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Columns


Sunday 1 January 2017

 One day in 2000 I was in Athens, Greece, watching a very young, lovely-looking couple on CNN International. The tv was on mute and all I could read was the caption “Dem Junior Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama”. They were both stunningly young, radiantly connected to each other, emanating a quality of emotion and intellect that spoke to another dimension. I was stunned—after years of being a political journalist, of coming to know politicians intimately, cynicism was a reflex—this couple looked like real people. Really in love. Really wanting to change the world. And they survived a senatorial campaign and made it through, idealism intact? This was nothing short of a miracle. I amped up the TV’s volume, and listened to the junior senator’s interview. It was an epiphany. After that I knew: if this man ever managed to become President of the US, he could change America, and the world. 

Days turned into months, then years, as they are prone to when you are still young enough to feel limitless.

The world changed. My homeland, Greece, went into devolution. 

At an age of settling-down and having babies, I abandoned all I knew and with astonishing equanimity and poise borne of ignorance and naivete, came to New York, telling myself and everyone else, the timeless immigrant tale: it’s just for a bit; I’ll be back. 

As I fell deeper and deeper in love with America, my need to stay here and become part of it, grew and intensified. I thought of only this as I worked, walked endlessly through the night, wrote, cooked. I was entirely alone and the silence in me and around me allowed me to slowly understand of that living breathing creature that I came to know as my America: not so much a mosaic or tapestry like they call it, but a living breathing unity of so many different and multiple parts, even if sometimes jarring with one another. And you could either love and relinquish yourself to it, not so much a reduction, as an addition and evolution, like turning into a butterfly...or hate it—like ISIS does, like isolated haters like the Tsarnaevs or Dylan Roof do, because they cannot understand, let alone love, what they cannot contaminate.

As my love affair with America evolved and deepened, so did my knowledge of it. Every night I spent countless hours poring over books and sites chronicling its history, literature, zeitgeists. Its victories, problems, dreams. Yet as much as I loved it, it still felt wondrously foreign to me. I realised that assimilation is not an exclusively cerebral and pragmatic process. 

So I tried to feel like an American. For a long time I didn’t “get it”. One day, I read a piece in the NYTimes about the parents of the 250 students and 11 teachers who died in the Sewol Ferry disaster. “‘Acceptance’ and ‘healing’ are not in our vocabulary” one parent said” trying to explain why they could not “move on” from the tragedy. That’s when I realised what my problem was. I had been lost in translation. The vocabulary of American emotion and thought hinges on movement, evolution. Whereas I come from Greece, a place where the quality and intensity of light is so blinding that if you are not careful, common sense can become subsumed in a haze of shallowness that only an ancient people are capable of. Words are just words. They do not need to conjure worlds; the worlds of Homer, Pythagoras, Dionysos, Sophocles, Plato, Thucydides are so effortlessly and powerfully alive in Greece, they stifle any other words, turning them into wordiness.

Things are different here in the US. Style is substance. Intelligence honed by velocity can generate genius yet lack heft. Emotions can be intense but transient.

“GIVE ME A CHIA SMOOTHIE!” becomes a matter of life and death—and not just for the characters Lena Dunham portrays. Even dogs here become unsettlingly intense when parted even for moments from their “companions”. Two days ago a tall, WASP-y man, in his late thirties, with a nervous tic in his right...



 

My beloved terrorist
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 2001
Pages: 403
Hellenists: Greece does not wound them
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 1999
Pages: 314
 
 

 

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