Oregano and olive trees
I’ve been re-reading Tessa Kiros’ cookbook Falling Cloudberries this past week (yes, I read cookbooks like novels, front to end…) and I’ve been struck over and over by the lovely way she strings together words, then phrases, then sentences, finally paragraphs. Elegantly, sparsely, evocatively.
Kiros is half Greek-Cypriot, so her recipes and prose are steeped in nostalgia for my second homeland – of oregano and oranges and olive trees … In particular, a passage about my beloved Greece sticks out, I’ve all but committed it to memory:
I love the orange trees lining winter Athenian avenues. And the people who open their doors and their hearts to you. I love the Greek markets with baskets of gorgeous red just-flowered pistachios, piles of figs and very wild hilltop greens sitting next to indifferent mountains of underwear. Everywhere, amongst the pervasive smell of fresh oregano, there is an atmosphere of people doing their own thing, each stepping in tune to their own internal guide. Greece is magnetic, they say. Once you have stepped on Greek ground it’s hard to shake yourself free. Myth has it that it’s because your feet become stuck in the rich honey coating this country. It’s the only place where people have always wished me a good week, month, day, summer, winter, life, work… and a birthday wish to grow old with white hair.
Kiros, Falling Cloudberries (73)
I think all children of immigrants have a certain attachment to their adopted homeland. Indeed, I call myself an Athenian at heart, carry a near-innate nationalistic pride for my roots, my father’s roots. I spent much of my academic life thinking about nationalism, so it comes as no surprise on an intellectual level that I hold such deep-seated attachments.
And yet, it’s still puzzling, that as a child of a child of Greece, I call the country i patrida mas (my homeland) with fierce pride and that 25 Martiou means anything to me at all. It comes as a surprise that my heart can be so heavy for my vacation home, that I am able to smell the thyme and salt-water midnight air waiting for the ferry – that I conjure up the welcome death-dry Athenian heat in my bones.
I sit here gathering the collective stories of goats and mountain-tops with old stone mills and wild greens gathered roadside and beachside caves … recipes for a life well-lived under Cycladic sun. There are so many vignettes floating in my mind, that speak to the certainty of Greece’s glorious magnetic soil, so much to share.