Athenian Getaway


by Elias Tezapsidis

There is a certain beauty in personal disappointment, that is the disappointment we feel liable for ourselves. Knowing that if you miss a goal you at least tried for it ought to be a recognition of at least trying, or attempting it. There are also two ways in which you can deal with failure, and most of my therapists so far in life think that the healthier one is to accept the pain or hurt of the temporary pain posed by this disappointment. Be active, create an alternative and consider the reasons why the goal mattered to you. The alternative route of dealing with the disappointment is, of course, much more short-term pleasurable: eat garbage food and watch hours of the Wendy Williams show, or daytime television in general.

While writing directly about being deceived, humiliated and abused, both emotionally and physically may be a healthy way to address the past, I still cannot do it. I am noticing the pattern expanding into my literary persona: the voice of authoritative conviction I held when I felt comfortable saying I am a writer, has been replaced by fragility. Uncertainty and silence are not powerful literary traits. But listening carefully and taking note of what occurs in a way that digests a system of order so flawed is powerful. Our system—economic, political, social—where people who have good intentions and kindness at the core of their wishes are fools or naive is infuriating. Hilariously, I had a directly opposite view in my early twenties. Is that what it means to be in your early twenties at large: to be certain of your convictions, fall prey to fucked-up situations and circumstances and then realize you were naive and taken advantage of, all the while believing you had agency and made the wrong choices.

The key difference between my perception of the pain I was victim to was “agency.” The perpetrator says:

“You saw what you saw. You took what you wanted. It was your choice.”

By that s/he means:

“You are to blame for your demise. You really thought that all the drugs you took for free were free? Why would that ever be? Just because our purveyors made you think so? Ha! Fool.”

To which I respond: Fuck you, cunt. Fuck you.

In 2018, amidst a lot of personal crises, I had watched all the garbage I had not consumed in my entire life until then. I became aware of the names of all of the hosts of The View. I watched two franchises of Love and Hip Hop, Atlanta and New York. I also watched two franchises of the Bravo Housewives, the renditions of New York and Beverly Hills. This would be funny if did not include me spending hours trying to numb things I was feeling and certain emotions I felt were unjust.[1]

The best things that happened to me in 2018 can be summed down to four and a half events.

1) Athenian Getaway

2) Completion of debt: combo of start-up money & J’s help

3) Darra: Skiathos and Skopelos, but also Thessaloniki

4) Africa: Kituntu Village, but more importantly meeting Z

4.5) KO-ed in Kos: H and B

Athenian Getaway

In June, before I taught “Drama” to 12 groups of 7-15 students ages 3-12 at “English and Adventure Camp” in Thessaloniki. I went to Athens to see my childhood friend P. P is a true beauty inside and out. She has the lithe body of FKA Twigs, and she exudes an equally intense, but quieter energy. I love people who say a lot with their silence, it is an admirable quality to exude through eyes, looks, or touch. It helps that she is striking.

She is petite, but in reality—and I fact-checked this upon my visit—she is not much shorter than me; perhaps the idea I hold that she is petite stems from our childhood. She was the last one to grow taller, get her perfect current tits. She was a tomboy, but definitely still someone who you always noticed. We met in the bilingual English class of our private elementary school, of which she had been a part of prior to my entrance. However, I think both of us had ended there through our parents’ zeal and nannies’ ethnicities: the group was open to the children of native English speakers and the kids who were raised through nannies speaking English. It is a little fucked up, but I think accent (not having a Greek one) is a qualifying trait. Better yet, when P introduced me to a couple of her American friends in Athens as grownups, it was amazing—dare I say liberating?— to hear her accentuate her Greek accent, by choice. Intentionally!

“You did not use to have an accent like this!” I accused P.

“Correct. I decided to stop faking an accent. I am Greek. I should talk whatever way comes naturally to me. And I am Greek, so yeah, why not?”

This idea fucks me up to my core: I often hear people claim that multilingual people are different people depending on the language they are speaking. I know this to be only slightly true as a manifestation of my linguistic abilities. In Greek and English my sensibilities are similar: a little serious, densely sarcastic, I feel in control of the language. I use it to intensify the things I experience but also to criticize what I don’t like and praise what I do like, in exactly that order. In German, despite theoretically having attained a high-ish level, my humor does not shine through. So, while I am unsure that my level of speaking is correlated to my being a different person, I also know I do not find Germans particularly funny. On the contrary, I find myself laughing more at American jokes, which does not mean I watch Family Guy (though I do now, when I work out!) but that irony and sarcasm are at the center of my understanding of the language, not only audibly, but also visually, in text.

