After a long flight and a six-hour ride in a hired car through mountains lit only by stars, I awoke in an unfamiliar room flooded with light. I was lying on a divan, surrounded by heavy furniture. Directly above my head, an open window framed an enormous white rose.
Moments later, barefoot, I was picking my way over moist, dew-soaked ground beside the house. Snails the size of my fist clung to the whitewashed wall, waving their eyes at the sky. I turned the corner and, beside the house, found what I was looking for — masses of heavy white blooms sculpted by morning light and glistening with dew. The tallest of these had been leaning into the window, intoxicating my dreams with its perfume.
I had just arrived from Canada. I was seven years old. This was my first taste of travel.
Travel shaped the Greek mind long ago, as it shaped the landscape, which we ruthlessly stripped of trees to build ships bristling with soldiers, or filled with amphorae bursting with oil, honey and wine, or laden with linens and aromatic oils, trading in precious gold, silver and slaves.
Travel also shaped our imagination, and its limits. Growing up, if an uncle or father didn’t serve on merchant ships, then you knew someone whose father or uncle did serve, and who had gotten drunk in Buenos Aires and Cape Town, Sydney and Hong Kong, and, made stupid with drink, dreamt of returning to Greece to settle down, but instead wound up living in Park Ex.
In some sense, the general dislocation and disorientation stay with you. You absorb it through both your parents, who were born and raised in a different land, speaking a different tongue and thinking different thoughts. No matter where you live, you will always be a stranger in a strange land.
When I left Canada, our second-floor apartment stood at the corner of Roy and Hôtel-de-Ville Streets. By the time I returned, my family had moved to Park Extension, and I entered for the first time a glass-fronted apartment building at 7460 Champagneur Street. We would move two more times in Park Ex.
But on the first morning back in Canada, after thirteen months away — an enormous span at that young age — I became gradually reacquainted with a more spacious and modern world of smooth and reflective surfaces. The bedroom furniture was pale beige, lightly freckled, sharp-edged and modern. The headboard contained a stainless steel clock and, astonishingly, a box of Kleenex. I had forgotten about Kleenex and its near-miraculous mechanism of convenience: pluck one tissue and another pops up to take its place. Again and again, one white flower after another.
I will be leaving for Sanibel Island early tomorrow, for a two-week respite from the ice and snow. I will bring Brownie and plenty of film, and hope to do some running and to post more often during this time away.