Three airplanes, two buses, one rental car, and forty-ish hours of travel have taken me from the cradle of civilization to the cradle of… zika. And oranges. And American culture, for better or for worse.
Yes, I’m back in Florida — and yes, it’s a bit earlier than expected.
Despite making brave faces, my folks had not been thrilled that I was going to miss Thanksgiving; it would have been the first one we’d ever spent apart. They even drove to Gainesville that one year when I was like twenty-one and couldn’t get the shift off at my shitty movie theater job. My mom arrived before any of us were up to start making dinner, letting herself in with the spare key, and I woke up next to my first real boyfriend (in an apartment that’d seen some pretty wild college-age goings-on) to the domestic, childhoody scent of the morning makings of a holiday roast.
It was a good juxtaposition.
My last week in Athens was lovely. In fact, it might have been the best one, bringing with it a whole host of amazing new people, an accidental wine tasting with one of the top producers in the country, the discovery of my favorite (family-run, down-home, iffy-serviced) restaurant which I returned to thrice for octopus (I suck, I know) and sea bass and half-kilogram plates of incredible lamb chops swimming in olive oil and oregano. It was actually inside the open air meat and fish market, and when you place your order, they go and buy your cut fresh off the animal.
I also tried this amazing dish I forget the name of but it was basically ham steaks boiled in red wine and oranges and holy god.
I met a 23-year-old Israeli who fondly remembers Obama’s victory speech — which, math/hey-you’re-older-than-you-thought alert, he was only 14 for. I doubt many Americans of his age gave enough fucks then to recall today. I answered, laughingly, questions that began with so, as an American, and I hung out with people who aren’t just trilingual but whose three languages don’t any of them share the same alphabet. Eleni sat with me for an hour before my bus to the airport and rolled a careful little cigarette and encouraged me to take the “no-fare” train — i.e., pass surreptitiously through the turnstiles, which don’t really work anyway. She cried when she left me at the top of the metro escalator. I would miss her birthday party, but we made plans to take a U.S. road trip together because she’s only ever been to Manhattan, which was “too elegant,” and she wants to see some “cheesy American stuff” — one request a Floridian can certainly honor.
But the rain wouldn’t stop and the days were so short and I knew an ocean away my little city was decking itself out in glimmer. It was time to go home.
It was hard (and expensive) to commit to the decision to leave, and it was a very rough couple of days of travel; I’d originally planned on picking my way west gradually, spending a week or so in Rome and then a few days in Lisbon so as to avoid a three-legged, thirty-hour flight path. I was lucky enough to find an Emirates route direct to Newark out of Athens, and even got myself a room there to overnight in, but I still ended up sleeping only about four of the forty it took to get from door to door. Last night was the first one on which I didn’t pass out at 8:30 p.m. due to jet lag, and only because I was at a concert.
But I know I made the right choice. No one knew I was coming, and I’d had to carefully affect the time change in my text messages. Although I (just) missed walking in on dinner, it still worked: when my mother saw me, she was instant waterworks; she reached out to touch me as if to make sure I was real. It was the prodigal Thanksgiving, and her reaction was everything I’d imagined it to be — and good thing, too, since such imagining was the only thing that powered me through all that travel. The house was already decked out in Christmas trimmings and filled with the smell of it, and the feeling of it: home, this thing I’ve been unsure I even want but have nevertheless found for myself.
My mother helped me make my bed, asking whether I stuff my pillowcases with the zippers on the inside or outside. I went out and walked through the lowland swamp of it, so down and damp the trails had become rivers to wade. Friends turned around my original plans to attend that concert solo — Lindsey Stirling, by the way, and she was awesome — and gathered me in huge welcome-home hugs and we shared food and drinks and the 60-degree air Florida calls its winter.
I’ve found a place that wrecks my heart with how much I love to be in it, and I’ve found people who make it a home to come home to.
But then, my heart is everywhere now, because that’s travel: creating a network of people and places and experiences to be homesick for.