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Sunday, April 30, 2017

It Takes a Village: Kastania, Evritanias, Greece










So much of who you are is the place you come from: your rizes, the Greek word for roots. The same word is also used for tree and plant roots, as it is in English, and perfectly describes the deep pull we feel towards the places we come from. The places we have been nurtured, grown, and flourished. Sometimes, this place can bring back painful, bittersweet memories. Sometimes, your current home is not always the place where your roots were first planted.

In the springtime, the roots which have been cold, frozen, and underground all winter slowly start to thaw out and come to life. Little by little, they grow and seek nutrients from the sun until by summer's start, they are in full bloom. This is how a person feels when returning back to the place of their rizes--like their heart has been underground, waiting for summer once again, waiting to burst into full bloom of colors, passion, and a deep combination of bittersweet joy which only has one word for Greeks: harmolupi. This is the near indescribable sentiment of "joyful sorrow" which once experiences upon being filled with both limitless happiness laced with sadness, at remembering past pains. This is why so many Greeks and expatriates around the world cry when the plane touches down in their home country and they see their friends and relatives waiting for them. They kiss the ground and are both joyous yet sad, remembering the heartache of leaving, of living so far away, and of past goodbyes that they carry with them long after the plane ride. Of hurt that never truly goes away. 

My dad and his siblings who have immigrated to the U.S. all experience harmolupi the instant their eyes spot the terra-cotta roofed house from the dusty dirt road, in the August heat of a trip to their homeland. When I was eight years old, and came to Greece and my dad's horio (Village) for the first time, it was then that I saw this intense emotion firsthand: my dad kneeling at the door of his childhood house, weeping after more than 15 years away. Although their lives were devastatingly difficult during the years of World War II and a civil war in Greece, my father and his five brothers and sisters were raised with love, and have kept their traditional home all these years. This special horio for us is called Kastania, nestled high in the mountains in the region of Evritania, Greece, about five hours North-West of Athens. Although my mom's ancestors are from Sparti, we don't have relatives there. 

Now an adult, 22 years later after my first time to the village, this house for me has become love: it is the pinnacle of the August 15th celebrations, when the mountain air tastes of oregano and Greek soil, honey and incense. The nights are filled with walks to the kafeneio, and children of others who have also grown up experiencing war and harsh times in Kastania years before. Eventually as we got older, Gin and tonics replaced Pagotinia (delicious mini ice cream cones straight from heaven), but the starry skies, and vast mountains remained unchanged. The mornings have a quiet stillness--Later, the phone is constantly ringing and no one is answering, and everyone is yelling over everyone else because the ironing board is missing and someone forgot to take the Prosforo (Holy Bread) to the priest. It is total chaos, but its buzzes, noises, voices, and love are the soundtrack to the August of my childhood. In the fall months, my cousins go hunting in the vast forests, and in the winter the village gathers to celebrate New Years or Christmas together. Spring months bring the most beautiful Pascha (Easter) celebrations. 

It takes a village to make you who you are. This is mine.
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