After such a long time of reading, writing and thinking in English, I no longer think I can do what P does: to talk whatever way should come naturally to me. This, of course, is hardly a new idea: how many people who become users of a language other than their mother-tongue to such higher frequency end up questioning what they sound like, really? In any case, it was cool to hear P sound fully fluent but with an accent. I asked her about it because I guess I remember her sounding differently and that was her trying. I know that I tried, too, but I don’t think that I could go back to sounding differently, without that being a performance or an intentional choice that would be phoney.

When I had been in Athens sometime in March earlier the same year to have a salary conversation with the education start-up I was producing content for, writing SAT tests as if I was College Board, I took a long walk in dressy clothes and was walking uphill when I heard repetitive honks and saw P in front of me.

“Eliiiiia!!! You are here?”

After a few seconds, because her hair was much shorter than the way I remembered her, making it harder for me to understand who it was.

“Oh my god! P! I was seriously thinking of you a couple of days ago.”

This was true; I never lie about this sort of thing, and I actually love the feeling of running into someone immediately after thinking of them. Or the delightful surprise of receiving an email from a person you were just thinking about. It’s not exactly mindfulness, I guess, nor transcendental, but if there was a religion that fully encapsulated this feeling of synchronicity as it pertains to the cerebral and emotional connection that occurs with people, I would sign up for its church.

In this case, this was even more bizarre, because I had not seen P in years, probably a decade, because I had switched high schools, and then was absent (or rather “abroad”) for an additional decade.

Should I mention here that my name in Greek sounds/is pronounced Ilias, something close to the word for sun, Helios? P’s is not close to but literally “blooming.” I had never put those two together until now, but I do think names define us, to an extent. I would proceed with examples, but it is impossible to make a case study for this absolute claim without being offensive. Fine, have you ever met a straight Ryan? A cool Kelly or Debbie? Exactly.

We decided to meet up again to properly catch up, and I went over to her house, and my jaw dropped to her aesthetic. To say that everything felt like a museum piece would make it sound boring or unfun. So, let’s say that everything looked and felt like what a Rococo cave would be in 2019. There was a huge Indian metallic table in the middle of one of the living rooms, the weather was perfect, and sun came in from multiple surfaces of the house. The way that the windows folded and unfolded created an endless living room connecting the inner space with a small yard, where P’s feline companion moved around confidently, with the knowledge of owning everything. That she was a lot more mature, in the sense of her possessions and owning her own house at our age both impressed me and made me feel “behind” in my life. The last time I had my own home, designed to my own liking and buy multiple pieces of furniture found or donated to me was a while ago, before it all went to hell.

Her cat was fully black and this was also perfect in this magical house, where sun could be attained by the simple moving of glass walls. It could also all be a perfect playground, and while I cannot imagine being a cat and wanting to be anywhere else, every single friend of P’s we interacted with brought up or mentioned when she had lost her cat and put posters all over the city desperate to find him. Instead, in typical cat fashion, he just returned.

Are cats always in their 20s? Thinking they own the world; the world is their oyster. Do cats even like oysters? Probably. Anyway, P’s cat was a savage, but the best kind. A roommate who I disliked in my NYC era once told me that cats are of invaluable help to man for the mere reason that they teach you that whatever is bothering you is unimportant. While I myself prefer the silly, goofball affection of a dog, I realise a cat is more of what I need, personality-wise. P’s cat was perfect for me: full of claws, and only available to pet at his own liking. I actually enjoyed his company a lot, but he might have been too aggressive for me. A life lesson in a cat.

We chatted about everything. I told her (almost) everything, or at least what I knew at the time. Sadly, my life has followed a far less linear path than I am comfortable with, but I will expand on this when I feel less in pain and more triggered. Once, in the past, my anger and disappointment towards a former friend had pushed me to complete the closest thing to a complete novel. Hence, it is all possible as long as I first put down the thoughts on paper.

