Home from Home

Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave but not our hearts. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Last June, my husband surprised us with a bargain holiday to the part of Greece where I used to live and work. We still have friends and godfamily there, and this is one of our favourite restaurants, a place that always whispers Welcome home… whenever I arrive.

I love listening to the waves lapping – sometimes crashing – against the rocks below. When my son was a wee boy, one of the waiters showed him how to scatter breadcrumbs to attract shoals of fish and catch them with a simple line.

That same evening, he carried my son’s only ‘catch’ out to us on a platter, fried, garnished and served with salad; it made a wee boy beam with pride.

From baby food to beer, crayoning books to iPhones, those rickety wooden tables have seen our lives unfold…

We ate there with close friends last summer, and our tall, handsome sons, once babies sleeping in pushchairs, were drinking beer, talking politics and swapping tales of university. As the sun set coral pink and mauve and a warm breeze stirred, I sat for a moment, smiling, just taking it all in, the memories ebbing and flowing like the waves below.

The restaurant has changed over the years, but the view stays the same, wrapping thirty two years of friendship, love and family in its eternal embrace.

Do you have a special place that always makes you feel like you’ve come home, no matter how long you’ve been away?

*I finally managed to retrieve and upload photos from the holiday, so, as promised last year, I’ll post a few this week. Better late than never!

Alfonsina y El Mar

(This is a post from August 2nd, 2009. It caught me unawares when I re-read it today; moved me as much today as it did back then. If you’re new here, please take a moment, lean in, breathe – this is how you’ll get to know me. I’ve left the old comments attached so you’ll know why letting go is so hard for me. I’m not great at Twitter and I’m not sure about Facebook. I love writing, unashamedly lyrical writing. That’s who I am. Who was I kidding… Spring cleaning? Blog gardening? Clearing out this blog feels like having to board up a part of my heart with the folk still in it. ~ Janice)

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley”

It’s sunny, but the lace curtains are billowing in a breeze as I write. I can hear the thudding of my son’s football in the street and the droning of planes criss-crossing the sky above the house.

My eighty-four-year-old dad has just freshened up in the family bathroom – deodorant sprayed too generously into his slippers has just reached me and lingers oppressively – and my daughter is strumming a guitar and singing at the other end of the house.

My husband’s listening to cricket on the radio in the garage, fixing or building something.

I could write about a million blessings, but right now there are gentle waves of melancholy lapping at my feet. Wondering whether to walk away or sit with it, I realise nothing I write will erase the haunting ache I have to be in a seafront café with a friend of mine, someone I studied with in Athens one August, a lifetime ago.

A poet, translator, dancer and singer, he embraced his dips into melancholy and despair when they descended, embracing the humanity of his pain and fear so that he could express them creatively and meet them with compassion in others.

Just as I never sought sadness, he never chided me when I yearned for days long gone, when ghosts shrouded my heart from the Athenian sun and let no warmth in. He simply smiled and took my hand, started singing in Spanish, knowing that my voice could never resist his.

One of our favourite songs – one that always reminded us of how we’d clung on to life when we’d loved and lost more often than young hearts should – was Alfonsina y el Mar.

It’s the haunting tale of the poet Alfonsina Storni’s walk into the sea on an Argentinian beach. Whenever I hear it, I remember the day my friend translated it for me, from Spanish into Greek. I left his ghost behind in Athens, too.

You and I read so many positive posts online, tales of triumph and epiphany, fables of hope, wisdom and family love but for me to refuse to write about death would be to renounce some of the people I’ve loved most.

AIDS followed my friend like a spectre, before his final silence. This song is one of the many that keeps his voice alive.

Before she died, Alfonsina sent her final poem Voy a dormir, (I’m going to sleep), to a newspaper. Her story inspired Ariel Ramírez and Félix Luna to write Alfonsina y el mar.  Years later, this version, my favourite, sung here by Mercedes Sosa, inspired someone to create a video for You Tube. It’s not what I envisage when I hear it, but inspiration has no borders. As writers, we can’t afford to neglect the power of the lyrics that haunt us.

