Sunday, February 19, 2012
In which I try to explain why I disappeared, and why I always seem to be talking about the boy Constantin, and I conclude that I need to take my own advice
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 6:59 pm
It was such a good idea. I would ‘remember the magic:’ I would write about the major magical moments of my life. I’d write about them in the order in which they happened, not in an attempt to write an autobiography, but only to bring some discipline into this undertaking — discipline that would, I hoped, work to sustain my inspiration. In turn, this exercise would work to remind me that I have, in fact, come across quite a lot of magic in my life, thus opening up my eyes to the possibilities of further magic. It would, in short, ‘beget new magic.’ While I was at it, I would find my voice again, or at least my ability to write. Oh, and I would post every day for the month of November.
Except that’s not quite how things turned out. I lasted thirteen days — which is not too bad, all things considered. And I did get somewhat unstuck, it’s true. By the end of the first week I could just sit down, think of a moment, and confidently wait for the writing to come. But instead of a renewed faith in the magicalness of the world I was left with a renewed sense of despair — the despair that haunted me in the summer of 2001, which is to say after Constantin and I had ran out of opportunities to miss; which continued to haunt for the years that followed; which was still, evidently, lurking somewhere in the dark recesses of my heart last November.
There was a lot of magic in those years, in that summer in particular, but it was all of the even though kind: even though my world as I knew it had fallen to bits, even though I lost what was dearest to my heart, even though I couldn’t imagine how to go on, even then, great things happened. They were full of good things, these years — songs that pointed the way, places to travel to and explore, friends that warmed my heart. They were the years in which my world grew and grew until it was big enough for me, and also the years in which I grew and grew until I became myself. But even so, there was a hole in my heart, because I’d once found something precious and then lost it again.
There was this one time, perhaps the second or third time we made love, in my room, in my parents’ flat, which wasn’t the best of choices but it was better than wandering around town in the bitter cold, and not making love at all — there was this time when he kissed me gently and said, in the dark, “I will protect you everything; I can’t stop it from happening, but I will be like a sponge, and wipe it all away,” and I knew just what he meant. The thing is, Constantin and I, despite our numerous and significant differences, we have this one thing in common: we look at the way people move through the world with the same question in our eyes. For that one moment, he knew what it was like to be me, and he had taken this into his heart. As far as I am aware, that was the one time in my life I was looked at in the way that I look at others.
I believed him.
He didn’t live up to that, you know that by now. Of course he didn’t, you’re thinking: he was a boy, it is a tall order, there was so much in the way. I know that, and, mostly, I knew it then, too; and yet the fact that after a while he didn’t even try broke my heart. I took it personally, of course I did, I thought he didn’t love me enough because I wasn’t good enough. All of which is nonsense, of course, but still. For years, I wondered if anyone would ever love me as he had. Eventually I worked out that it didn’t matter, that people love you in their own different ways, and that this is a gift in itself, and I was happy with that. I am happy with that. But I still wonder if there will ever be another moment like that. I fear that there will not. And I dare not hope, for fear of having my heart broken, or of appearing like a fool.
Oh Dimitra. You know better than that.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
We’ll never get to Paris now
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 3:45 pm
May 2001. Thessaloniki.
There was magic when we were together. As long as we could keep from sulking and from arguing it would be there, between us, turning being together into worthwhile activity in itself. I have so many memories of it.
Cleaning our flat in preparation for a dinner party, one May evening, I mopped myself into a corner and ended up lying on the sofa, waiting for the floor to dry, my heart bursting with happiness.
Sitting on the front balcony on a bright June morning, having breakfast, listening to the sounds of the neighbourhood, cars rolling by, people talking, the collared doves cooing.
Sitting next to each other on a wall on the island of Mykonos in July, or was it August? A temporary truce between us, ice lollies in our hands, we swung our legs against the wall as we waited for the bus, sunburned and salty, and, no doubt, beautiful.
A night in September when I stepped on some mayonnaise on the pavement outside some fast food place. I looked down and said that it was whipped cream, and he laughed at me and teased that it might be grease from the the Yellow Submarine — implying that I tend to see the world as better than it is.
A November morning when we got to the film festival just in time to see ‘Together’, sitting on the stairs because we hadn’t bothered to book tickets, and we had breakfast in the dark, sneakily. When we walked out we found the gulf bathed into the bright diffused sunshine that only a Thessalonikian November can provide, and we walked along the seafront feeling as if we belonged.
