(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.”
Morzine Ski Slopes
We spent the week of New Year’s in Morzine, a small village and ski resort in the French Alps south of Geneva. After a train ride, we arrived at a small family hotel called l’Hermine Blanche which provided breakfast and dinner for all. This was the first time either of our kids had ever put on skis, and we wondered how we would do. Michael in particular has been resisting the idea of becoming a ski family (not without reason, given the expense, the schlep, and the cold). Our Berkeley babies reveled in their first encounters with the snow, wanting to skip dinner in order to play in it. Gradually, reality began to set in, especially for Daphne who began to ruffle under the constraints of her winter gear: “My socks are uncomfortable.” “Something is wrinkled inside my sleeve.” “My boot buckles are too tight.” “There’s cold air under my mittens.” As I velcroed, latched, and zipped, I wondered how she was going to do when snow got inside her turtle neck or when her breathe froze the front of her scarf and all of the other little discomforts I remember feeling when I grew up in Minnesota. I started having her practice saying to herself, “Hmm, this is a little uncomfortable, but …I’m OK. This feels a little different to me, but…I’m just fine anyway”–a little behaviorist parenting. Continue reading
Flickr has a nice (new?) feature that lets you place your photos on a map. I’ve just started so there are only a few entries, but check it out.
We went to Italy (Italie) for the second half of Toussaints (all saints) break, which is in early November (yes, I know it is late December now). Shannon’s mom, Jackie, arranged the trip in part because her father grew up in Sestri Levante which is on the Italian Riviera, south of Genoa and just north of the famous cliff towns known as Cinque Terre. She rented a couple of units in a villa on the edge of the Sestri. The villa and especially the grounds were beautiful and the kids really enjoyed running around.
Sestri Levante is a lovely small town right on the ocean that is quite a hot spot during the summer. It is pretty empty in November and we enjoyed the lack of crowds, although several restaurants were actually closed for the month of November. The cool thing about Sestri is that it is a thin peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean, so thin, in fact, that at one point it is less than a minute walk between the two bays that surround it–Baia delle Favole, (Bay of the Fables), and Baia del Silenzio, the (Bay of Silence). The former is very large and named after Hans Christian Andersen, which made a nice connection to our earlier trip to Copenhagen. The latter is small, with a narrow beach full of fishing boats. It is exceptionally charming.