By: Jim Bamboulis
Some of us feel a connection to a place. Many can’t understand why and many others don’t know what to make of that feeling they get when they arrive – and the uncomfortable, discomforting pain they feel when they leave. I recently met a woman who’s been to India over a dozen times in two years. I asked her why she keeps going back and her only response was, “I feel that I belong there; my soul belongs here”.
Her answer hit me hard, eureka hard. Got me thinking. Is that why I kiss the tarmac every time I land there? Ok, that’s really random, I know. So, here’s the story.
Every time I land at this one location, I have this desire to kiss the tarmac. I do it every time. I don’t know when it all started and I don’t know why it has become common practice for me but it has turned into a weird ritual. Well weird to you probably. For me, it’s feels natural. I don’t do it at any other location, except and only here. In Rhodes, Greece. And over the years, I’m now finally starting to understand why.
I don’t travel to Rhodes often. In fact, it’s been many years since I’ve been. But every time the weather starts getting cold in Toronto and every summer, it pops back to mind. I think the biggest reason why is because my Mom is from this magical Greek Island in the southeastern Mediterranean. And although I was born and raised as a proud Canadian, I have a very strong bond with my Mom and perhaps that’s the reason why I feel that a big part of me is also from this place. I don’t feel like a traveler or tourist here. I feel as if I’ve arrived home.
As a child, money was tight but we managed to go every few years to visit and spend time with my Grandmother in the village. I shake my head and smile as I remember those childhood visits. I’d always cry on the first night. Probably because I miss playing with my Atari. But after that, it was pretty smooth sailing. I’d make summer friends and pretend to be good at soccer and basketball.
I remember breakfasts, I’d eat oranges and figs fresh off the trees from my Grandma’s garden. Later, Mom and I would ride the bus into town, walk around the castle and visit the sites, pick up delicious sugar donuts from street vendors and, if my Mom still had patience for my sometimes unpredictable childhood antics, she’d let me take a dip in the sea.
I remember the evenings and nights. Those were the most special and in my opinion, quintessentially Greek. Mom and Grandma would cook a small meal. We’d eat it on the front porch as we exchanged evening greetings with passer-by’s. Sometimes even inviting them in to drink, eat, share some laughs and memories with us. Those conversations would often go well into the night. Even at a young age, I can remember sitting back and watching the dynamics of the conversation between neighbours. The memories they had of the years that flew by way too fast.
Many Greek Islanders have a story to tell. Rhodians in particular have incredible ones. Sure, the island was home to one of the 7 ancient Wonders of the World and although you probably won’t find anyone that can speak of their personal experiences with that, you will find many who can remember big recent events and turning points. Because of its geographic location, Rhodes has always been in the crossroads of history. From Biblical times to Ottomans to Nazis, its shores have experienced many things over the span of three-thousand years or so. Stories are handed down and recited almost at will.
I think this is the reason why I always tell friends who want to visit Greece that it’s not just about seeing the sites and posting photos. It’s about the little experiences in Greece that make your visit that much more special. Visit a village, have a coffee, listen to an older person as they spontaneously start telling you war stories and probably some personal family conflict you didn’t want to know about. Don’t worry about time or the language barrier. With their broken English and passing translators, you’ll understand enough. And believe me, it would be one of those unique and memorable experiences that will put a smile on your face. And it’s not something you can capture with a photo. It stays with you, inside of you.
The last time I visited Rhodes was when I was in my early 30s. I looked up at the clear, blue, eternal sky as it joined hands with two endless, royal blue Seas. I closed my eyes and felt a surreal warmth come over me.
I inhaled intoxicating scents of chamomile, mint, honey. Coming from the mountains, from the sky. Subtle waves crashing, feeding the land with history, passion and millions of tales. In awe. Speechless, swept up, emotional.
And then it dawned on me. A thought sprinted to mind as I finally realized what I couldn’t quite place at any other time I visited.
I felt right, comfortable, like I fit in nicely here. I thought and felt that this goes beyond the physical sense. It runs deeper. Perhaps soul-level-deep.
Born, raised and educated in Toronto, I love my hometown and I love Canada. I get excited every time I explore it and experience its gorgeous and often breathtaking scenery. I’m proud to be Canadian, to flash my passport abroad knowing that I come from a country that gave me and millions of others loads of opportunities that people from around the world clamour to get. And I’m always sharing uniquely Canadian experiences to visitors who want to explore the country for themselves. I don’t take any of it for granted.
But there’s a particular, intangible feeling that I get on Rhodes that I’ve never quite gotten in Canada or anywhere else I have visited. Maybe there’s a connection to the land, the history, the water, the honey scented air, the spirit of the people. I don’t know. I haven’t been able to pinpoint it. But the thoughts and feelings I get every time I get there are a special kind of euphoric.
I believe that we all have that one place that completely mystifies us with the power it holds over us. Many are lucky enough to discover it. I don’t know the how’s or why’s but I do know that once known, it will keep luring you back emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
What do you guys think? Am I off or am I on to something here? I would love to hear your thoughts about this y’all. Please leave your messages below!