I’m walking along the narrow streets of ‘pano Eressos late one Monday morning. Chatting with cousin Fani, I’m overcome by some strange yet familiar sensations. My throat feels more open, and more air can flow through my trachea. There’s also more room in my chest – room for my lungs to balloon and stretch, as if waking from a long hibernation.
The muscles around my mouth relax and feel almost buoyant. They draw my cheeks and lips upward, causing the corners of my eyes to crinkle.
My heart wriggles and then creeps out from its cave along my spine and into the great room of my chest cavity. Its quadrants expand away from each other, like those polymer toys that quintuple in size when placed in water.
I feel larger yet much lighter, floating across the cobblestone alley.
Oh right. This is joy.
Sitting in the Cooya Caribu cafe in Skala Eressos, Lesvos, Greece. Unlike anyplace else on earth I could ever go, this is very much home. Ten feet away from where I’m sitting – sipping a frozen coffee drink and gazing out to the glistening Mediterranean – is my maternal grandmother’s house, where I would spend summers sleeping to the sound of the waves lapping at the shore, and eating incomparably delicious homestyle Greek food. (After she died in ’03, my uncle inherited the house. Sigh.)
But the greatest connection I have the place, in terms of per-capita relatives, is through my father. He grew up here, as the second son of a relatively well-off farmer and sheep herder. His older brother inherited the business, so at the age of 25 he set off for America to study engineering at NYU. Every time I come here I meet a new relative. Five minutes ago I met the one for this trip – my father’s cousin’s wife. As it happens, my father’s cousin is also the godfather of my mother’s brother. Confused? Yeah.
OK, off to meet the gang from New York (Michele, Henry, Lissette, Andy and Scott).