Sitting in the cafÃ© where he worked with a new Harry Potter book and a lovely new umbrella, while the rain fell outside.
Walking through the night on the first hours of New Year’s Day, on my way to him.
But despite the magic and despite the almost transcendental love we had for one another we eventually ran out of moments like these. We split up, officially, sometime in February. That meant that he went out on his own a lot, and he ignored me when he felt like it; but we still lived together, in twin rooms at the back of the flat; we still made love; and we still argued.
“But why is it that you want to be with me?” he shouted.
I was surprised. That was a genuine question, thrown into the inanity of the argument. Our arguments had stopped making a sense a long time ago. By that time, sixteen months after we had first got together, he liked me as much as he was scared of me, and I was angry with him nearly as much. He was pushing me away, running away, and I hated myself because I wanted to hold on so badly, but knew it only made it worse.
“Because when I’m with you I’m ten times as strong. I feel like I could take on the world,” I said, sincerely, wondering.
“Yes,” he replied, entirely unexpectedly. “It’s like that for me, too.”
And then, somehow, we resumed arguing.
Oh, the missed opportunities. Sometimes I think they’re all we really had.
‘We’ll never get to Paris now’ is a Belmondo song, which you may be able to download here. There is also a wonderful Pinefox version, which you can find here. Go listen to it.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:20 pm
April, 2000. Thessaloniki.
One of the most beautiful moments of my life.
We were both back from church, from different churches, because he felt he had to attend with his family and I was partial to a small Byzantine church with a tree-filled courtyard. I had walked home nursing the flame of my candle and lit a lantern on my bookcase, which cast the only light we had. The scent of roses, a few dozens of pink and red roses that my mum had given me, drifted out to the balcony where we sat. The balcony faced out onto the empty triangular space between some blocks of flats, an ugly and uninspiring place usually — but that night, it was magical. There was nobody out there but us, no light, no sound, everyone was away or asleep, and so we whispered. Not that we had much to say, we were content to just be, together alone in that warm, soft, sweet-smelling night. Sleepy, I lay my on the railing, and he put his hand out to make a pillow for me — and in that space between wakefulness and sleep it felt like our balcony was boat sailing in a sea of darkness, of longing, and of tenderness.
That night we slept together, with the windows open and the scent of roses in the air.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:56 pm
April, 2000. Thessaloniki.
We ran through the downpour to get to the cafÃ©.
That’s all, really. I could tell you that I was wearing a new skirt, and my pink shirt; that the rain made my hair curlier than usual; that he thought I was pretty, and it showed in his eyes. I could tell you that we had already started to argue, that we had started to doubt our happiness, that this made the temporary harmony all the more precious. I could tell you that we sat and talked, what the coffee tasted like, about the way the raindrops hit against the window. But really there wasn’t much else to it. Spring was coming; we were together; we were young and in love; and we ran through the rain.
Friday, November 11, 2011
The first big miracle
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:26 pm
March, 2000. Thessaloniki.
We stayed up until four am waiting for the almost-best-friend to come back from work, while the cake my godmother had insisted on making for me was slowly falling apart in the fridge. It didn’t matter, though: it still looked beautiful. We put it down on our new wooden floor and sat in a circle around it, drunk on a bit of wine and a great deal of happiness. I looked up, at their faces illuminated by nothing but nineteen birthday candles and the light in their hearts, and I realised, quite suddenly, that the wishes of the years before had all come true.
You see, when I turned sixteen I’d wished that the world I imagined was actually true. Not in these words exactly, but that’s what I meant. When I turned seventeen, I’d wished that I would one day live with strange people who liked strange music. When I turned eighteen I didn’t wish for anything, because there was no cake, or candles; but had I had a chance, I would have wished for a friend. I hardly had any. And suddenly there I was, turning nineteen between a friend and a boyfriend, both decidedly strange and wonderful, in our very own flat — and none of it would have happened had it not been for a list of words, and the world inside my head.
So I looked up and I wished with all my heart that what we were trying to do would work.
This moment was the basis of my first ever post to the Sinister mailing list (a mailing list centred around the idea of ‘life as a Belle & Sebastian fan,’ for the uninitiated) in June 2001 — which probably deserves a post of its own. I don’t suppose anybody remembers this, but I thought I’d mention it. (And for the very much uninitiated, Belle & Sebastian are a band. But really, it doesn’t matter.)
Thursday, November 10, 2011
And then suddenly
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:02 pm
January, 2000. Thessaloniki.
