BY ARMEN BACON
Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, once wrote, “All my life one of my greatest desires has been to travel – to see and touch unknown countries, to swim in unknown seas, to circle the globe, observing new lands, seas, people, and ideas with insatiable appetite, to see everything for the first time and for the last time, casting a slow, prolonged glance, then to close my eyes and feel the riches deposit themselves inside me calmly or stormily according to their pleasure, until time passes them at last through its fine sieve, straining the quintessence out of all the joys and sorrows.”
And so begins this story. Forty Easters ago, I woke up on foreign soil with a blurred vision that scared the daylights out of me. I was twenty years old at the time, a young woman studying abroad, searching for self amid the seductive Athenian ruins of Greece. I had flown from Paris to Athens on a whim that April – it was the closest place imaginable to experience the sights, sounds and aromas of home. Distanced from California and family, I yearned for a taste of my former life – shish kebab, paklava, all the delicious foods and ethnic rhythms encompassing my Armenian culture and symbolic of home.
I fell instantly in love with the Plaka in Athens, an enchanting village within the city that falls in the shadow of the mighty Acropolis. I had read about the ‘parade of torches’ snaking its way down Lykavitos after midnight mass services and decided to partake in the tradition.
Earlier that day, carefree and romping along the overcast seashore, I had unknowingly made eye contact with treacherous sun rays, and in doing so, scorched my corneas. Looking back now, I recall the strange haziness clouding my vision during the serpentine Easter processional. Attributing it to jet lag or the after-effects of a spontaneous toast of ouzo, I followed the trail of sun-drenched sandals, while musical notes played from accordions and ancient hand-carved instruments. Squinting with wonder I watched street vendors selling worry beads and etching tourist’s names onto grains of rice. A sight to behold – albeit a bit fuzzy. As we wove ourselves through the streets, a few in the crowd abandoned us, slipping their way into tavernas, strategically placed on street corners – preferring, I guess, shot glasses filled with liquid celebration.
The next morning, I awakened to an excruciating pain, razor sharp knives piercing my lids, a feeling that someone had poured a mixture of gravel and hot lava into my eye sockets. Realizing I needed medical attention, stumbling down three flights of stairs, I convinced the hotel’s concierge to escort me to a hospital, where I remained bandaged and blinded for three days and nights – uncertain of my prognosis.
By the finish of the holiday, my vision had thankfully returned. The diagnosis: burned corneas. Treatment – time and patience. I sipped coffee laced with milk and honey, made blurry journal entries in the dark, and eventually returned safely to my dorm room in France.
This month, during a series of marathon shopping excursions that found me filling my cart with legs of lamb, ingredients for mezza, phyllo dough; filling Easter baskets with chocolates and finally setting a colorful table for my family – this long, lost memory resurfaced. I remembered the kindness of strangers, the comforting similarity between my Armenian culture and the Greek one into which I was temporarily stranded, but more than anything else, I remembered wanting to find home to be surrounded by family and hungering for the chaos and beauty of our traditional ethnic holidays. Those few days in Greece had changed me forever. The importance of family, the privilege of seeing with one’s own eyes, the fragile nature of our lives – all became sacred gifts during a most memorable chapter of my life.
This morning, I am admittedly overwhelmed with clean up duties from the aftermath of our mammoth family gathering. Remnant green tinsel grass graces my floors competing with scuff marks; aqua and lavender foil from chocolate egg wrappings peek out from under sofa cushions and the legs of my coffee table, while wilted tulips thirst for a water refill. The sight of it all brings a huge smile to my face.
Despite the wanderlust and gypsy spirit inhabiting my shell in those early hours of my young adulthood, I learned a swift lesson about coming home. When we are miles away from our life, we often see it through a different lens. Although I temporarily lost my eyesight on an Easter Eve in Greece, now forty years later, my vision has returned, and it is nothing short of crystal clear.