I’d never been described as low-key until I moved to Greece at age 28. In the U.S., I could be shy or bookish at times, but I always thought of myself as having a mild flair for the dramatic. Once, when my mother tried to stop my whining by saying, “Well, what are you going to do if you don’t get what you want–go outside and eat worms?” I actually went outside and dangled worms over my open mouth. I was 12 or 13, but still, fairly dramatic, right?
But when I moved to Greece, to work on North of Ithaka, people suddenly started commenting on how low-key, I am, except the literal translation would be “low-tone.” And in Greece, it’s true; I was. It’s a country where the nightly news often consists of a four-way split screen of politicians shouting over each other, and I was living in a village where the priest is called upon to kick off the dancing at every festival, events which I’d leave around midnight to go home to bed, where I’d mash pillows over my ears to drown out the wailing clarinet down the block as the senior citizen villagers partied until the wee hours of the morning. So yes, in Greece, I was boring. Or, to put a positive spin on it, “low-tone.”
Then I married my husband, a Nicaraguan coffee trader, and after a couple of years and one baby, we all moved to Granada Nicaragua, where we’ve been living for the past six months while he’s been completing a work project. Here, I’m so low-tone that I’m practically catatonic; when people kiss me hello, I swear they’re checking for a pulse.
Part of it may be a language issue. In high school Spanish classes, I learned that if you like something, you say “me gusta”; “this pleases me.” That’s not incorrect. But in Nicaragua, no one simply likes anything. Instead, everything from babies’ cotton undershirts to Tupperware “enchants” or “fascinates” the beholder. Last week I made our 19-month-old daughter scrambled eggs and she proclaimed, from her high chair, “Eso es divino!”
Now, I like positive reinforcement as much as the next girl (who am I kidding? Praise enchants and fascinates me, but we’re not here to talk about my psychological hangups). But while I make a nice scrambled egg, it would be a little far-fetched to call it divine. Still, I’m pleased our little Greekaraguan is fitting right in to her natural habitat.
Our six months are now up and we’re leave the country the day after tomorrow, which is going to be truly bittersweet. I’m excited to settle back into our apartment in Miami Beach. I’m enchanted at the thought of being reunited with my cell phone so that I can talk and text with my friends again. I’m fascinated by the idea of living somewhere where it may occasionally be cool enough that I’ll want to pull on a jacket.
But there is so much I’m going to miss about living in Granada. Some of it is practical: I love our babysitter here, and I can actually afford to have her come for four hours every afternoon. (On the other hand, our internet here is so slow that I’m hoping my rate of efficiency will remain the same once we move, despite me having less time to work in Miami.)
I think the thing I will miss the most about living in Nicaragua is the sense that I’m a character in some sort of Fellini movie (what role do I play? Crazy foreign lady, naturally.). In Granada, if you look down to the end of our block there’s a volcano looming in the distance. We’re 10 minutes from a lake where monkeys and egrets and maybe even freshwater sharks frolic. And I swear that there are parades featuring visiting poets, Caribbean dancers, and/or statues of saints at an average of two per month.
Miami Beach offers its fair share of the unexpected–it’s not unusual to see Brazilian carnival dancers shaking their bon-bons on the corner, or the street performer Ghost Elvis strumming his guitar. But it doesn’t have quite the same small town vibe as Granada. Here, if I venture outside without Amalia, the people sitting on their stoops (and they are always there–I think they have to clock a certain numbers of hours a day) have loud conversations about who might be watching the baby.
I think I may have somatized my anxiety about leaving, because I currently have a raging head cold that’s making me as physically uncomfortable as I am emotionally wrought up. But despite the hot flashes and brain fog, part of me wants to buckle Amalia into her stroller tomorrow and go around town bidding everyone farewel–the redheaded sisters who run the dress shop where we buy handsmocked dresses at $12 a pop (my mother-in-law pointed out that all of Granada’s shopkeepers are going to miss me because I never bargain); the banana seller who gives me a running commentary as to how close Amalia is to napping; the horse and carriage drivers; the waitress at Café Sonrisa, which is run entirely by deaf staffers, who kisses Amalia hello each time she sees her.
But I think it will make me too sad. And I know we’ll be back to visit, soon and often. So maybe we’ll execute what a friend of mine used to call “the French goodbye,” where you just slip out, unannounced, leaving with the memories of the lovely time you all spent together, instead of the sadness of parting.
It doesn’t make for a very dramatic or satisfying ending. But, what can I say? I’m low-tone.