Spanish isn’t one of my languages, but this is the best translation I can do without murdering the beauty of the original.

Alfonsina and the Sea…

On the soft sand lapped by the sea
her small footprint will never be seen again

and a lonely footpath of pain and silence reached the deep water
a lonely path of pure pain reached the surf

God knows what anguish accompanied you
What ancient sadness silenced your voice
So you lay down, lulled by the song
of the sea shells
The song sung by the conch on the dark sea bed

You go, Alfonsina, with your solitude
What new poems did you go searching for?

…and an ancient voice of wind and salt
shatters your soul
courts and calls out to it
and you walk there, as if in a dream,
Alfonsina, asleep, sea-clad.

Five tiny mermaids will lead you
through paths of seaweed and coral,
and sea horses, glowing in the dark, will sing
a rondo at your side.
And the creatures of the sea
will soon swim beside you.

Turn down the lamp a little bit more, nurse,
let me sleep in peace
and if he calls, don’t tell him that I’m here
tell him Alfonsina’s not coming back
and if he calls, don’t ever tell him that I’m here,
say that I’ve gone away.

You go, Alfonsina, with your solitude
What new poems did you go searching for?

…and an ancient voice of wind and salt
shatters your soul
courts and calls out to it
and so you walk there, as if in a dream,
Alfonsina, asleep, sea-clad.

Easter Gratitude

easter bouquet 2

It’s a glorious day here. Daffodils and hyacinths, tulips and primroses and all around the sound of birdsong and the smell of freshly mown lawns and newly dug soil. This bouquet was an impulse buy, a heartwarmer to celebrate spring and the coming of Easter. I’m constantly trying to cut down on caffeine and wine, so flowers have always been my replacement drug of choice. When I can, I fill the house with them. Oh how I wish you could stick your face in these and smell the jonquils; they’re so heady it’s like drinking in  fragrance and they make you raise your shoulders with breathing them in then you sigh out pure bliss…

I love when Greek Orthodox Easter and western Easter fall on the same day, as they do this year. It means that my kids’ candles and presents, sent by godparents in Greece, arrive at the same time as their chocolate Easter eggs from grandparents here. We normally have to have two celebrations.

0904100002We have a feast on Easter day, with red  boiled eggs, traditionally dyed and decorated on the Thursday before Easter, and all kinds of salads and a roast. I miss being in Greece on the Friday before Easter as that’s when church bells toll mournfully, the whole day long, on every island and in every village, town and city. I also miss being part of Anástasi  – the Resurrection – on the Saturday night.

At midnight, the first few candles in each church are lit from the holy flame then one worshipper ignites a neighbour’s candle with love and chanted blessings – Christ is risen, truly risen – until everyone’s taper is lit. Happy crowds carrying  flickering candles walk home from church, like riversrust seaside candle of light winding through the darkness while fireworks explode into dazzling bouquets above their heads in a vast black velvet sky.  It’s good luck if you manage to keep a candle lit all the way home then mark the sign of the cross with smoke on the lintel above the front door as a blessing to last the whole year.

pink seaside Easter candleThese are photos from a few years ago; my kids’ godmothers – who live in different seaside towns and have no contact with each other – both sent them beautiful seaside themed candles that matched their rooms.

I’d like to leave you today with one of my favourite poems in the whole world, ee cummings’ i thank you God…

As I said the first time I posted this poem, “I love the way ee cummings’s mind moves. I love the way he makes me explore the possibilities of my own language, searching for meanings in what’s not there and the why and the where of what is there. I love his delight in words, letters, syntax, symbols and sound and the way he expresses life and love.”

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)



Thank you for visiting, and if you’re a long time reader, for your patience; you’ll have noticed this was a Frankenstein-ed patchwork post. I’m longing to redesign the whole blog and keep only a bouquet of the best bits, but blog-gardening’s hard work; pruning, weeding and taking cuttings and seeds from old posts involves a lot of letting go. I made some wonderful memories and friends here in my wee blogging home, so it’s not been easy. Then there are all the new technical skills I’ve had to absorb. Fun, but a bit like back breaking digging in tough terrain!