A Cherished Object (my contribution to the Cherished Blogfest )

My most prized possession is a painting. When I was a baby we lived in Thessaloniki, Greece and my mother bought a lovely watercolour depicting the harbour. That painting hung in my parents’ bedroom all the years I was growing up and well beyond. I used to stare at it and imagine being there – it seemed like a magical place. ct_Image

One day our parents showed us some old black and white photos of our time there. Standard family pictures of the day: my parents so young, me  in my first year (unrecognizable to myself) and then as a toddler playing at the beach with my older sister.   Mother commented,  “That water was so blue.”

Then another old photo of the waterfront, “Look!” I said, “It’s the same harbour with that round tower!”
“It is a famous building,” she told me, “Called The White Tower.”

It was built, probably in the early 1500’s by the Ottomans and was once part of the old city walls. When Greece regained control of the town it was restored and became a symbol of the city.  I vowed to go there someday. As a young adult I asked if I could have that little 2 x 3-inch photograph.  I framed it and set it on my piano. 

Thessaloniki_White_Tower_and_promanade

The ancient White Tower and promenade

After my father passed away, Mother wanted one of us to go on a cruise of the Mediterranean with her and I jumped at the chance because one of the ports of calls was Thessaloniki. She was approaching eighty and I was middle aged and I ‘d never been on a cruise. We started in Athens and saw the Acropolis, we went to Rhodes, Ephesus and Istanbul. All marvelous and memorable places I will never forget. The highlight for us, however as you might imagine, was Thessaloniki. We sailed into the harbour and there was the White Tower on the left; to my great delight the scene looked just like the artist’s depiction decades earlier. The painting I knew and loved so well. We toured the city and visited the wonderful Archaeological Museum, but the magical moment for me was just the two of us walking around the tower, touching the stones.

The White Tower, Thesalonika harbor

The White Tower, Thessalonika harbor

Visiting my mother ten years later, I noticed the watercolour on the floor, the glass cracked and the frame broken.  “Would you like me to fix it for you?”  “No,” she said, “You take it, to remember our trip.” She was about to move into assisted living and had to down-size. I had the frame matted in blue to pick up the blue water. The painting now hangs over my piano next to the little black and white photograph where I can look at it everyday. It has become a family heirloom and when my little granddaughter is old enough I will tell her its story and someday she can hang it in her own home.

Thanks to (very popular blogger and talented writer) Damyanti for the invitation to share this memory.  How about you  – do you have a cherished object?

Where Are You From?

Expat File #16 (In answer to South African writer-expat Charlotte Otter)

I am from Costa Rica. I am from eternal spring with blue skies and billowing clouds that sometimes rush in from both coasts and clash in the middle in a torrential downpour.   I am from green slopes of volcanoes and hot beaches that were once deserted. I am from coffee fincas, gallo pinto (rice and black beans) and beautiful birds. I am from warm smiles and friends. (My high school classmates have dinner together once a month and I am invited whenever I am in town – which isn’t often, but I am on the mailing list nevertheless.)

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Clase de  67 ps -crp 033Photo of my HS reunion a couple of yrs ago (I’m in 1st row, 2nd from R). We were always a small class but half of us have moved away.

I am from Costa Rica…that is what I used to say as I had no state or other place in the world to claim as my own. I grew up as an expat with American parents. I lived in Costa Rica longer than anywhere else… from earliest adolescence and into my twenties. I went home to visit until my parents left Costa Rica in my thirties (they had lived out of the country by then for forty years).

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Resplendant Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I might say I am from Greece where we moved when I was but weeks old.  And my first sentence was   “Thélo̱ pso̱mí” (I want bread) – or so I’m told.

white tower thslnk_crp0815

The White Tower in the background was originally built by the Ottomans, but it has long been a symbol of Thessaloniki.  My parents hung this painting on the walls of our houses wherever we moved.  My mother and I returned to Greece in the 1990’s – and to my great delight –  the harbor looked much the same as this watercolour I know so well.  I remember the blue water where we went to the beach …or do I just imagine it? …because we moved to Germany before I was three.

My mother said I spoke German before English, so I dutifully studied it for a semester in High School. That was in Costa Rica where the teacher, Frau Marin really was  German (and spoke Spanish, but not English) – but I didn’t speak it any better than anyone else. But I am from Germany… Because when I was twenty-five I suddenly found myself singing” Baa Baa black sheep” in German – lyrics hidden in the recesses of my mind for a quarter century.  I know all the words to a nursery rhyme I learned as a preschooler:   Mäh Mäh Schwarzes Schaf, Haben Sie Wolle? Ja, ja, ja drei Mal voll.…

old house_0192

Old timbered house.

I am from Colombia … I am from cool mountains with orchids and flower farms, hot beaches and lowlands… I remember flying over jungles and snow peaked volcanoes; I remember“onzes” (snack-time), kind  people, and colonial villages.  My elementary school had a reunion last year and I went with my sister and ate ajaico (wonderfully seasoned chicken stew) and danced the cumbia.  It felt like home – from a lifetime ago.

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… And now I am from California. From warm days and cool nights, egalitarian people, incredible spring wildflowers, tall redwoods, beaches, and deserts  … the Sierras, Monterey County and Yosemite.

Mt Tam Pt Reyes05 psat 017Mt Tam Pt Reyes05 psat016

 Panoramic photos above of the San Francisco Bay Area seen from Mt. Tamalpais.

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Finally I could pretend to be from Hawaii where I’d love to retire .

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay


My siblings are scattered like the wind as are my children, but we are used to traveling for family get togethers. It has always been that way. We are from everywhere.

Disclosure: the idea for the post came from a South African expat-writer, Charlotte Otter. She is the author of a crime novel, Balthasar’s Gift and her blog can be found at Charlotte’s Web.

Where are YOU from?