On legacies

When I come home from long trips, I always make the same thing: a slow-simmered chicken broth, rich from carcasses, necks and sea salt, with generous handfuls of garlic cloves and watercress, wilted so it melts over the meat.

I eat it in an enormous blue china bowl, with spoonfuls of rice in my soup spoon. I pick the meat off with my fingers when it’s cooled, dip it in soy laced with fresh red chillies.

It is a bowl of Ah Keng, my childhood nanny, her dish for Sunday afternoons when a return to school was nigh.

People leave their imprints on us: watermarks on our lives, visible if you look closely enough.

She is there too, in the placement of my thumb on a knife blade, when scaling fish.

I hear my dear, old, English friend Ed, every time I say “dee-LISH-us”; onomatopoeicly mouth-watering.

There are dishes and longings, bequeathed and inherited. I’ve always hankered for carpetbagger steaks: thick-cut fillets stuffed with fresh oysters, last seen on menus in the 1960s, a staunch favourite of my mother’s.

When I look at broccoli, I see my Italian half brother’s Pugliese orchiette, boiled in the same pot, until it metamorphosises into creamy sauce, tossed with anchovies and chilli.

When I think of Greece, it is of the happiest day I can remember: dripping salt from a foraging dive next to a crooked peninsula, legs dangling in glassy water from a boat named for the moon; fresh urchins perched on my lap, delicate ahinos roe to be gently lifted from shells, licked from fingers.

When relationships end, you must unknot lives that have become intertwined.

I once dated an actuary, who created an excel spreadsheet of our joint possessions, electrical items depreciated for time. But how do you divide the spoils of experience, places, tastes?

I didn’t want the Greek man who broke my heart to flavour my memories with bitterness, so I vowed to return, for a reclamation.

Summertime Athens is a city yellowed in sweat, bathed in amber streetlights and soft-edged shadows. It is slick-worn marble below your feet, dripping condensation from your freddo cappuccino on your thighs.

It is a longing for liberation contained within cement walls, where past happinesses return in wafts of sea and tiny ice-cold glasses of tsipouro that burn your throat, whose floral notes remember carefree dusks.

I swatted mosquitoes in bed, in cloying stillness, gasping for breeze. My possessions arrived, returned to me in plastic bags.

I watched the summer wheeze past in a penumbra of hazy days and languorous nights. Lost in sun-bathed surreality, I wished I could be the all of me that I remembered.  

So I wandered, slowly reappropriating the city I’d discovered at his side, its hidden basement tavernas and alleyway wine bars and bowls of lemon-drenched fava. I bought white cherries in the downtown market where I'd thought up endless suppers, ate plates of wild pleurottes in jasmine-draped courtyards.

I escaped to an island we’d stared at on the horizon, the purple monolith overlooking the beach where we spent our early Septembers in the Aegean. I drove through mountain passes, sun-scorched oregano floating through car windows, towards bowls of wild greens and sage-scented pork.

On a Sunday morning, I followed 80-year-old Grigoris into the sea, breaststroke in the Sarasic Gulf. Then we sat, legs dangling in the water, cracking open the morning’s urchin bounty.

With each mouthful of ahinos I tasted the summers he shared with me: precious, fragile on the tongue, soft, briny-sweet, richly explosive. And realised he could never take it back.

Basement taverna eating at Diporto, behind Varvakios market, +30 21 0321 1463
Alleyway wine at Heteroclito, www.heteroclito.gr, +30 21 0323 9406
Pleurotes at Ama Laxei, Exarcheia, +30 210 38 45 978