Saturday, July 21, 2012

flight

Mid-afternoon in Athens during a heatwave. Temperatures have been as high as 105 Fahrenheit during the past week. The heat is oppressive and my neighborhood resembles a ghost town. As I make the short walk from my apartment to the car, dragging my suitcase along the sidewalk, the sun sears my shoulders as sweat gathers at the small of my back. The only other person on the street is a dark-skinned immigrant, pushing a supermarket cart filled with bits of metal and other scraps. He stops at the trash bin and lifts the lid, rummages around but he doesn’t find anything and continues on to the next set of bins, pushing his cart down the street while the scorching sun beats down on us. Before I drive off, I check my bag one last time. I have everything I need. Money, passports, e-ticket number.

The past week has been filled with mixed emotions – melancholy and excitement. As the plane soared over the azure waters of the Aegean - Greece sparkling before my eyes like a gem - I felt a strange sadness and longing for what should have been… As we ascended through wispy clouds and flew high above the Adriatic Sea I watched the coastline below… The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and everything seemed perfect as I observed the changing colors of the scenery – blues and browns changed to varying shades of green as the plane flew past Dubrovnik, then Venice, and over northern Italy and Switzerland. As we neared Zurich the skies turned to grey and the clouds darkened as a thunderstorm rained over the airport… I walked through the jet bridge towards passport control shivering in my sleeveless shirt as the cold air rushed in.
I show both passports to avoid the usual confusion if I just offer one (if I show only the US passport, they ask ‘when did you enter the EU?’ and ‘where is your entry stamp?’ or ‘do you have a work permit?’… if I only show the Greek passport they ask ‘you are in transit to the US, do you have a US passport?’)…. So I rifle through my bag and find the blue one and slide it under the window, and as the official thumbs through the pages of my US passport, he says something to his colleague in the next booth and they both glance at me and chuckle (perhaps a snarky comment about the ‘dumb American tourist’?)… In the meantime I’ve found the maroon passport and I slide it under the window too and their faces become serious again. Did they realize that I am also an EU citizen, I am also ‘one of them’ and perhaps I understood their amusing comment? The official quietly scans my Greek passport and then I am on my way to gate E53 with my two identities in my purse and the dichotomy in my head: am I Greek? am I European? am I American? I decide that I am all three…

The next flight passes over Western Europe and crosses the Atlantic Ocean. I settle into my seat with a novel about a journalist in the 1980’s – he travels to divided Germany and settles in Berlin. As a foreigner he is able to cross the Berlin Wall and he easily travels in and out of East Berlin. He writes about the differences between East and West Germany and how the people in East Berlin treat him differently because of what he represents: the outside world and freedoms they do not have… Some East Berliners treat him with suspicion; some are indifferent, while others are resentful. The journalist struggles with this duality and the guilt he feels because he is able to leave while others cannot.
I watch the monitor in front of my seat, which shows a map of the route. The plane has crossed the Atlantic and is nearing the East Coast. It flies past Nova Scotia in Canada and goes south, descending towards New England. I don’t need to look at the monitor anymore, I look out of the window to the land below and I know exactly where we are.

When I exit the airport, rolling my luggage cart through the parking lot, the air is warm and everything is familiar. Even though I have been living in Greece for over 15 years, I feel like I never left my birthplace – the city of Boston. My much-needed time here will be brief, but just enough to recharge my depleted batteries.

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