In this first catch-up session, there were boundless areas to touch on, and her mysterious aura continued to intrigue me as an adult. She still pays close attention to everything, is a great listener who asks insightful, and sometimes unpleasant questions.

Of course, my part of that dialogue is the segment of writing I am actively evading, but you, dear reader, already know this. We talked about J, and how I was really in love with someone who had a penis for the first time. Not that this changed much outside of bed, but it definitely changed my perception of myself, in a way. We talked about how I did a lot of hard drugs and did not really understand how my luck ran out after so many years of everything going better than planned. We talked about THE INCIDENT and what it meant to me at the time, perhaps falsely, in retrospect. I confessed that I was happy being an analyst, but that was when I transitioned to more consistent coke use. I downplayed a couple of years, in which I ghost-wrote a dyslexic celebrity chef’s cookbook on a maître d’ salary, instead talking about how I was in quest of a new direction. Thankfully, I had written a lot, and while not all venues that published me were reputable, she was the kind of audience that accepts that as part of the process, rather than eyeroll in disdain. The truth is, I might have.

“So, where have you been? What have you been up to?” I ask back, with genuine curiosity.

“I was in London for my undergraduate. I never fully completed it, and the main coursework bored me. I travelled around a lot; I did the full chase of trying to identify the urban centre that best fits me. I worked for a start-up in Latin America… I don’t really know. Eventually I decided on Athens. I asked myself ‘Why would I keep hunting the great big city? It’s right here.’”

She petted the cat’s black fur and looked at me, comfortable in her skin. She was so beautiful in this stillness, calmness. Would I ever attain such maturity? Such self-acceptance and knowingness?

We spoke about drugs. Why we do them, or in her case did them. I asked her how come she had no tattoos, that did not make too much sense for such a Euro-hippie. She told me she has a phobia of needles, and that also limited the amount and variety of drugs she had been exposed to, luckily. She had also decided to cut everything out: no more smoking and no more (legit, real) drugs. Just occasional little weed, which obviously does not count. The no smoking was, she expressed, a huge step for her. She identified as a chimney for the previous decade, but having not witnessed it, of course I had to take her word for it.

P wore clothes that looked comfortable, but I am sure they were also of high quality. I would not call her a fashionista snob, though she obviously had the wallet to support such wishes did they appear, and that, too, was endearing about her. Essentially, she looked like a yoga person, but not in an annoying way, and that is high praise, in that it crystallizes that she was chill without her constantly trying to be chill. Is there a public person that might help me get this point across? I have been trying to think of someone who conveys this coolness that is not curated or excessively calculated, but it is hard to identify someone who won’t make such a statement polemical due to extreme circumstances.

She also looked ageless, in that she appeared to be both a child and a mother, and that was quite an achievement for someone who was neither. Being both, she represented in the few days I spent with her all I needed: an individual who I could play with, and an individual I could look up to, seeking guidance as I was navigating yet another tricky mess of a situation.

When she was a child, we ate weed-oil. While I was well-versed in hard drugs and especially party drugs, having been an idiot in the past decade, I had never taken weed-oil. So, we sat in her tiny porch with the perfectly sized everything and looked around happy. When I say perfectly sized everything, I am being quite literal, though not sexual nor gross, so apologies if that is where your mind went. I am talking about the beautiful rocks, unique looking candles, nicely set up artwork and seashells arranged in circles. Was I in Athens or at a yoga retreat, though free of the yoga assignments I would fail to complete anyway?

She was still a child the next day when we decided to go on a great mini-impromptu hike to Filopappos Hill. In Greek this is called Filopappou Hill, meaning it belongs to him, grammatically (it is just a possessive deviation). Perfectly, this hill which is situated directly across from the Acropolis and in its top is where the Filopappos monument, which was built by an elected official in the Roman period, naming the hill after… what else? Himself. Has there ever been a bigger Stieglitz move? It was naturally also the place where we talked sex the most. There is a weird comfort that arises in a friendship when you know the other person does not view you sexually, even if you do, and that is where I was standing, uncertain if that was my choice, but I was there, nevertheless.

The older name of Filopappos Hill is “Seggio Hill,” which stemmed from the geopolitical/ etymological state of the hill. In Italian segno means signal, and in a spot that finds itself between other battle-prone hills, this could play a huge role not only to attack and surprise the enemy, but also to code and transfer information defying distance, through visibility. Surprising as it may seem today, there was a time before technology, and if Filopappos Hill was the best way to transfer military information, I might be more desirous of belonging to such an epoque.

