A homecoming as old as Homer
Reunions at the old Athens airport were surely as heartfelt as the longing Odysseus felt for the familiar
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Upon one arrival, after delays and rerouting, we arrived in the middle of the night to find that our luggage had been sent to Chile. My Yiayia and my Aunt Mary took us outside to the airport's steps while my mother fought with airline officials. From their purses, they broke out keftethes (oregano-seasoned meatballs), feta cheese, and white bread. It was one of the most delicious meals I had ever had -on those steps, up later than I had ever been, enjoying the coolest air, and being close to these people who loved us so very much.Skip to next paragraph
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I spent spring break this year in Greece, with six graduate-school classmates. We were supposed to arrive at the new airport, but its opening had been delayed. While German engineers had completed the new airport on time, Greeks responsible for building the highway from the city to the airport had run a bit behind schedule.
So we landed the old-fashioned way, over the water, and applauded when we touched down. As we waited in the buses that were to take us to the terminal, one of my friends handed me her camera. I had told her so many stories of this airport, she insisted I take a picture of it on this, the last arrival.
I got out of the bus and took a picture of the sea only yards away, and then the main terminal opposite, with its large yellow lettering that read Athinai Airport, and the terrace at the top of it where my Yiayia used to wave goodbye as we climbed the stairs to board our flights home. You could always spot her frantically waving a white handkerchief.
The very last thing we did on our visits was wave goodbye from the landing at the top of the stairs and blow the biggest kiss before entering the plane.
I took pictures of the terminal from a couple angles, ignoring weird looks from Greek passengers and airline workers, then boarded the bus with the yiayias and grandchildren, tourists and students for the terminal. Since I was arriving with friends in tow, I had asked my family not to bother meeting us, that I would arrive by taxi after settling everyone else in.
But after I was stamped through immigration, I got on the escalator and turned around to take it all in. There were the cousins, aunts, friends, grandparents, pounding on the glass, the ladies using their rings to rap against the window and try to catch the eye of long-awaited loved ones.
The new airport opened four days after we left Greece to start our final term. The first few days of the new airport were mired with mishaps, mishandled luggage, hours of delays, computer failures, and other glitches. It's now reported to be running smoothly. I don't know if they have a glass wall behind the escalators leading to baggage claim.
The next time I go, I will look for that glass, or at least its equivalent, which is certain to be somewhere. There, families will wait for returning aunts and uncles, or use embroidered white handkerchiefs to wave goodbye to grandchildren, handkerchiefs to absorb tears shed upon both their arrival and their departure.
And the new airport, though sparkling and modern, will witness homecomings such as those that have occurred in Greece for millennia -and happily will for many more.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor