Other Publications

Letter from Greece - Canadian Writers Abroad, published 28/7/2015

Twenty years and counting by Demetra Angelis Foustanellas Homecoming article - World of Greece Odyssey Magazine - September/October 2009 issue 

It has been said that long before satellite television, visual internet connections, cheaper telephone and flight rates, expatriate Greeks sustained a profound obsession of the homeland. In spite of this, it still took my husband Diamantis and I thirteen years to make the trip back to his place of birth which incidentally arose rather unexpectedly even then. We were married in 1975, in Ottawa, Canada and although nostalgic of the motherland, we always seemed to be putting off this vacation for one reason or another. Perhaps it was because by the late 60’s, my husband’s entire family, parents and siblings had already made the long voyage across the Atlantic and settled comfortably in the New World. Thus, I believe the strongest incentive pulling us back was lacking at the time.

On the other hand, I was born in Ottawa and although raised almost entirely by Greek cultural standards did not share his deep passion of Greece. Maybe this was because my only hands-on experience, up to then, was as a 6thgrader when my father and I spent the Christmas holidays commuting between Volos, Skopelos and Thessaloniki visiting several members of his large family before sailing off to Samos, the birthplace of my mother.

My memories of that vacation in 1968 are vague but I do remember meeting a lot of friendly people who celebrated a humble Christmas, (compared to our extravagant North American ado) and who also endured their rainy winters with the modest of heating devices in their homes. Although I missed having a white Christmas, it certainly was comforting that the temperatures had not fallen low enough for it to snow.

The next time I found myself heading for Greece was in 1982 after having decided, quite impulsively I might add, to escort my husband’s not-so-elderly relatives back home. They had been visiting us in Ottawa for a family wedding and had arrived from the island of Samos, where my husband was also born. Since I was not working out of the home at the time, it was easier for me to leave on a whim than it was for my husband, who unfortunately could not leave his business on such short notice. Never-the-less, he encouraged us to go and so, totally consumed by the idea of a sunny holiday, I proceeded quickly to make the travel arrangements for our young daughter Maria and I to depart with the relatives on their return flight.

At the Mirabel airport in Montreal, I suddenly began to have some reservations about my decision. Truth was that I had no idea where I was going as I could not remember much from my last visit to Greece. Furthermore, I was a young mother with a child to care for primarily on my own, this time.  But, by the time we arrived in Athens I began to unwind, naturally mesmerized by the clear, blue sky and warm embraces of relatives. A week later, unable to resist the temptation of spending a few glorious weeks on Samos with his family, my husband surprised us with his arrival.

Needless to say, we had a fabulous holiday exploring most of the island. We swam daily, ate a lot of delicious mezedes, admired the verdant beauty of the lush forests, indulged the aromatic fragrances, took part in local traditions while pampered like royalty by his family. Maria made friends easily with the local children and the month flew by quickly. Diamantis was only a teenager when he had left in 1969 and commented on how he had expected the streets to be much wider and the homes slightly larger. Thanks to our childhood memories which are usually etched somewhat glorified in our minds, things appear different or strange after a long absence.

Our first vacation as a family to Greece paved the way for yet another one during the Christmas holidays, in 1984. Maria was already 4 years old but her little brother Alex was only a year and a half. As I look back now, I admit that this trip was not well planned.
We expected it would be nice to join my husband’s sister Athena and her family who’d already booked their holiday to the island. What we hadn’t considered was the frugal heating still tolerated in the homes during the winter months… and it can get quite chilly and damp on the island. As a result, both our children caught colds….and suffered from diarrhea. Maria was also disappointed by the absence of Santa Claus. We explained that Christmas is celebrated differently in Greece and that Ayios Vasilis takes his place spiritually on New Year’s Day instead. Her confused little face brought back memories of my own first Christmas in Greece.
Even though this trip was less a success, it made enough impact on my husband to revive dormant sentiments of returning to his birthplace, one day. In June of 1986 and able to take a short break from work, he and I planned a little escape, once again on Samos, this time without the kids. We made the best use of each minute in the day, stretching 24 hours to its limits and quite honestly can’t remember getting a full night’s rest. We hired a motorbike and discovered places we hadn’t even seen yet. We enjoyed the nightlife, the stars and sunrise. The weather was warm, perfect for camping out which we did on the concrete roof top of auntie Katina’s house. Of course, we hadn’t considered how nippy it could get with the morning dew, even in June. We were so young and impulsive, nothing seemed to matter.

By now, Diamantis had purchased some land with his brother-in-law Jim, near the port of Karlovasi, in Samos. During this vacation, my husband continued his search for yet another property. His friend Manolis, an engineer, proposed we take a look at some land on sale just beyond the city limits. The old, tattered stone dwelling sat on a 1,5 acre parcel of land overlooking the ravine with a breathtaking view of Mount Kerkis. Although fascinated by the scenery, I admit I had no instant vision that this would become our future home. I can’t say the same for my husband.

