Suddenly, Last Summer

After my parents moved our family back to the US from Greece, where we lived for five years, we returned most summers. I know there were mishaps—my sister, Marina, sat on a jellyfish and went temporarily blind from taking anti-seasickness medication, while I got mortally offended when well-meaning, but ill-advised, relatives would comment on my weight, height and changing body. But overall I remember those summers as a golden time, singing camp songs in the car with Marina, making up our own lyrics, and discovering an infinite number of colors the ocean can be.

Working for a travel guide in college, and studying Modern Greek Folklore as my college major, I basically rigged my life so that I could spend part of every summer since I was 14 in Greece, with one exception: the year I gave birth to Amalia on August 26. Now that I have kids of my own running naked on the (so far, jellyfish-free) beach, I consider it a privilege, and, to be honest, a headache, to bring them to Greece every summer. There was the time I blew out the wiring in a 15th-century apartment building on Corfu with my breast pump, the year Amalia burst into tears at the site of a larger-than-life Dora the Explorer balloon, and, last summer, the year the kids gave my seventysomething mom hand, foot, and mouth disease and all her fingernails fell out. Good times.

But I still think of our times in Greece almost daily, and I remember them, traumatic moments notwithstanding, in the same golden haze as my own childhood summers. As we prepare to fly off tomorrow, (may the Force be with us), I want to reprint this little essay that appeared, in Greek, in the Athens Voice last month. For the Greek version, click on this link. For the English, just read on about last summer on Milos:

“Next time, we’re leaving the kids at home,” my husband, Emilio, said at virtually every cove on Milos. We didn’t hit all 70 of the island’s beaches, but we managed to swim off of more than our fair share in the week we spent there last year. I was researching a story for a travel magazine, and had chosen the island in part because of the stunning photos I’d seen of the coastline—the lunar-like landscape of Sarakiniko beach, the freestanding sea cliffs and caves of Kleftiko, and the sandy shores of Fyriplaka. But since the research on Milos was part of our annual trip to Greece from our home in New York, I had not only my adventurous husband, but also our obstreperous toddlers—aged four and one and a half—in tow.

We love our kids, and we love traveling with them. But once we arrived on Milos, Emilio suddenly had visions of swimming from one beach to another all day long, eating when we saw a seaside taverna we liked. And I would have so enjoyed the one-hour hike from the Roman amphitheater below Trypiti down to the waterfront village of Klima, if only we hadn’t had a stroller with us. If it had just been the two of us, maybe we would have rented one of the syrmata on AirBnB, the whitewashed buildings with brightly colored wooden doors on the ground floor and an apartment on top, so that fishermen could dock their boats below and rest easy above. When you have a son eager to practice his newfound walking skills, the idea of a ground floor leading straight into the ocean loses some of its charm.

Everywhere we swam on Milos we saw fit young couples swimming, diving, snorkeling. They would smile at our fat baby boy being pulled around on a raft by his bossy big sister, and I knew what they were thinking “Someday, that will be us.” In the meantime, we were thinking, “Enjoy the moment! Shimmy down the rope ladder to Tsigrado beach! Brave the current at Papafrango! Take risks now, when you have no responsibility. Or at least enjoy having dinner on the water without having to run after a rogue kid.”

But something changed by the end of the week, a feeling that grew stronger after we left, each time I thought back on our trip. Sarakiniko stopped being an otherworldy natural phenomenon, and started being the place where Nico, our son, splashed naked in the sea. The village of Mandrakia was where Amalia dared herself to walk up to the octopuses drying in the sun outside Medousa restaurant. And the cave at Fyriplaka was where we swam in to take selfies, risking our Iphones in search of a Christmas card photo. I realized that Milos isn’t just an ideal island for when you’re young, bikini-ready, and thrill-seeking. It’s simply an ideal island. Maybe one day we’ll come back to Milos without the kids. But for now, I’m awfully glad they got to see such an incredible sight, and that we got to see it with them.

Comments

  1. Thea Kazianis says:

    I’m a yiayia now with 3 grandchildren the oldest being 3 and the other 2 16 months! They are not twins but first cousins!! Can’t wait to bring them to Greece to see their Pappou’s village, Schimatari and their great-grandparents’ islands Skiathos and Myteleni! Thank you Eleni for sharing your beautiful stories.

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