lovely and from Cyprus) and my son who arrived the day after I did. We have had a birthday party, a Christmas feast and much laughing around the small kitchen table. We have sang together, we have laughed, we have traveled by bus, foot and car. In a few short days, we have built a community that is feeding my heart so very much.
For some reason, my intestines no longer care much about the non-door. Which blows my mind a little bit. And reminds me how much we grow from stretching our comfort zone. And how much traveling has a way of doing this.
Also, I am reminded once again of how much I love and need Community.
Then, there is Thessaloniki. Salonique. The city of my ancestors.
I love this city.
Costa and I took a super awesome guided tour and learned more and more about the rich history, the great fire of 1917, the war too. We learned about this city that used to be the largest Jewish city in the world, in a country which is now quite anti semitic. We learned how Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony for such a long time - until they didn’t anymore. We visited Anapoli, walked thru the Acropolis, sat in a taverna late at night and ate whatever the owner put on our table. We attended a concert, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life with Greek subtitles for free, too.
I feel as though my being is getting more and more layered by the day, and I am taking it all in.
And as if this was not magical enough, tomorrow my sister and my nephew arrive to spend three days with us. My sister being the family’s historian, I had a feeling that it would not take much to get her to leave Florida and come spend a few days here. I was right.
And then, next Sunday, it’s off to Lesvos. Which I hear is no picnic. Which I don’t even think I can get prepared for - so for now I am soaking up all this sweetness and goodness.
Sometimes, that’s the best preparation there is.
Surfing the Christmas Wave
For the first time in my life, I don’t have a home of my own in which to put up a Christmas tree, this year. On the 4th month of my walkabout, I am feeling both relieved to be out of the game, and slightly alienated, as though I was sitting all alone in the darkened audience of a rich and meaningful play, just watching the stage.
Of course, none of this it true. I am not alone. Right here in the dark, many people sit, watching the twinkly lights and the season appropriate movements of their human counterparts.
It’s the season and it’s everywhere: the prompts to be cheerful, to feel love, to emanate peace. To bake, to sing, to decorate, to rejoice. Somehow, we are supposed to be both at home stoking the fire and sipping hot cocoa with our eyes closed in bliss and shopping to remind the ones we love of how much they matter to us.
We are supposed to do and more than that, we are supposed to feel.
What if we don’t ... feel?
What if we’re tired and broke and lonely? What if our hearts are cracked?
There’s nothing worse than feeling bad for feeling bad - and for some of us, this month can be a whole lot of that.
If this resonates with you, if you feel as though your spirit just isn’t up to snuff, here is what I suggest: ride the next 12 days. Just ride them like a wave.
Re-format things to feed you without exhausting you. Maybe one nice red candle is enough decoration, this year. Maybe a tiny drop of peppermint oil in a long hot bath will be great. Maybe none of it.
Try and let go of the idea that “the whole world is happy and together.” It’s just not true.
Breathe. Sleep. Breathe some more.
One day at a time. At your own rhythm.
And in not too long, this wave will gently deliver you to the other side. The side where ornaments come down, trees are on the curb and life feels somehow lighter.
You will get there.
And then who knows? It is possible that without even noticing it, simply because we are not resisting it, we will make our way to the stage - or maybe just the edge of the stage - and enjoy a rich, deep cup of hot chocolate. With our eyes closed in bliss.