Trip down memory lane


While in the UK, what dominated the news this week was the Queen’s Jubilee birthday celebrations, I coincidentally also went down a review of my life in the last thirty years from the time I left home to today. It started with an article I read, posted by a friend on FB, in Parallaxi Magazine about a ferry boat, Anemos, (meaning Wind in Greek) which used to make long trips from Thessaloniki to the South Aegean Cyclades islands and Crete. That ferry boat was far from luxurious. As it was the only one connecting the second largest city of Greece in the North to the Aegean islands in the South, in the summer months it was also alarmingly full. The article I read mentioned the rough sleeping in dump sleeping bags on the deck I also remember clearly, which probably marked our generation of youngsters making their first trips without any parental supervision. A trip like that boarding Anemos overnight equipped with a sleeping bag and a duffel bag was one of my first ventures out of adolescence. It took nearly twenty hours to reach Santorini, our destination which was the penultimate one before the last call in Crete.

Anemos has stopped its service for many years now and there has been no replacement, which means that sadly, there is no longer a direct connection between the port of Thessaloniki and the Aegean islands. Comfort seems to win these days over a rough sea trip, where groups of barely adult youngsters would drink frappé iced coffee and play backgammon to pass the time and in a worse version would run to the hugely unhygienic ferry toilets to get sick when the sea got too choppy. Remembering Anemos is a good example of the two sides of nostalgia. On the one hand, there is a lot to cherish about long, uncomfortable trips, where the joy is in the process rather than only in reaching the destination. They are a rife metaphor for what life feels like. On the other hand, some experiences are often admittedly better as fantasies than in their lived reality. Would I enjoy boarding Anemos again, equipped only with a sleeping bag that would eventually get wet with sea water mixed with dirt and petrol (it took a few trips to realise that a mat under the sleeping bag was also essential)? No. And this is not only because I am older and with potentially less energy for adventure. It comes from a place of knowing better what suits me and what doesn’t as well. Nostalgia is its idealistic form always leads to illusion (see Brexit), yet it plays an important role in reviewing the past.

As it happened, I read this article just the night before I was due to travel to Brussels for a long weekend. Brussels is and will always remain for me my first adult home, the place I had my first Erasmus trip abroad when I turned twenty and where I returned three years later to do fieldwork, this time an extensive stay of nearly two years. What does it feel like visiting these places that take us on a trip down Memory Lane? For me, Brussels is the city of eternal youth, where one can spend a whole day strolling around, stopping from one café and bar to the next, sipping beers, chatting to friends, watching the world go by.

I have only a couple of remaining friends in Brussels and when we meet, it feels like yesterday, even though quite a few years may have gone by. They often inform me about the new interesting urban developments; I am always excited to find out how the city is evolving, and yet, I often have a recurring thought when visiting Brussels. Its quintessentially multi-cultural and convivial character remains the same. There is a dark side of course as well like in most cities, poverty, violence, racism and more. Yet, as the place that represents eternal youth for me on a psychic level, it reminds me that we never completely grow out of those years. Sometimes, we feel as though we are eternally young; and sometimes, we are reminded that life goes by rather fast. Both are internal realities of what it feels like to be human.

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