In class, Dora explains the meaning of νόστος (nostos) — return to the fatherland — and that it forms the modern word νόστιμα (nostima) — delicious.
The satisfaction of the homecoming journey. The direct connection between the taste of something extraordinary and memory, something very familiar to me. And of course it’s one of the primary themes of ancient Greek texts. The epic Νόστοι (Nostoi, “Returns of the Greeks”) and the journey home of the last remaining hero, Odysseus. But there it takes a darker turn — the struggle in the never-ending search. Nostos + άλγος (algos: pain) gives us “nostalgia” — a longing for the past. Rich words.
I’m doing a lot of thinking and feeling as I wander the city. Thinking about who I am here: is this my return home, or a stop along the way? Μένω στην Αθήνα (I stay in Athens). In English the name “Athens” doesn’t carry the feminine weight, as it does in Greek. One can’t talk about being here without conjuring the feminine (Αθήνα: Athena): the -a ending, the feminine direct article η and the reference to the goddess are all in the name, all in this place. It’s part of the language. And yet we know that Athens is the voice of the father — Athena had no mother — she was “the perfect idea sprung from the head of the father” (Zeus). Interesting stuff.
And here’s the ultimate trick: the Greek islands, which appear masculine (-ος), are actually feminine (H Λέσβος).
A word triggers an investigation. It happens almost every day and the discoveries are thrilling for me. When you own the language, you own the stories. It’s the real reason I’m enjoying language class.
I admit to feeling anxious that I’m not producing visual work right now. OK, there are the photographs, but this isn’t like Rome. It’s a different kind of memory palace. The project here is an emotional one, about how I identify.
How long should it last — that’s the question on my mind right now. My return is scheduled for April 17 but if I stay until June I could complete two more levels and start speaking conversationally. I have lots of ideas about what’s next but Αθήνα has a grip on me now, and I have to consider it.