According to Chinese astrology, every 12 years we repeat certain characteristic patterns. This makes sense, as there are a dozen animals in the Chinese zodiac and they take turns ruling each year, influencing it with their personality; you might radically change your life every dozen years under the influence of the restless, impulsive Tiger, say.
I hate to rock the boat of centuries of careful divination, but I think I might just have to develop a Greekaraguan zodiac based on a 10 year cycle. You see, I’ve been having the strangest feeling of déja vu for the past two weeks, ever since we settled in Granada, Nicaragua, where we’ll be living for a few months due to my husband’s work as a coffee trader.
At first I thought that the town, with it’s gingerbread-y churches and brightly-painted homes capped in ceramic roof tiles just looked like other Spanish colonial towns you might envision while reading a Garcia Marquez novel. Then I’d see a guy ride by on horse-driven cart and it would suddenly morph into a Western. “This place looks like a cross between Havana and Walnut Grove,” I told my husband, pleased to be able to put it into words. But it didn’t mean much to him because he isn’t much of a Little House on the Prairie fan. (Shockingly, these people exist. And even more shockingly, I married one!).
Then I realized that Granada doesn’t look like any place I’ve lived, but it feels like a place I called home for several months. Ten years ago I spent ten months living in the small Greek village where my father was born and my grandmother was murdered, overseeing the rebuilding of my grandparents’ house, which had fallen into ruin after the Greek Civil War, and writing my travel memoir, North of Ithaka. Lia is a Greek mountain village with a population of maybe 50 in winter, maybe 350 in summer. It’s above the timber line, lost in the clouds shading the Albanian border.
Granada has a population of over 110,000, and borders Lake Nicaragua. You can see mountains hidden in the cloud cover, but they’re the nearby volcanoes of Masaya and Mombacho.
On the surface, these two places don’t have much in common; one’s in the mountains, one’s on a lake. One’s in Europe, the other in Central America. Greek-speaking, Spanish-speaking. Spanakopita, gallo pinto. I think you get my drift.
And yet…maybe it all feels so familiar because I was warned against living in both places. When I moved to Lia, my aunts warned me that I’d get killed by Albanians and eaten by wolves, and begged me to consider settling in a larger city like Corfu Town or Athens instead. (I met many an Albanian, but they ended up building the house and becoming close friends; and I saw not one wolf, but many a wild boar.)
When we told Emilio’s Nicaraguan relatives in Miami that we planned on staying in relaxed Granada, where I could
easily walk around with the baby, as opposed to in bustling Managua, where his office is located, they warned us that Granada is full of bats and crazy gringos. (I haven’t seen a bat yet–although I used to watch them fly out of the inn’s roof at dusk in Lia every evening and enjoyed it very much. As for the tourists, I told Emilio that he married a crazy gringa, so we should both feel right at home.)
But it’s more than just my insistence on moving to both remote-ish spots under opposition; beneath the surface appearance and the inhabitants (wrinkled Greeks with canes hobbling to the main square versus an entire Nicaraguan family—Mami, Papi, and Bebe—zooming past on one bicycle), Lia and Granada are actually very much alike. First of all, they’re both located in small countries with big dreams.
And second of all, they’re both inhabited by people who expect you to join right in to whatever’s going on at the time. Writing about Lia, I said that life was not for spectators. Everyone was in each other’s business, stopping from house to house, and strolling to the kafenion in the evening to watch the world go by.
In Granada? Same-same. Twice we’ve been walking home from dinner and bumped into distant relatives of Emilio’s who had pulled their wicker rockers out onto the sidewalk to enjoy the breeze and the street theater.
In both places, I close my door when I’m writing and open it to indicate I’m available to receive visitors. In Lia, those visitors were older ladies bearing pites for me to eat, and here it’s the five year old from three doors down sliding by on her scooter, calling for Amalía to come out and play.
In both places entertainment consists of attending church or walking around to take in the scenery. And yet, somehow, you end up with a rocking social life. Last night as we took an evening stroll we bumped into Walter, the horse and carriage driver we hitch rides back to our hotel with; the gallery owner and his wife and eight-month-old son; and the same relatives of Emilio’s we’d seen on the street the night before. It has taken two weeks to feel like I know everyone in town, and to recognize the fact that it’s really not an option to go out with my hair a mess and think no one will notice.
I think that, on a subconscious level, this is what attracted me to both places; that sense of belonging to a community, of living life out in the world, not inside your computer, of establishing a rhythm, going for your walk in the morning, drinking a glass of wine on your porch in the evening.
Greekaraguan astrology is not a perfect science, and it isn’t Groundhog Day; I’ve changed in 10 years, and so has my life. I’m now walking with a toddler who sometimes rebels against her stroller, so there’s a lot more time spent changing diapers and less exploring every corner of my new town. But the fact that my new home reminds me of my old one makes me love each of them a little bit more, and makes me grateful for the way they expanded to hold one–or three–more “locals.”