We run into two of her friends from an island where P has been spending her summers with her family, kind of renting out gorgeous properties to the European elite and their moneyed need to vacation. She had slept with both of the guys, which I found amazing, because we all had a great time together, and it wasn’t awkward at all, and again I questioned: when will I be so mature, if ever? The guys were handsome and cute but not memorable.

She had confessed to me that she had grown tired of spending her summers on the island ensuring the villas were well prepped for the foreigners who rent them, and then came a more shocking revelation: that the person who they were considering hiring a bonafide Greek celebutard to serve as concierge. He is the kind of person all self-respecting mothers know from a lifestyle show that was all the rage in the 2000s, who also wrote scandalizing novels about Mykonos, coding names for his own security but hinting at his understanding of the thin line between high society and the thuggish unintelligence of the mafia. He also wrote—to everyone’s dismay—books about savoir vivre and rules about how to behave. Nobody ever wants that, and I had already learned that via watching RHONY and twitching every time Countess Luann felt comfortable holding a moral compass to well, anyone. In any case, if this was indicative of the success of the business her family had set up in the island, I understood why the capital injection from the summer was one necessary to finance the yearly budget. Again, I was impressed by her circumstances, and while I did have a million questions, I tried to brace myself, because I did not want to be rude.

My rude questions, after helping my family rent out some of our properties in the Halkidiki part of Northern Greece, were:

“Do you put a lot of effort into everything looking perfect, or do you have a team doing it for you?”

“How do you arrange your visitors? What is the business model?”

“Is it harmonious working as a family to do this?”

And, of course: “How much money do you make from this endeavor?”

Instead, I gathered sporadic information on how it works and why it works. How it works is easy to understand and even easier to explain: it is one of the most expensive islands in Greece, and it attracts high quality visitors. They are willing to spend generously for quality accommodation, that is legitimately luxurious, and her family homes cater to that crowd: they are not nouveau riche oriented, and that is a great asset. Why it works? Because each home was built and put together (initially) with a great amount of care and “meraki.” All languages feature words that are not directly translatable in other dialects, and the word meraki translates to passion or diligence, but means neither. The word for day is “mera.” So “meraki” according to my liberal understanding of it means daily effort. The closest notion to this word I can think of is the Japanese idea of putting all your energy onto an object you are working on, to make it the best it can possibly be.

When she was a mother, we talked more about uncomfortable realizations. She asked me why I felt so “comfortable” (her word choice, certainly not mine) around my pain, of the past, carrying it into the present. We talked about the future, how she had decided to open an art gallery that focused exclusively on photography. She confided in me that this, too, had been pending resolution in her head and she was ready to move on to a next project. I was impressed that she thought about the reasons behind her actions more than the actions themselves.

“I ask myself: what can I do to contribute to this place, to make it better?”

This desire privileged as it may appear is also one of great beauty. It demonstrates sensitivity, kindness and a sense of civic responsibility that to me, at that stage of my life appeared altogether alien.


This essay is part one of a series of personal essays.


[1] This had happened once before, when I was erroneously made believe that J was dead (again!) and watched all seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the “All Stars” version. Until that moment of my life I never thought that the show was “for me.” If anything, I used to comfortably claim that I do not understand drag or what it does. See, I had come to consider myself post-queer. What is the difference from queer, you ask? I have forgotten, but my retort was smart, or at the very least thoroughly thought out. In any case, in a phase of mourning, even falsely, I needed something to watch, to continue existing. Shows that were actually sad made me too sad, and I felt a weird version of guilt watching comedies because I thought it was abominable of me to be able to laugh in that stage. So, a contemporary telenovela that centered on issues of identity, unfairness and being different, sensitive, still ending up wanting to be kind was the right vibe. MISS VANJIE. Miss VAAAANJIE. Miss Vanjie.

About the Author:

Elias Tezapsidis is a generalist writer (currently) in Berlin. His work can be found in 3:AM Magazine, The Awl, Berfrois, BOMB, Harper’s, HTMLGiant, Salt Artists, Thought Catalog, The Millions, Publishers Weekly, The Toast, Vol1 Brooklyn, V Magazine and via tweets.