One of my missions in Greece was to take my father back to Nemea, a village near Corinth where his parents were born. They passed away when he was a teen, and he'd never been to Greece. It was one of those important-must-do activities. So the day finally arrived...
We rent a car. Map out the route several times. Just about a two hour drive to Nemea--no problem. Ha! Let's just say it wasn't such a pleasant drive out of the city. Actually a hour-and-a-half-we-can't-find-our-way-out-of-Athens drive. Greek people are so nice. We stop. Ask directions. With my broken Greek and their broken English--we are told to go straight, turn left or right. But, they say, "ask someone else when you get there." AHHH! Where is "there?" It would have been nice if: a.) I spoke fluent Greek. b.) We read Greek (English translations on the map don't match up to Greek street names c.) We had a GPS. But alas, we didn't and we continue on--hearts pumping. I try to laugh. Make jokes of our predicament. Not a good idea. Just focus on the road. Get brother, son and father to Nemea.
Well, we do. Once out of the city, the drive is cake. Beautiful coastline. We cross the Corinth Canal from mainland Greece into Peloponnese. We wind through green, hilly country. First stop: Ancient Nemea, fomerly named Iraklion. Famous in Greek mythology and with Homer, this Nemea was the home of the Nemean Lion killed by Heracles. The Nemean Games were started by the famous "seven," (The Seven of Thebes,) to honor the infant Opheltes who was killed by a serpent while lying on a bed of parsley . The games began somewhere around 570 BC at Nemea's Temple of Zeus. Winners earned a crown of parsley, and the judges wore black in mourning.
Today, several temple columns have been re-erected. We climb all around the ruins--marveling at their stature and grace.We admire the column pieces on the ground. Massive, circular parts, once stacked together toward the sky. We visit the great alter and the ancient baths, pass skeletal remains of ancient Nemean citizens. I'm reminded of the heat on my skin. The chirp of the cicadas. We're alone at this ancient place. A place of mythology. A place of my origins. And it's magical.
Run near the stadium. Imagine the athletes bursting through the entrance tunnel. We hear voices. Ancient voices in motion. We move with them.
In the town of Nemea--it's quiet. Too quiet. Siesta time (3-5pm.) We're lucky to find a taverna open. We're starving so we gorge on Greek salad, potatoes, and enjoy a lovely Nemean red wine. Famous for its krasi (wine,) Homer called this place Ampelóessa, or "full of vines." We buy ice-cream bites from the sweet shop across the street. Other than the guy snoozing in front of his open air pet shop (really?) we don't see a single soul. We try to ask for a city hall to find records of my grandparents (Peter Polydoros or Mary Lazopolous) or any distant relative still here. But there is none. A cemetery maybe? We are told no. Much of Nemea was destroyed in WWII and we assume that these records disappeared along with it. We're down-trodden. Unable to grasp something concrete of our past. But we push forward. Visit a cemetery near Ancient Nemea. Beautiful tombstones--adorned with photos of the deceased. Lanterns. Flowers. (More on Greek cemeteries and burials later...)
On the way home, we stop at a Nemean winery. Rose and white. Light and fruity. We buy local pine honey as well. Yum. The drive back into Athens is just as fun as the way out. (Did I forget to mention that Greeks don't really follow any kind of driving rules? And motorcycles can appear magically just about anywhere on the road in a fraction of a second?) It takes us another hour just to get back into the city. We all get out at one point, ask different people directions and come up with the same answer. Our car rental office is just about 1/2 mile to our left. But... we can't turn around. So we take Syngrou Ave. for TEN miles down to the port before we can U-turn it. We're tired and cranky and completely delirious about driving in Athens. Wanting the hotel. Wanting dinner. Wanting some sanity.
It's easy to feel like a failure sometimes. Goals not reached. Inadequacies revealed.
But even though I can't find my way home. Even though we didn't find the birth records or gravestones of great-great-grandparents I realize then--surrounded by my dad, brother, my son--that we've created our own memories here in the place we began. We've made our own laughter. Our own footprints. And for that, I'm grateful.