Note dear reader: I will not come close to capturing the real essence of the subject of this post but I promise to do my absolute best. Simply, he is too large to get right on paper.
He was a force, that much is certain. He was with us often, always it seemed, on that trip to Greece several years ago. He filled the room with his sheer presence. Not overbearing exactly, like some boulder rolling down a hillside; he was more like a professional entertainer that was always on. Amusing but exhausting.
He was my uncle Taiki, now recently departed.
When we arrived in Athens after a very long day of flying and connecting, he whisked us to the family house in the city, where we settled in for a multi-hour feast. He sat, as I remember, between Erika and me and served as more or less constant, which is to say non-stop, translator.
He told me stories about the family and gave Erika a crash course in must-know Greek. The word for fork. The word for knife. The word for glass. And on. And on. And on, throughout dinner.
He told me how superior the Greek language was to the vulgarity of English. In English, we have one word for rock, he said; in Greek, there’s rock, and pebble, and stone, and boulder. And on. And on.
He called me something that sounded like “Brunt.”
One day, a few days later, he loaded us into the back of his van and took us all to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio, which turned out to be, as promised, among the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth.
When I pulled out my camera to get some photos, Taiki seemed genuinely offended. “Rocks,” he said. “You came all this way to take pictures of rocks?” I tried to laugh it off but he had none of it. “You like rocks?” he asked. I said I found the temple magnificent, or whatever word I had to express that feeling in Greek.
With that, he vaulted the barrier, walked to a column and broke a piece of marble off in his thick hand. He came back, jumped the chain again, shoved the piece of the ancient and glorious temple into my hand and said, “There. Now you’ve got your rock.”
Taiki looked much like his aunt, my grandmother. The fair hair, the piercing blue eyes, the rolling walk that so many have who’ve grown up in an agricultural life. We visited the family farm, on the Gulf of Corinth. Taiki showed me the family’s olive press, the fields where my grandmother played as a little girl, the boat the family used to catch the calamari we had for lunch that day.
And there were the stories. Some, frankly, just too good to be true, even when washed down with liberal amounts of the family’s homemade retsina. He was a general in the Greek army, politically connected, a lemon farmer, a raconteur, a lover of life and his family.
When, during our visit, he would get to be too much, Erika would tell him to stop by saying a word Taiki himself had taught her, terma. And, like the gentleman he was, he would smile and stop (for a few minutes, at any rate).
According to the Urban Dictionary, a Taiki is “…a male who is an oddball combination of an artist, a gentleman, and a ninja.” How very accurate.
And, as Erika can still tell you, the Greek word for fork is πιρούνι. Thank you for that, Taiki.