That was the kind of afternoon that made you think something was about to happen. The darkness of the sleepless night before had been transformed into glittering light, both in the world and in my heart. In the world, it shone against the domed roof of the church; in my heart, it danced and turned somersaults. I noticed, for the first time that year, how the days were getting longer; I felt, for the first time in ages, the exaltation that makes the world look like it’s made up of infinite possibilities.
That was the night we got together.
“I’m leaving,” he said. “I’m going into town. Nothing will ever happen to me here. I’ve spent years of my life here, and nothing did.”
“You don’t have to go somewhere else for something to happen to you,” replied my almost-best-friend. “Perhaps the girl of your dreams will walk right through the door.”
And wouldn’t you know it? I did.
The north wind blew, hard and cold. We went into town together, and we walked around in a daze. Very, very late that night we sneaked into my bedroom, just for want of somewhere to go. Half undressed, we stood opposite each other across the carpet, one of us pale-skinned in white, the other dark-skinned in black, and for that moment before everything started we were everything at once: similars, opposites, lovers, fighters, friends — everything that we were and that we were going to be.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Soap bubble box
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:33 pm
December, 1999. Thessaloniki.
Christmas Eve. We gathered in a taverna at lunch time: the inner circle of the record shop people, some of their old friends, and me. I did and didn’t belong there. I loved them all, and they were fond of me, but they were, roughly, twenty years my seniors, with lives that were falling apart when mine had just started, with disappointment in their hearts where mine was filled with longing. I was starry-eyed. I think I’ve told you that before. “What do you have to do with all of this?” one of them asked me, and I replied, truthfully, “I must have something to do with it, or I wouldn’t be here.”
Our faces glowed red, with wine, and love, and warmth, as the snow from the previous entry continued to fall on the city. As the day faded a spontaneous decision was made, and three of us –the one who asked the question, my sort-of-best-friend, and me– sneaked away. We drove off, out of the city and into the countryside, into what you could call another county. They talked about life. I listened.
Having delivered the sort-of-best-friend to his parents’ house, the two of us drove back, almost silently, occasionally singing along with the Nits, watching the snow; and when we got back into the city, during ‘Soap bubble box,’ he turned to me and said, “I could go on driving like this all night” — and I knew just what he meant.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
A light that never goes out
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:14 pm
December, 1999. Thessaloniki.
I’d waited for a while, and then I stopped. I even stopped dreaming. There was something like an emptiness inside me, a calm, bright, almost beautiful emptiness, reflected impeccably in the world around me as I wandered through the town with wet, cold feet and the snow fell, landed, and melted tirelessly throughout the day.
Night had fallen, a dark, cold, quiet night, and I, alone in the flat, stood in front of the front windows with the phone in my hand. He was a teacher, which is how I’d met him, he taught one of my friends — but he had an occasional radio show, too, and that’s what where I’d called him. I don’t remember why I had, although I am guessing I just wanted to have a meaningful conversation before the day was out. (There had always been something between us: he had a habit of looking at me, really looking at me for a moment, and saying something oddly profound.) I don’t remember what we talked about, although perhaps I asked him to play something for me. I don’t remember if he agreed, or how we said goodbye. I can’t even remember if that was the last time we talked — it might have been.
What I do remember is him saying, unexpectedly, on the radio that “she is looking for whatever positivity is left in people. You wouldn’t say her life is filled with love, no, but, well, there is always a light that never goes out,” and following it, of course, with the song by the same name. And I remember standing in the dark, waiting for my heart to quiet down, and wondering — how did could he tell?
Monday, November 7, 2011
The second attempt
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:18 pm
November, 1999. Thessaloniki.
Another wall to lean against, this time outside a bar toilet. It was better than it sounds: I was leaning against my friend’s coat, which helped me hold on to my courage. I had to do something, and this was the only thing that I could think of.
He came out.
“I’ve got three things to tell you,” I said before he had a chance to speak.
“The first one is that I’m in love with you.” I paused.
“I have forgotten the second one.” I thought for a moment, then gave up.
“The third one is that I will not wait forever, but I will wait for a while. If you want to change your life, you know where I am.” Another pause, and then —
“Oh, I have remember the second one. It was all flattery: you are beautiful, and so on and so forth,” I finished, sounding simultaneously dismissive and earnest.
“I knew that — well, the first one,” he said, and smiled, and walked back to the table where his girlfriend was waiting. I walked back to where my friends were sitting, took a deep breath, and started to wait for a while.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The first attempt
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:30 pm
October, 1999. Thessaloniki.
