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