24 May 2009

on language and post-memory

Last week I had a dream in Greek.

I was showing my mother and grandmother around Jerusalem. This dream stuck with me because I have only dreamt in Greek a few times in my life and I don't know why after less than a week in Jerusalem it still remains so crystal-clear in my mind. I often find myself longing for it again, and the melancholy that goes with it.

I catch myself wishing with every ounce of my being that I was back there sitting in the shade, drinking coffee with Chrysoula on the Mount of Olives, I miss the dust, the light, the heavenly sound of the call to prayer every few hours followed by Christian church bells, walking back from the Jerusalem Hotel so late in the night through deserted labyrinthine streets, the sweet smoke from the narghile clouding up cafes, the marketplaces heaving with people, colours and produce. sigh.

I don't know why I dreamt in Greek. I have always had a longing towards Hellas, after wanting my whole life to visit there with my family; having these memories of a place I had never been to before but understood and felt deeply from my parents' stories growing up. They became in a way my own memories too.
(Gael said it best in 'the motorcycle diaries' as Che; 'how is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?' )

This summer I am going to do my best to avoid being seduced for too long by my crazy chaotic Athens and instead travel to Ioannina, Katerini and Thessaloniki to meet the rest of my family for the first time and finally see where my parents grew up. I also hope to record the story of my grandparents, whom I've met only once when they came to Sydney in 2000. They are living testemonies to the Asia Minor catastrophe in the 1920's and I so desperately want to document their story before it's too late.

I also hope my Greek (and my tan!) will improve. For some reason when it comes to speaking it now I freeze; I stumble and become embarassed and frustrated at my incompetence. Unless it's on the phone with my family in Sydney (where after a few minutes I become fluent and have a level of vocabulary that suprises both me & my father) ..I sound and feel like a complete fool and so uncomfortable speaking the language that, once upon a time when I started pre-school in Sydney, was the only language I could speak. It still remains the language that I turn to in my mind when English just cannot compete for depth, emotion and true expression.

I have been thinking about this for so long now, and it dissapoints me that I allow myself to be so self-conscious about it still. My dad jokes that I always speak amazing Greek when I am angry, and I agree, when I am angry, tipsy or dreaming; it's the fact that I'm in the moment and not thinking about it.   
Anyways, maybe being around my family for a few weeks will force me to speak and speak until it becomes second nature again. 

...maybe my grandfather will also teach me some phrases in Turkish eh?


this said...


chrysi said...

I wish I could articulate something more profound than just saying 'sigh'. It will be an amazing trip. Its strange, nostalgia. There is something about the 'aaalgg' sound when said in greek that makes the feeling palpable. The opening up of my diaphram to say the word. My body jerking forward to spit out the word and its ending nost-aaaalll-GO.

Mia said...

sniffle, thanks Chrysoula mou....that word is on my infinite list of Greek words that create a funny feeling in my stomach, so much deeper than english... xx

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