Being raised as a Greek-Cypriot, even in London, you know and have met almost everyone you are even remotely related to on both sides of your family. Every Uncle and Aunt, your parents’ Uncles and Aunts, all your 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins and even some fellow villagers of your grandparents who are related to you from 8 generations ago, are a familiar part of every day conversation in your home! Family is important to us Greeks. It is our identity in the community, (you are ‘so and so’s relative’). And it’s not just part of your history but also your present as you soon learn when going to weddings and christenings every weekend as a child and have a hard time remembering these people’s names, their relation to you, and why they all seem to instantly know who you are and want to tell you how much you’ve grown while violently pulling at your cheeks! Every family vacation doesn’t involve some glamorous trip to the south of France, or a cultural exploration of the ancient Roman ruins in Italy. Instead you will go to Cyprus and spend two weeks travelling from town to town, seeing every relative in every corner of the island, being ‘cheek-pulled’ and force-fed copious amounts of grilled lamb and pork.
As a result, relatives come to mean something more to you than what most Westernized families experience. My 1st cousins, for example, are like my brothers and sisters. Not in the way that just means, oh I kind of like them and they’re cool. They are a part of my soul. The meaning ‘blood is thicker than water’ perfectly describes my deep, deep love for them to the point where it seems as though they form a part of my actual physical being.
One such member of my 1st cousin clan is Lizzi. Being 2 years older than her, I was the big ‘sister’. In all fairness, I was not a very nice one which is heartbreaking to think about now because she looked up to me at the time and I didn’t realize that it was a privilege and honour. She would follow me around and always want to copy whatever I did, and whatever I wore, and whatever I played with so I would get all diva-esque and annoyed! Despite these moments I in our very early years, there are many more great fun memories like jumping from couch to couch trying not to fall into the ‘Sea of Carpet’ and reveal our true identities as mermaids (yes we were obsessed with the movie Splash!), or we were damsels in distress needing saving (being the bossy older child, I was usually the one being rescued while Lizzi and her brother had to climb ‘Mount Staircase Banister’ to save me from the ‘Landing of Terror’!). We wrote and made up ‘plays’ every weekend much to the dismay of our parents who would have to sit through every living room performance acting enthused as if we were budding Shakespeareans in the Globe Theatre at the pinnacle of our career! We only lived in London together until I was 8 at which point they moved to another town and then later we moved countries and were miles apart from my Aunt’s family. However, this did not affect our deepening love for each other and by our teens, Lizzi and I were the bestest of friends, talking for hours about every worry, adventure and little secret plan of mischief behind our parents’ backs. To this day, from across the pond, we will talk about everything we can in the space we are allotted Planning a phone conversation is nearly impossible, not only because of the 6 hour time difference, but because we usually have 4 hour conversations and only just begin to scratch the surface of what we want to share.
When she got married in 2011, I had the honour of decorating her wedding cake. Someone else had prepared the layers, Liz had her design and accessories in hand, and it was my task to bring it all together once I arrived from the States. Of course what made this even more special was that I had my mum as an assistant and for those of you who have read why I began decorating cakes, you will understand the significance of sharing this experience with her. Although this cake was not the usual hours of work other wedding cakes have been, it was definitely a labour of love for my little sister, Lizzi, on her special day.