It was the Gypsy Summer of 1988 –

Tracy Chapman was talking about revolution; for about a year Nina Simone has been wayfaring through MTV charts as a play-doh sultry cat; the whole Wimbledon stadium and the rest of the world were chanting “Free Nelson Mandela!” and we were still perplexed for four consecutive years how Madonna managed to be "like a virgin"…

It was that memorable time, just months before my entire carefree life collapsed into pieces, when my sister and I went to Greece and spent a month at my Aunty Elpida’s place.  Time, I still mark in my mind as “before going to Edessa” and “after Edessa”.

At the official Police Registry, our family was filed as “enemy of the state” for not conforming to the communist’s government and because my Uncle Vanyo was an opposition leader and punished for that as a political prisoner in the Bulgarian Gulag camps for more than 5 years.  That little detour from the story might look as it has nothing to do with my happiest times, but being branded as a public enemy meant that nobody in our family would be allowed to travel overseas.  Not even to go next door to Greece to see the hometown of our grandmother Sophia.

And here we are – my sister and me – signing declarations that we receive a tourist visa in exchange for the promise that we will return in 30 calendar days or else.  The “or else” paragraph was containing legally formulated threats, which translated in simple language was pure blackmail for prosecuting our parents and confiscating all we’ve got if we don’t return.  To seal the deal with securing the effort to keep us under their thumb, the Department of International Affairs issued us with tourist’s visas under the condition that we can carry only $50 USD each for the duration of our 30-days stay in Greece.

Filled with mixed feelings of excitement, and embarrassed from turning up at our Aunty’s door as paupers with only a few bucks in our pockets, we boarded the train Plovdiv – Thessaloniki with travel luggage full of presents from our family.

It was a long, long day on the train.  Quite exhausting really, as we with my sister were left feeling guilty of something and always expecting to be stopped or called for questioning.  To be honest, ever since our visas were issued with the legal warnings, we were left with the lurking feeling, as we are criminals released on parole.

At the train station in Thessaloniki first thing we saw were the big smiles of our Aunty Elpida and Uncle Naki.  His name was Tryfon and he was towering over the main crowd as an aging Greek god with mustache – tall and handsome.  Our Aunty Elpida was the sweetest beautiful woman we met.  She resembled so much our Mum as looks, voice, and character, that we loved her instantly!  It felt as we arrived home.

Little I knew that our adventure starts when we got together with their daughter Sophia and her brother Hristo.  It was a month to remember.

Our cousins Sophia and Hristo were our age and we all had our minds on the same frequency waves.  We talked to each other in English.  Actually, I didn’t talk at that point – I didn’t know English.  I didn’t know Greek either.  I only knew how to read ancient Greek or whatever that meant from my classic philological University studies and I used to throw my relatives in big confusion by reading the signage on the shops we were passing by with some ancient pronunciation as Erasmus of Rotterdam admonished it should sound.

My cousin Sophia was very stylish.  Very!  Ah, the clothes!  Ah, the jewellery!  Ah, the perfumes!  Ah, the cigarettes!  Ah, the hair sprays, the gels, and brill!  It was the 80s and I would die to dress like her.  Hristo was like the Phantom – he was either sitting some Uni exams or taking girlfriends out.  I hardly saw him during our stay.  But not that we worried much about him; we were too busy having fun with Sophia and hanging with her friends.

As I had a poor way of talking with anybody, I found myself in the company of Uncle Naki’s sister – teta Marika.  She was also called the American aunt because she lived 20 or so years in America and then she returned back in Greece.  She loved to talk to me and she would search for any word in any language till we make a sentence or any sense out of it.  I think she knew how it feels not to have the means to communicate.  One morning, while my sister and cousin Sophia were still sleeping in, she made me a coffee and we sat on the shaded balcony, enjoying the freshness of the morning.  We were talking again about the usual stuff – men, boyfriends and all that things, we giggled and then she checked my cup, which has been lying for a while upside down on the saucer.  It looked like a brown lace.  Then she pointed at it “I see the tree of your life”, she said.  My eyes popped in surprise, she got my attention.  I sat even nearer, paying close attention to every word she said.  And then she started to show me figures and things in my coffee cup and explaining what they mean.  It was as if I was listening to some of the Aesop’s fables – stories full of animals, allegories and meaningful warnings and morals.  As she finished and blessed my future, she handled her cup to me and said, “You try now, tell me what you see”.

That’s how it all started.  I got baptised in the coffee reading.  By the end of the evening, we were having few friends stopping by just to get their coffee read.  Within an overnight, I was turning into a local sensation.  All of a sudden I was reading coffee but hardly could speak Greek or English.  I was signing with hands or miming my stories.  Every reading was a small performance.  And guess what – everybody understood what I was saying.

I was getting very good at it.  I managed to master my hands' gestures.  The eye-work was getting more expressive, I could hold an eye contact for more than 30 seconds and I became unsurpassable in talking with cigarette in the mouth…

Truth to be told, I believed no one thing I was reading and predicting from the coffee.  But it felt so good to be surrounded by eyes beaming with hope.  It felt as if I received “All Access Backstage VIP Pass”, and at the same time, I turned into an accidental rock star.

It is been a long time since and I am finding out that all things I’ve blubbered in my broken non-Greek, non-English, non-Bulgarian languages, actually happened.  Maybe I had some hidden talents after all.  But I never believed in them and never took them seriously. Just hope that I have seen all the happiness in the cups of my friends.

Yes, it was a memorable month of that summer even though I drove my sister crazy after I spent all my $50 dollars on our first stroll up the trading street of Edessa, and even when I fell in love with the thought to be in love with Pavlos and we ended up hanging in his bar night after night so I can gaze at him…  But I’ll leave these stories for the next time.

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