(You may want to read part 1 of our trip to Greece.)
After a nice stay in Athens we took the train to Katerini (Κατερίνη) in the north. The train ride was uneventful and, apparently, unmemorable. Our arrival was not, as a large group of our relatives were there to greet us at the train station including my uncle Dagi who had driven down from Thessaloniki. It was quite emotional, actually, especially for my mother who cried quite a bit. We’d prepared the kids for the hugging and kissing and cheek pinching and they weren’t disappointed.
Katerini is a relatively small town of about 55,000 people and is only a few kilometers from the sea, which makes it a popular destination in the summer months. We were there in April and on our only visit to the beach it was completely deserted. One of these days I’m going to go to Greece during summer and lie around on the beach…
My heritage is Greek. Half-Greek, actually, on my mother’s side. And I don’t speak more that a few basic words in Greek. So I’m not a “real” Greek, I know. But my maternal grandparents were the only ones I knew, they lived nearby and I was quite close to them both. Their first language was Greek (they also spoke some Turkish) and they were never perfectly fluent in English. In fact, in a roundabout way, the fact that I never learned Greek as a kid is a reason we’re in France this year. That was a reason I thought it important to send the kids to a bilingual school. And since that school is French/English, France was an obvious choice for Shannon’s sabbatical.
I’d been to Greece twice before, the last time was in 1989, a year before Shannon and I got married and the same year my yia yia died. So after such a long time it seemed almost required to make a trip to Greece given that Paris is only a short flight away. Shannon went with me in 1989 and she, too, was eager to reacquaint herself with Greece and, as you’ll see if you continue reading, my family there. And, so, off we went for Le Vacances de Pâque in April.
My family lives in the northern region called Macedonia. This is now also the name of a country that was formed after the dissolution of Yugoslavia (and also the name of a town adjacent to where I grew up) . The Greeks put up a bit of a fuss at the time about the use of the name, but I don’t think it rankles them much at this point. Not that the Greeks have short memories–remember, it’s still Constantinople, 550+ years after the invading Ottoman Empire renamed it Istanbul.
Before heading north we stopped for a few days in Athens where Shannon had never been and I hadn’t been since I was a kid, just a few years older than Jack. And, even better, my Mom was able to come with us! My Mom has rare occasion in the US to speak Greek so she’s a bit rusty. And she tried a few times with Greek restaurant proprietors in Paris (yes, they’re everywhere) and stumbled a bit. There must of been something about hitting the homeland, though, because her Greek was incredible while we were there. Not just tourist Greek, which we need in Athens, but talks with the relatives and even cracking some jokes around the dinner table. But first….
The French vacation schedule continued in what, to an American sensibility, feels decadent and even a little overwhelming. But since we are in the midst of such an unusual year, we were grateful for another two weeks to coordinate some adventures in other parts of France.
CHADENAC: Our February vacation started with a trip to the little country town of Chadenac about an hour outside of Bordeaux. There, our friends Sharon and Christophe from Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley have bought a farm and are in the process of crafting a new rural life in France. There kids, Walter and Margot, attend local schools in the area but had plenty of time to play with Jack and Daphne, too. While they were in school, Sharon, took us to a wonderful Neanderthal museum whose interactive exhibits—javelin throwing, digitally rendering the children into Neanderthal tykes, and more—were incredibly fun for all. Sharon and Christophe were amazing hosts at home and in giving us tours of both farmland and other medieval towns in their area. We were so impressed by how much they have changed the rhythms of their life; Sharon can talk with local neighbors about what they will be planting next, and Christophe works with his neighbor on the upkeep of their party, pruning and harvesting himself as well. Continue reading
In January, Marianne Weems visited us in Paris so that she and Shannon could work on a book they are writing together on Marianne’s theater company, The Builders Association. Then the whole family went with Marianne to Liège, Belgium so that we could see their latest show, Continuous City, in Liège’s international performance festival. The show was fabulous, spectacular and poignant–very well-received by Liège audiences and Jack and Daphne who sat in the first row. While there for the weekend, we had a fun time with the Builders’ cast, especially Moe (also a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers) who played intensely with Jack and his Gormiti. The kids also enjoyed getting to know the Tchantchès, an historic trickster figure who has a variety of madcap experiences helping Charlemagne and drinking excessively. The Wallon Museum in Liège offered a vivid presentation of this Francophone political movement within Belgium; we actually had no idea how little we knew about Belgium’s internal politics. Jack and Daphne each got to a buy a new stuffy/doo-doo in Liège. Jack decided to name his new little stuffed monkey “Moe.”
Daphné et Josephine
Daphne’s 6th birthday was February 7, and we had quite a super-fun time. She decided she wanted a “Hello Kitty” theme and chose all of your decorations and party favors accordingly. Monsieur Pinaud of our local boulangerie made a super huge gateau chocolat–with praliné, meringue, mousse au chocolat, and a bunch of other yummy things layered throughout. He also took great care in fabricating a perfect Hello Kitty figure from “pate amandes;” Daphne spared no time in eating the entire little sculpture. A dozen children from Montessori Kids came over, including several older girls from Jack’s class who have been very kind to Daphne from the beginning. Michael trotted out his traveling magic show, which never feels to impress (even Shannon who has seen it repeatedly). Daphne received many wonderful presents from her friends along with lots of hugs and kisses.
Hello Kitty Cake
More pictures from Daphné’s birthday on Flickr.
Marianne Weems, artistic director of The Builders Association, just spent a couple of days with us. She’s working on a project with Shannon and it was great to have her. I (Michael) unexpectedly got to visit with her because my trip to Amsterdam was canceled when my computer bag, containing computer & passport, was stolen. More on her visit in another blog post, but I can’t resist sharing the following text message exchange between the two of us.
Grammy-O and Papa John (Michael’s parents, Olga and John) visited us in October. Olga arrived on the Sunday just before Michael headed off to the states for a Sakai conference at Virginia Tech. She stayed with us and Shannon really welcomed the help–something Grammy-O is well known for doing in Berkeley. In any case, we asked Olga to write something up for the blog (be warned, if you visit us you’ll be expected to write!). The rest of this is from Grammy-O: