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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Another farewell

Talking of farewells, Thia Marika passed away last Sunday 18 April. She was 92 years old and passed away peacefully at home, without having been ill, so I suppose one should be grateful for this. May God rest her soul and lead her to eternal bliss.

My mother only let me know this morning. I know that I should be thankful for her long life and its peaceful end, I am nevertheless sad at her loss. My mother doesn’t have any sisters, so her aunts, aunt Marika and aunt Varvara, who passed away three years ago, have always been like my maternal aunts. My sister Eleni and I grew up with them and this Marika’s daughter Irini: they used to visit us every Saturday evening and we learned a lot from their conversations.

Thia Marika had been especially kind to me in recent years. When we began to visit Kassos again with Hossein and the children, she kindly let us stay in her house, which is only a five-minute walk from my mother’s house that could not accommodate us all. In my and the children’s minds, thia Marika’s name will always be linked with the four summers of their childhood we spent in Kassos. May God repay her kindness.

Looking through my bits and pieces of writing, I dug out this piece which I wrote in 2002, describing her house.

Through the kindness of my mother’s aunt, I was allowed the use of her house throughout my stay in Kassos. The house is in some need of repair: doorhandles, hinges and bolts are rusted in the humid air and after long years of neglect, paint is peeling off doors and windows. The putty holding the window panes in place has flaked off, making the windows rattle menacingly at the smallest gust of air. The only cooking facility is a three-stove table top gas cooker connected to a gas cylinder. When not in use, the neighbour Bebis tells me it is advisable to secure the valve at the top of the cylinder.

Despite the lack of comforts, the house commands a superb view. Perched on a high spot just off the dry river bed of the river Skyllas, it faces west. Its front gate made of wood and featuring elegant wooden railing is painted in royal blue. This is now flaking in places, revealing its previous history: turquoise, cinnamon brown, pistachio green. Two raised flower beds run along the sides of the small yard, left and right. On the right, an old grapevine, its trunk old, gnarled and peeling has heaved itself up supported by three intersecting metal tubes forming a roughly shaped pergola. Its leaves are moth-eaten and unkempt, revealing some irregular, diseased bunches of grapes. On the left, a two-trunk lemon tree raises its limbs in a gesture of silent despair and rises to meet the vine over the middle of the yard, its skin dark grey, smooth and clear. The old companions’ permanent embrace casts a welcome shade on the faded, Victorian tiles of the yard.

Looking over to the north, one can see Fry, the port and the town, arranged eyebrow shape along the smooth coast. Moving westwards, my eyes greet the cemetery and the white form of Ai-Yiannis church fenced in by a white wall on a gently rising slope that leads on to the village of Ayia Marina. Then I follow the undulating rise like the profile of a sleeping giant, that reaches Profitis Elias, the minute church on top of the mountain.
I am elated to be here. This house is steeped in family history: my great-great grandmother Sofilla spent the last years of her life in this house when the Italian commandant requisitioned her own house and the olive grove next to it for his headquarters. She died in the room where I will sleep. Old photos on the wall signal some details of her life. A photograph of her daughter Barbara, who emigrated newly wed to America never to return; a fifties wedding photograph of Barbara’s daughter Sofia from America, with six maids of honour; a convent school photo of the 1920s of seven year old aunt Marika, in pinafore and hair in a short bob parted on the side.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Back Home

The conclusion of the New Year feast (Nowruz) comes to an end on the thirteenth day of the new year (sizdeh be dar), wehn Iranians go on a picnic and cast away the sprouted wheat (sabzeh) in running water, casting away the evil along with the sabzeh. On the following day, life goes back to normal again.

This year sizdeh be dar fell on Good Friday, which was lucky for Iranians living outside Iran, like our friends in London, who insisted that we postpone our departure so that we could join them on their picnic. However, schools in Iran reopened last Saturday (and I doubt that any picnic took place in rainy London), so we left as planned on Thursday evening and arrived in Tehran on Friday 2 April at 2.30 am.

Being back in London initially felt strange, but after a day I felt as if I hadn't been away at all. To me this is a familiar sensation: I experience it every time I return to Athens, where I grew up; to Kassos, where my parents were born and where I spent my childhood summers; to London, where I spent most of my adult, married life, and now to Tehran, where home now is.

As we boarded the cab for Heathrow , under the pathetic fallacy of hail, I remembered Aqa jun, Hossein's father, and the last glimpse I had of himin this life. He was in the cab then leaving for Heathrow, and I stood in the doorway waving goodbye. He spent two months with us in the spring of 2006, and exactly a year later he passed away.

What is life, except a series of hellos and goodbyes.