Every Night I Dream of Home

Some of you may have wondered why the image at the top of this website is of the sea and not of one of my games. Some of you may have even noticed that even though the image has changed over the years, it always contains the same little island. There is a reason for this: it represents who I am in a way that no image from a game or sentence from a story ever could.

Agios Ioannis 6

This is the landscape of my childhood. This is home.

Sithonia II

I grew up by the sea. Not literally – we lived in Thessaloniki, which is a city with a most fascinating and rich history, and one which fits oddly well with the themes of the novel I’m writing, even though it’s not intentional. But Thessaloniki is not where I feel at home. It’s not what I dream about or what I yearn for.

Kamara III

No city I’ve ever been to feels like home. I’ve never felt a sense of belonging to any nation or society; oh, I’m deeply fond of the Greek language and Greek literature and poetry and music, but that doesn’t give me a sense of belonging. Not like the sea does.

Sunset 2

You can’t put it into words, of course. You can’t capture it. I don’t think anyone can. Music comes closest, but nothing really compares to just being there. Being by the sea, especially in those places in Greece, is the closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience. Staring at the sea I feel a sense of pure awe that nothing else has ever given me.

Driftwood

And as I said, this was my childhood. The months and months in Thessaloniki are as nothing next to the weeks we spent camping on the beach each summer with my parents. Out in the wilderness, in the rough landscape of northern Greece, I felt like I was… I don’t know how to explain it any better, but sitting on the beach at night, under the stars, you can feel time. You can feel that the past and the future are real, and so is the present. Everything seems to be closer together, and yet the vastness of the world is more apparent than at any other time. It’s a sense of being, of existing right now but also in a larger context, that has shaped me and everything that I do.

Sitting in the shade and reading a book, listening to the waves, running through the sand, climbing over rocks, watching crabs scuttle about, diving, finding octopuses, talking about the stars, thinking about history… those are the memories of my childhood by the sea. That’s who I am.

And the island? That’s Kelyfos, also known as Chelona (turtle), which can be seen from many of the beaches where I grew up.

Turtle Island

I dream about being back home on a regular basis. The dreams are always full of yearning, full of a terrible sense of loss; I’m always there, but I can never stay, I never have enough time. I’m not particularly surprised that that’s what I should dream – I’ve been living in Frankfurt for eight years now, and in none of those years have I spent more than a few weeks in Greece, and even less time actually by the sea. Thanks to the insistence of the Greek government to please Greek nationalists and French and German weapon suppliers by maintaining a huge army, I cannot go back to live in Greece. It’s ironic, really. Everyone goes on about getting young people to innovate and create jobs for themselves, but Greece drives out those who are unwilling to sacrifice a year of their lives to one of the most loathsome organizations ever created – the military.

I could go back. As long as I had an internet connection, I wouldn’t mind living in some small village in Chalkidiki where no-one from the city wants to live, making a living by making games and telling stories. Verena wouldn’t mind, I know that, and I’m pretty sure Cat and Zathras and Zathras wouldn’t, either. I could be a productive citizen. But while bankers and other thieves poison the seas of my dreams and build hotels on the beaches of my childhood, the Greek government makes sure that I can never go back home.

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13 Comments

  1. Another excellent post, Jonas.

  2. James Patton

     /  August 18, 2011

    There is something indefinable about the sea, but I’d seldom given much thought to it before you posted. But your words here,

    I don’t know how to explain it any better, but sitting on the beach at night, under the stars, you can feel time. You can feel that the past and the future are real, and so is the present. Everything seems to be closer together, and yet the vastness of the world is more apparent than at any other time. It’s a sense of being, of existing right now but also in a larger context

    That reminded me just a little of “Dover Beach”, a poem by Matthew Arnold. I wonder, have you read it? If not, you might want to glance over it; there are some things in there that might speak to your vast, almost spiritual communion with the sea.

  3. James Patton

     /  August 18, 2011

    remind me of the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. I wonder, have you read it? You might want to glance over it; it shares your sense of awe and majesty when faced with the sea.

    (Sorry for double post; something went wrong with the block quotes.)

  4. Fixed. Must go to bed now. It was a good but very long day.

  5. Sarah

     /  August 19, 2011

    I get this; I really do. Mine is a freshwater bay, not the sea, but I feel like home there like nowhere else. And the only thing more like a religious experience than staring at it, is being in it. The house and town I grew up in I feel far less attachment to than the bay my family’s cottage sits next to.
    I’ve never tried to articulate it before like you have here, so I was quite startled by how much I related to this post. 🙂 I’m sorry that the Greek govt prevents you from going home; that’s an atrocious situation which I hope will change some day for you.
    Here’s my home I live too far away from:
    http://renalyn-the-ghost.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d23m27o
    http://renalyn-the-ghost.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d22bd21

  6. Beautiful. I find that I feel this awe and rapture most strongly with plants and forests myself, and it has a different, more energetic flavor than the vastness of the ocean. But I can also appreciate the ocean. I will feel the past and future converging next time I am alone by the ocean. 🙂

  7. Ha, and I just realized this – you can see this reflected in my choice of blog header image, just as your blog header depicts the ocean… 🙂

  8. @Sarah: That looks like a very beautiful place.

    @axcho: It’s funny how we don’t even realize. I’m not sure I even realized when I picked the central metaphor of The Infinite Ocean – not on a personal level, anyway.

  9. I also grew up by the sea, and love the sentiments in this post, which I strongly identify with. I find it hard living in Cambridge, so far from it (about as far in-land as England gets anyway, haha.)

    Every few months I feel a strong urge to touch base, not by going to where I grew up, but by visiting the sea.

  10. Michelle

     /  January 4, 2012

    I know exactly how you feel. I have two places that, when far from them, make me feel lost.

    The first is also the sea. Growing up on a small Island, the sea was everywhere and I spent almost every day running across the sand and clambering near cliffs to get to secret coves. This is the beach I lived five minutes from; http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3178/2875094214_0d29b17309.jpg

    And the other is the South African veldt. I was born there but barely even got a chance to live there. And yet, it is so familiar in every possible way. There’s something about a sultry night in the bush, with the heat just fading and the cicadas beginning to chirp, and the faint scent of jasmine and other dried flowers in the air…

    I know exactly what you mean.

  11. Lin

     /  February 24, 2012

    For someone who never used to write comments on blogs, this is the third of mine on your websites in the few days since I found them. At first I thought it was weird that I felt so strongly the need to communicate with you, let you know that I’m connecting strangely with pretty much everything I’ve seen of you so far, but now I know why. I feel like finding your websites and games brought me home, because we share “home”.

    It’s uncanny, really. I grew up in Thessaloniki, spent my 20s in Germany and all my childhood summers were of me staring at the sea with that tiny piece of land in the middle. And thinking I must be really odd because THAT was my church. That sea, that island, that light, that smell, that way of measuring time, THAT. There’s something about that specific sea, isn’t there?

    I’ve travelled a bunch, seen many gorgeous seas and beaches and islands, but none are home. That one is, with the island in the middle, endless but finite, comforting like a womb. It almost hurts to think about it. Back when I used to write, this was a phrase I used to return to: Το άλλο μου όνομα είναι θάλασσα. Not any sea. That one.

  12. That’s a beautiful phrase. And you’re right. Please stick around, it’s nice to know others share this feeling!

  13. lin

     /  February 25, 2012

    Plan to. Been enjoying myself these days, reading back, going through your games, reading old articles. Thank you. I almost wish I was still in Saarbrücken, I’d invite you over for coffee or some ταραμά on bread, to be seasonal. Happy kite flying on Monday!