On November 27th 2012, after two grueling years into the Greek financial crisis that showed no end in sight, I made the decision many of my closest friends made and left Athens, for the second time. This time I was part of a new diaspora; the latest chapter of Greeks leaving for something better, but under very different circumstances than the immigrants before us. This exodus was full of already talented, often highly educated people leaving a collapsing economy after what seemed like a lifetime of stability and security that was literally torn from under our feet. There was no external war to escape or massive poverty to quell, yet ultimately Athens was being systematically broken. Her spirit was broken and so was mine, or so I thought. Life in the early 2000’s was really good in Athens and I loved living there. In her heyday during the height of the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens was a really cool place to be. This gamble with our lives and our money, ultimately put a massive financial burden on my generation. The early noughts were some of the best years of my life, until December 2008.
In order to truly know a place, you have to live it
The tsunami of the financial/housing crisis having left the shores of America, came crashing down on Athens in early 2010 and what was America’s problem quickly became ours. People were losing livelihoods, markets were crashing, banks were foreclosing and people were in massive debt. What I had built over 13 years; my home, my career & my relatively comfortable life, was coming to a slow and painful stop. I came to the realization that If I didn’t leave, I would become stuck, and the one place I knew would get me unstuck, was New York. I recall now confiding in an old friend about the feeling of urgency I felt to leave. Being a lover of all things that grow, The roots that once were our anchor to our motherland, now rotting in a place that was being suffocated by bad financial management, crooked politicians, xenophobia, racism and massive uncertainty. Packed along with my books and clothing were many doubts, fears and anger. I wasn’t ready for her then. New York knew more about me than I knew about myself. She kicked my ass and slapped me around, she exposed me, and left me there to fend for myself, and for that I am now grateful to her. It was the beginning of a very arduous and difficult journey. I still had a lot to learn about myself as a person, a woman, a Greek, an American and ultimately a citizen of the world. In New York my project- Aμerikana was born. She came through for me just like The city did.
In the months and years that came and went, I made it my mission to understand this city and it’s rhythms in ways I couldn’t have done at a distance. In order to truly know a place, you have to live it, and the first place that grabbed my heart was the Lower East Side and all the surrounds it. I’m a nostalgia junky. New stuff doesn’t do it for me. I prefer and look for the old over new any day. For me the Lower part of Manhattan is that fix of nostalgia that has kept me here all these years. I love walking through history soaked neighborhoods finding people who’ve lived there all their lives; generations of New Yorkers showing me their city. I longed to speak to those who’ve seen the trends come and go, and still remain true to the streets, the parks, and the blocks that raised them. I love hearing stories of shops now long closed, art scenes now only spoken of as legends of a glorious punk rock past, and smelling the history in the buildings that still stand in the streets that have vanished over time. New York is unique in her demand of loyalty and devotion by it’s residents. She’s not easy to love, but when you do she loves you back in secret ways no tourist or visitor could ever fathom. This year, although one of the hardest and most daunting emotionally and mentally, I’m celebrating my 8th winter, and the start of the 9th year in New York.
Don’t misinterpret my love as naïveté. My relationship with this city has been far from smooth.
She is relentless, resourceful and demanding. She’s a broad, a hustler and a 5 dollar hooker, all in one. She’s a sophisticated woman who can hail a cab with a trucker’s whistle, she’s a skank and a princess at the same time. She’s a handful and she’s not easy to be with, but deep down she’s all heart and all art. I found myself, here. I found out about what I’m really made of here. I found my deepest sorrows and greatest joys here. I found my love for Greece, and Athens grew here. New York is erratic and resourceful. She’s a hustler and in order to truly “make it” here you have to be as well. It’s not romantic. She’s dirty and ugly and will tell you the fucking truth to your face. Here I found my greatest teachers and most influential mentors. There have been many moments I regretted my decision to come here, I though it was a mistake, I thought I was a fool to let go of all that was easy and familiar to come to a place where, nothing of what I had accomplished in Athens meant anything. Yet here I was and quitting wasn’t an option.
The old me peeled away to reveal someone stronger, more aware, more connected and braver than before. An old astrologer friend said something about coming here to go “back to first grade” and learn the lessons about myself, and life I had not absorbed the first go around. The teachers were many, the lessons I was forced to learn at times stifling. The mounting anger and frustration at not understanding what I needed to learn, left me with a chocking feeling. I would have to fight harder for that gulp of air to keep going. There she was, New York, my biggest teacher of all, she knew I would get it eventually.
After what felt like a lifetime, It became clear just like the light shining through the clouds. It all became clear. We are here to understand each other by making a better effort at understanding ourselves. The more I learned about myself the more I was able to understand the “otherness” about me.
Cheers NYC you tough broad. You will survive this as you have survived before. I hope those that truly love you will lift you up like you have them