Author Philippa Rees has interviewed me for her fascinating blog, Careless Talk– the blog of things related to her book, Involution-An Odyssey. Unusually enough, she was interested not in my writing, but in the life that lies behind it. The interview was great fun, so I though I’d share one of its highlights here. You can read the rest on Philippa’s blog.
Can you give a sketch of your origins; family, growing up, where? Please include an impression of the atmosphere of your childhood home.
Well, I was born in Athens, Greece. I’m an only child, although I’m told it doesn’t show. I grew up in Dionysus – a mountainous region outside of Athens. My parents moved us there because the land was inexpensive. Then, they slowly built a rather larger house than what we needed. We lived on the top floor at first, while the rest of the house was still being built. Took them almost ten years to finish.
We moved there in 1981. A year to remember, for sure. At first, we had no power, phone lines or – worst of all – running water. We collected rain water in a giant tank, with a plastic pipe running into the house. Everything was done with buckets filled through that. Showering meant warming water on a gas-powered stove, then pouring it on us. We collected drinking water in gallon-sized jugs from a fresh-water spring (best water I’ve ever tasted outside of Scotland). Very wild west.
Our closest neighbor was half a mile away, which is also the distance I had to walk each day to reach the school bus. I was literally growing up in a forest. A regular Mowgli.
For power, we used a surplus US Army generator that used to be in Korea. My dad somehow found the behemoth in his engineering company and brought it home, so that we could have 2 hours of electricity each day – barely enough to warm the heaters, in a year that had us snowed in no less than 6 times. I studied with normal lamps for a couple of hours, while the generator was running, then used a gas lamp.
That summer, I saw my first forest fire. It reached less than 500 yards from our home. Oh, we had also been hit by an earthquake during that time, so the whole family (an additional 8 people) moved in with us for a week.
After a year, the water pipes finally reached our place. A few months later, power. Phone lines were next. The road was the last to be built – we only had a dirt track running up to our place until then.
In case you’re wondering, no, the rest of Greece was firmly situated in the 20th century. It was just my crazy parents who did that. Adding insult to injury, they sent me to Greece’s poshest school. I felt like a caveman, patting snow down my fur coat while the rest of classmates gawked at me through their sunglasses (our area is some 20 degrees F colder than downtown Athens). Everyone was dressed in cool, cotton shirts, while I wore military khakis and woolen shirts. Sigh…
I still hate camping. Whenever someone suggests we rough it for a week, I always growl, “Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt, mass produced it in a sweat shop.”
Growing up in Dionysus with no siblings is definitely part of why I write. Or at least, why I love books. Every weekend, I’d borrow a dozen books from the school library and return them on Monday. Not much else to do, with no one around.