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I was nine or ten years old when my addiction began. My dealer: a strict, devastatingly sophisticated, Russian ballet teacher who walked with grace and commanded obedience in ever glance.
The candy was a break, a treat, a reward for finishing a particularly grueling set of exercises or mastering complex choreography.
Sometimes they were gummy bears. Sometimes they were jelly beans. I preferred the gummy bears, specifically the white ones. I think they taste like pineapple.
“You can take one,” she told us, subtly reinforcing the idea that sweets should be consumed in moderation.
One!? I didn’t want one! I wanted a fistful.
When I was old enough to buy the 99 cent bags myself, I would gorge sometimes. I could eat half a bag before my stomach would protest. But so often though those gummies would be stale. Seriously, it was like I was the only person who bought gummy bears from the drug store.
But not in Germany. No siree. Germany is where gummy bears come from. Haribo, the company which makes the original gummy bear (and the only one that matters), was born in a suburb of Bonn.
My cousin Grace spent a semester there. I am surprised she made it out alive.
I allowed myself to indulge during the few weeks we spent in Germany, buying two bags at a time of the freshest gummy bears in the world.
Even before I start factoring in cousins’ spouses and cousins’ kids, my family outnumbers Nellu’s family by about 4.6 to one. Nellu is an only child. He has four cousins. I am one of four kids with 35 first cousins.
Growing up, playing with these cousins was a highlight of every holiday and family visit. It still is. They are true partners-in-crime. As children, we planned elaborate annual Christmas pageants together. We counted down the New Year long after the adults put us to bed. And we got hopped up on Lifesavers to keep ourselves from crying at my grandfather’s wake and ran around the funeral home shocking mourners with static electricity. As adults, there are still plenty of ways we can get into a little good-natured trouble and it’s even more fun now that many of the younger kids are old enough to join in.
I’ve always missed that when it came to Nellu’s family. Over the years, we’ve visited relatives in Romania. But his cousins on both sides live in Germany and our trips to the motherland don’t usually align. His aunts, uncles, and close family friends have been generous and open to me. But there are so many barriers to communication between us: language, culture, generation…I’ve sat through hours of family parties surrounded by strangers all speaking a language I don’t understand with few words of English in between. Nellu is a wonderful translator, but he can’t babysit me the whole night. And I don’t want to cut into the only quality time he’ll get with many of them for the next year. I’ve learned to cope by drinking as much as I like, at least then it feels like we’re communicating.
But when it came to our trip through Germany, it was partner-in-crime recruiting season. We planned extended visits to make up for lost time with the cousins.
We started in Wietze at the home of Nellu’s cousin Alex, her partner Eric, and their new baby Stella. Nellu and I would become Stella’s godparents in a ceremony a few days later. Also visiting was Alex’s sister Edith, known as Frueppi (pronounced: Fru-pee); their younger brother Eduard, nicknamed Edu; and their parents, Harry and Catrinel. I think Edu looks like a younger, blonde and slightly timid version of Nellu. Sure, I know it’s hard to picture a blonde and timid version of Nellu, but he exists.
Everyone calls Nellu “Nelluţu” (The swiggle on the ‘t’ gives you the pronunciation: NEL-lu-tsu), which basically means little Nellu. This is funny because he is actually bigger than everyone in his family.
Frueppi said Nellu looks a lot like their grandfather, Nellu’s mom’s dad. I love that. It was glimpse into a shared history that I know very little about. And they agreed with me that the family speaks exceptionally loud when conversing in Romanian. (Seriously, I was beginning to think it was me. What is it about that language!?) Read the rest of this entry »
If I ever decide to runaway and become a recluse writer or visionary filmaker or something equally as mysterious and moody, you might be able to find me on the island of Syros in Greece. (If I need a country with no extradition treaty, I’m considering Morocco. Or maybe Laos. There are a lot more options for the fugitive than you would think.)
We still found plenty of ways to spend our time on Syros. We rented an apartment in Ano Syros, a medieval town high up on the hill behind the Port of Ermoupolis. We shared the apartment with Nellu’s parents who met up with us in Athens for the Grecian leg of our adventure.
You could take a cheap cab from the port to the Ano Syros car park, where you could then access the apartment with a short walk and 40 or so steps. Or you could walk from town. The later option requires you take on more than 100 steps—just the amount of exercise to keep a recluse writer in shape.
Architects, who got whisked off to work in London, owned and renovated the apartment. It was a dream—a true refuge.
In my runaway fantasy, I could see myself making a life here. And if you’d like to play pretend, you too can rent out Frini’s apartment. Check out the airbnb.com listing of her apartment in Ano Syros by clicking here.
We spent hours roaming up and down the marble steps of Ano Syros, accessing pathways winding around homes accented with pops of bold or smokey color. For more photos, please check out randombutbeautiful.com.
The town was built by Venetians and had a fair number of Catholic churches for a Grecian Island. Our hosts actually told us that religiously, the island is about half Greek Orthodox and half Catholic. When it comes to Easter festivities, which the Orthodox and Catholics often celebrate on different Sundays, island residents get together and choose one weekend for joint festivities. If only all religious differences could be solved in such a amicable manner.
We rented a car to check out the island’s beaches and got up the courage to take a dip in the Aegean even though the water was still cold. And we ate our way all over the island. Our host recommended the restaurant Plakostroto for its sunset views.
Besides the steps and the swimming, there’s plenty of hiking to do on Syros. Nellu and I went out looking for ruins on the north side of the island and got super lost. We started out following a well-marked path, but that path disappeared as we got further away from home by foot. We just ended up roaming up and down the rocky hillside and through rustic, traditional villages but made it back just as rain was setting in. (Nellu contends that we weren’t lost. We knew about where we were and how to get back home. We just couldn’t find the ruins.)
Oh and we saw a lot of goats. Some alive. Some dead. One in the process of being carved up on a dirt and stone pathway, perhaps for an Easter feast. We asked the carvers for directions to a cave. (Don’t ask. These things just happen to travelers.) As a huge feta fan and recently reformed full-on meat-eater, I tried not to look.
So that was something else entirely. And I guess I could consider it just one of the island’s perks. At least if I did go AWOL, I’d still have plenty to write about.