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I’ve lived in Brooklyn, New York the majority of my life. I was born in Greece, on the island of Chios, then joined my family in Montreal, Canada when I was seven. Then moved with them to Chicago for almost ten years. Then came to Brooklyn. Then went back to Chicago. Then came to Brooklyn to stay for good. We lived in a section of Brooklyn called Bay Ridge, which is near the Verrazano Bridge. In fact, I remember when they were building it and the two towers stood alone in the water, rust- colored, and without their elegant string of hanging cables. Before the bridge, we had to take the Staten Island Ferry to go to Staten Island and New Jersey and points beyond. I remember walking outside my uncle’s house on the route to the ferry and seeing the street clogged with cars waiting endlessly it seems to board. I remember wanting to cool off in the summer and paying a nickel (five cents!) to board the ferry for the ride to Staten Island in the refreshing harbor breeze, grabbing a hamburger on the other side, and then paying a nickel to get back. It was our summer outing.
The neighborhood in Bay Ridge has remained relatively stable: in fact, it’s prospered and the houses we lived in you can’t buy now unless you’re a millionaire. Many well-to-do Greeks live in Bay Ridge and now there are Greek restaurants serving Greed food aplenty and their prices have gone steadily up.
But our house in Greece, the house where I grew up on Chios, has collapsed and lies a ruin behind chicken wire. The hill where we chased butterflies and we chased each other in the field of wheat now has an apartment building blocking it with wash on the line. I don’t know what happened to our old neighborhood in Montreal, it was well in the suburbs and might have survived, but I don’t know if Greeks still live there: we were immigrants then and found the rent cheap so it’s likely prospering Greeks have moved uptown.
As for our Greek neighborhood in Chicago, clustered around the Assumption Church on South Central Avenue, the church remains, and the school which my father administered as the principal (now leased to a private school). But the neighborhood which I remember, a thriving Greektown where the gas stations on either side were Greek, and the funeral home down the block, and the Greek foods emporium across the street where my father and I stopped for groceries and I smelled the lamb roasting and the potatoes and the olives in brine and the feta cheese as creamy as froth and the men and women doing their groceries while they popped roasted chick peas and caught up on their gossip, they’re all gone and our old house on Lotus Avenue was a hollowed-out wreck with the shades hanging out the broken windows. “It’ll come back,” one titan of business who comes from Chicago assured me, “It’ll come back because the real estate is cheap.” As a man of business, he was thinking of business. And I hope he’s right because we Greeks are restless people and nomads and what we leave behind in our travels are a string of bittersweet memories.