Believe it or not, in August of 1988, with my husband’s successful business sold to his partner and most of our assets liquidated, we merrily relocated to Samos to settle in our semi-renovated home. It was the beginning of our new life and incredible adventure.

The initial plan was for my husband to start up a retail shop of floor coverings, which was the same line of business he and his partner operated in Ottawa. In the meantime, I had acquired a license to teach English. But somewhere along the way, our plans were diverted. Diamantis did not waste any time constructing our hotel on the property near the port where in the summer of 1990 we welcomed our first guests.

Naïve and ambitious, enticed by what appeared to be a lucrative business opportunity in the tourism field, according to the N.1262/82 legislation, like hundreds of other entrepreneurs eager to support local economic growth, we were sucked into a bureaucratic labyrinth of a dysfunctional public system, runaway interest rates and soaring inflation. My husband and I often felt disoriented and overwhelmed. Fortunately, our children were resilient enough to adapt comfortably to their new surroundings..

Of course, there is hardly enough space in this article to go into any kind of detail regarding our mixed experiences but a simple recap can be summarized by the word… challenging. For the last two decades, Greece has been a learning experience which has taught us to make the best out of any given situation.

A word of caution for those planning to uproot…beware of those strong sentiments and lingering fascinations of unforgettable vacations should they bear heavily on the final verdict, unless you are blessed with nerves of steel and a sizeable bank account. First, you need to ask yourself what you are willing to give up because when routine sets in, you will, without doubt, find yourself contemplating about it. It is a drastic transition coming from a North American diasporic community…trust me… regardless of how patriotic you think you’ve been raised to become or how many summers you’ve spent with yiayia in the village.

Naturally, the local lifestyle can be fulfilling if you are patient, receptive and fully prepared to tackle problems in stride, one day at a time. In spite of the hurdles, the mystical beauty of the island, the climate, our history and composed disposition of the island people are qualities which keep our family rooted in our ancestral soil leaving our hearts split between our two countries.

Excerpt of: A Place to Write - World of Greece Odyssey Magazine - September/October 2011 issue

The making of our workshop transpired on two continents.  Penny, my friend and literary agent from Canada suggested the idea upon a visit to our hotel.  Through her, I came to meet Rosemary, our dynamic instructor. Thus, our long-distance venture began.

We worked hard from both sides of the Atlantic to make our dream come true: a writers' workshop on a Greek island in the Aegean, on the island of Pythagoras, Samos.  For years, my husband Diamantis and I envisioned adding a creative touch to our hospitality business.

I set out to meet Rosemary and each of my future classmates, at the Aristarchos airport, near Pythagorio. I observed the arrivals, hoping to spot my guests who emerged out of the crowd with books and smiles. 

We traversed the winding roads back to Karlovasi in conversation, stopping occasionally to take photographs. I yearned to show these guests my Greece, the nirvana of endless mystery, its historical menagerie of tears & laughter, a fusion of hot & cold. A country where a symphony of swallows chirp in unison on tiled roof-tops, where stray cats screech in narrow alleys, where the sunset dissolves into the horizon, where tranquility is drowned by impassioned conversations. In Greece the intoxicating fragrance of the jasmine, the rhythmic chimes of church bells, the lulling staccato of the cicadas and the quiet trickle of a running brook, entertain us.

Hellas, my Greece, is a melting pot of ideas, beliefs, ambitions & disasters, lined with an array of bursting colours & emotions. It is a subtle transition from an Aristophanes comedy to a Sophocles tragedy, a grand synthesis of history & knowledge. How can the stranger possibly know that beneath this beautiful disguise, lie the open wounds of a crippled matriarch who stands invincible, while her children suffer. 

This kaleidoscope of emotions is the country of my ancestors. I look at my fellow writers and want to share it all. 

In exchange, our tireless mentor Rosemary and my wonderful company of fellow classmates nourish my mind, my memory. They return me to my childhood, to my adolescence and remind me of forgotten phrases. They tell me of the changes and experiences I’ve left behind. 

Their presence renews the reality that I am bicultural, somewhere in the middle, neither here nor there, yet both places at once, for I was born to immigrant parents, far in the diaspora, and although raised faithfully by Hellenic doctrine, Canada is my place of birth and where I spent the first three decades of my life.  I miss it. 

Philia, the only non-Canadian among us lives in Wisconsin but she was born in Athens which makes her a genuine Greek, a free spirit, like my husband. Together, they are wind & fire and breathe life into my commentaries, energizing the already magical ambiance.

My stories are all inspired by Hellenism and aimed at preserving moments that fade with time. Perhaps my new friends will now understand why. 

Jackie, Roxy, Kat, Heather, Kevin, Ellie, Philia, and Rosemary.  Efharisto, Demetra Angelis Foustanellas.


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