Dusk was falling as I leaned against the wall, waiting for him to come out. This was my third attempt: the week before I had waited outside the wrong college, twice, before I realised my mistake. Seeing as I could not, at the time, conceive of taking no for an answer I’d waited around for the next available opportunity, jumped on a bus, and stood against the wall. I’d even brushed my hair at the bus stop.
It was the magic from the previous post that had brought me there. It started its work one sunny September afternoon, when I took a break from fixing my broken bed and sat down, alone, amid the bed planks and the screws and the dust that danced in the patches of early autumn light coming through the window — and found myself thinking of him. I hardly knew him then – we’d only met him a handful of times, only talked twice– and I certainly had never thought about him before; and yet suddenly there he was, in my head, and that was making me happy.
Before long I was overtaken by a conviction unlike anything I had experienced before. “I wander the world for you,” I wrote in my diary, “knowing that you are at the other end of something, quite what I do not know, holding the balance.” “It’s simply that I think that my life complements yours, and yours mine.” “Somehow I think that the heavens will send down the right moves, and, sometime, it will all happen.” But I must have decided that the heavens needed some help down here on earth, too, because there I was, leaning against the wall of the right college.
He was the third one out. He looked around for his girlfriend, quickly, and then said, appreciatively, “you’re very brave.” ‘What would I have, if I didn’t have courage?’ I thought, but thinking that too serious I simply said, “it runs in the family.” Saying little more we walked to the next corner, where I gave him a kiss and a little wooden aeroplane (the best thing I had ever got in a Kinder egg), and we went our separate ways.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
How a list of words changed my life
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:42 pm
August, 1999. Thessaloniki.
It was an exhaustingly hot afternoon of an exhaustingly empty summer, and there was nothing that gave out something was about to happen. In fact, it was the sort of time that convinces you that nothing will ever happen — and indeed, nothing really did. And yet every time I look back my thoughts stop on that day, and every time I realise it changed my life.
To say thank you for helping out at the shop, he gave me a CD, fresh out of the parcel I’d carried back from the post office. It was called ‘Try a little sunshine,’ and it claimed to be a compilation of the ‘Greek indiepop scene’ — whatever that was. “Take this,” he said. “It’s better than all the Belle and Sebastian records put together.” I didn’t believe him for a minute. What could be better that all the Belle and Sebastian records put together?
And yet. The compilation came with a poster, and the poster read —
“This is a compilation about love, fun, cupid, sweetness in chocolate, romance, innocence, lollipops after the pain, melancholy, dreams in the city, happiness, sunsets from the rooftops, water and bubble pistols, southbound excursions, stars in the sky, sky in her eyes, journeys, doo be doo, bicycle rides, dives in the lake, buried treasures, clouds, postcards, ocean rain, lovers, lunatics, giants, suncastles in the shade, moonflowers, lost friends… magic.”
And I thought it was the most beautiful, evocative, touching list of words ever possible. I was inspired: I put the poster on the wall above my bed, I lay down underneath it, and I dreamed the best dreams I had ever dreamed. I imagined a life lived in a world more like the one described by those words and less like the one I saw around me every day, and that thought was enough to make me infinitely happy. I felt like I’d just found something I’d been looking for all my life, something I’ve always known about but had forgotten, and I was just realising how much I had missed it. So amazing was that feeling that when I went out to walk around the city in search of ‘something as colourful as these words’ (which is exactly the way I thought about it at the time) I really believed I would find it.
I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. The world looked as grey as it had done on the morning, maybe a little greyer even; although I spent the next few days waiting for something to happen, I was feeling let down. But in the end, that didn’t matter: the magic that made me wander around town on an otherwise uninspired and sweltering evening was so strong that it never let me forget. To this day it is behind all my dreams of happiness, and every gratuitously romantic attempt to make them come true — even the ones that work.
It’s good to have something to show you the way.
If you think you’ve read this before, you have a very good memory. A longer, more detailed version of this story was originally published (in Greek) on Mic and (in English) on Friends of the Heroes in September 2003 — such a long time ago.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I took a photo of that puddle
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:39 pm
May 1999. Thessaloniki.
In wintertime, Thessaloniki belongs to the Balkans –it’s dark, and cold, and foggy– but when spring comes it becomes positively Mediterranean. It swells with life, with light, with the cries of swallows and sometimes, even, the scent of flowers.
