These days, he said, I live very simply. In the mornings, at sunrise, I drive to a place I know twenty minutes outside of Athens and I swim all the way across the bay and all the way back again. In the evenings I sit on my balcony and I write. He closed his eyes briefly and smiled. I asked him what it was he was writing, and his smile widened. He said, I am writing about my childhood. I was so happy as a child, he continued, and I realized a little while ago that there was nothing I wanted so much as to recall it piece by piece, with every possible detail. The world that happiness existed in has completely disappeared, not just from my own life but from Greece as a whole, for whether it knows it or not Greece is a country that is on its knees and dying a slow and agonizing death. In my own case, I sometimes wonder whether it was the very happiness of my childhood that has meant I have had to be taught how to suffer. I seem to have been exceptionally slow to understand where pain comes from, and how it comes. It has taken me a long time to learn to avoid it. I read in the newspaper the other day, he said, about a boy with a curious mental disorder which compels him to seek physical risk and there- fore injury wherever possible. This boy is forever putting his hand in the fire, and throwing himself off walls, and climbing trees in order to fall out of them; he has broken nearly every bone in his body and of course is covered in cuts and bruises, and the newspaper asked his poor parents for their comment on the situation. The problem is, they said, he has no fear. But it seems to me that exactly the reverse is true: he has too much fear, so much that he is driven to enact the thing of which he is afraid, lest it should happen of its own accord. I think that if I had known, as a child, what was possible in terms of pain, I might have had much the same response. You might remember in the Odyssey, he said, the character of Elpenor, Odysseus’s crewmate who falls off the roof of Circe’s house because he is so happy he forgets he has to use a ladder to come down. Odysseus encounters him in Hades later on, and he asks him why on earth he died in such a foolish manner. Paniotis smiled. I always found that a charming detail, he said.
Illustration by Samantha Hahn.