“It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am, and this question of moving is one that I am eternally discussing with my soul.” – Baudelaire, Paris Spleen
He stood behind the pulpit and read a passage from the Bible in Greek. He said it was the kind of Greek used in Orthodox churches. As I listened, I saw white stucco walls on brown, breezy hilltops. I saw olive trees, a turquoise sea and the glare of an unrelenting sun. I saw short, dark-haired men with five o’clock shadow sitting on old patio furniture drinking ouzo.
I yearned to be on a Greek island, and it surprised me. I have never been interested in Greece or anything Mediterranean. In my American life, long ago, I had yearned for continental Europe, the place where I was living now. For years I have woken to hear my children speak Dutch, to watch them shower chocolate sprinkles onto breakfast bread, to step outside and onto bikes. For years I have cycled after them to buy groceries at a store where I make small-talk with cashiers in a language I did not grow up speaking. For years I have learned to live without cheap sushi, air conditioning or Target. This is the life I imagined, a day-to-day reality in a place where I am not from. This was the life to which I had once been unaccustomed.
Sitting there, surprised by my Greek longing, I realized that I had let my European dream, perpetually foreign, become the status quo. I realized I had forgotten there were more “foreign” places beyond my own. The radius of my life had shrunk again, spanned between the immediacy of the diaper needing to be changed and the booked vacation that couldn’t come soon enough – in a small cabin in the north – only three hours away by car.
What had happened? Had I turned European? Europeans spent vacations en masse on Greek islands. Gran Canaria, which I had seen six years ago, felt old hat. Some days even Africa and its buses full of lightly clad, blond tourists and their grandchildren began to beckon.
But maybe it was a lot simpler. Maybe I was a well-travelled and slightly weary mother nearing middle-age. Maybe my dreams were seeking respite from a routine built around my young progeny, debts and other people’s vacation schedules. Whatever the catalyst, the Greek reading revealed that my dreams had changed, because I had changed.
My fernweh, thankfully, hadn’t.
* fernweh: German, meaning the “longing to be somewhere else, far away”
For Howie, a fellow pilgrim
© 2014 Anastasia Hacopian