We stood outside the record shop, under a struggling tree. He worked there, I was the owner’s girlfriend. We loved one another but didn’t always get on, except that afternoon we did, and he said, “here, listen to this: it’s the record of the week, and you’re going to love it.” There was no such thing as the record of the week, he’d just made that up, but I did love it: it was Hefner’s ‘Breaking God’s heart.’ I took it home and put it on a tape so I could listen to it on my walkman. That’s how these things were done in 1999.
That’s how I came to be standing on a street corner one freshly sunny afternoon, looking down at the sky, recently cleared up after a storm, reflected in a puddle, listening to ‘The sweetness lies within.’ And as the song rushed into life and spring rushed into town all around me, something –something like the ability be present, and happy, and alive in the moment– rushed into my heart, from where it had been absent for too long. Just like that. Suddenly my heart was swollen too, with light and life and the promise of better days.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
The closest we ever got
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:01 pm
April 1999. Thessaloniki.
Although our relationship lasted less that nine months, you could say that I grew to love him just as he grew indifferent. I, unconvinced for a while, moved towards him, and he, initially enthusiastic, moved away, falling back into his usual state of almost-apathy. I wonder sometimes if we met in the middle, even for a moment. I’m not sure; but there was this…
A sunny Sunday morning. We were listening to Belle & Sebastian, the ‘Dog on wheels’ single, and it was my first time. He came in from the kitchen in his awkward, lilting gait, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand and a cup of water in the other, with the flower I’d quietly left in the kitchen the night before between his teeth, and as ‘The state that I am in’ turned into ‘String bean Jean’ and my heart soared, as the sunlight streamed through the window and I fell in love with band that was going to change my life, he said, “is that what I’m going to have to listen to you if I marry you?”
I grinned, and nodded.
“Well, it’s not so bad,” he said with a shy, cheeky smile, as he sat down in front of the computer and settled into his work.
And I grinned some more.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Beginning (or the second small miracle)
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 10:23 pm
October, 1998. Thessaloniki.
We lay on his bed together, in the dark, listening to Patrick Fitzgerald. It was all new to me, strange but somehow wonderful. I was unsure, but charmed.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m listening to my favourite artist and you’re holding me.” And so it came to be that I acquired some kind of taste for post-punk that would serve me well later when I came across the Television Personalities, and that ‘Safety pin stuck in my heart’ would forever remind me of him. That was also how it came to be that I acquired a taste for unusual people with a tendency to grumpiness and loneliness, it has to be said — or perhaps I was born with it, and that is how I came to discover it. And I am glad I did.
“I have this picture in my mind, of us on a night train,” he said a little later, and I, who had never been on a night train, told him that I would never manage to do all the things that he had done in life. Never. Ever. I was seventeen and a half, it was easy to be so sure about it. “You’re like a sponge,” he said. I waited in the night for an explanation. “You feel everything.”
I held my breath, wondering how the hell he knew. Amazed, enchanted, with my life suddenly exposed to me in a different light, with a string of meaning running through it. And it was then, gentle reader –with that simple, unintentional, almost daft act of acknowledgement– that my life proper began.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Prelude (or the first small miracle)
posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 2:29 pm
September, 1998. Thessaloniki.
I was seventeen: out of school for two-and-a-half short months, lost and scared and alone; but also, even though I didn’t know it at the time, bright-eyed and magical and determined. I stood on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, but at the time I didn’t know that, either.
I’d dreamed about him, on and off, for a year. He didn’t mean much, he was just a handsome stranger in a band I loved. They wrote fairy-tale songs that made me dream. One evening in June I sat sat down and wrote him a letter, sent it off with a self-addressed envelope, and forgot about it all. It was late August or perhaps September by the time he wrote back. He’d be in town for a festival, he said, as if I wouldn’t know. I left a note for him at the hotel reception.
We stood on a street corner, late on a dark September night. The Russian-born north wind that haunts Thessalonikian winters blew, unseasonably, and we shivered as we waited for a taxi. A young man came up to us and asked for a light: he took the proffered box of matches, used one, gave the box back. It was a beautiful moment, cinematic, simple, and unlikely: it would never had happened had it not been for my letter. The realisation sent a shiver down my spine and gave everything that happened that night a secret glow.
Later on, he kissed me. He was a lot older than me, he was drunk; in many ways it was the wrong thing to do. It was my first kiss; I’d dreamed of him; in some ways it was the right thing to do. But, right or wrong, it was the prelude to my life proper — and the first sign that the world I imagined could, somehow, be true. I’ve always cherished it for that.