Root Menu

Maria Banks

A Self-Portrait

Some of my most memorable conversations have been those I had with my aunt Yioula, my mother’s older sister who passed away four years ago. I would visit my mother’s family in Greece every summer since birth and would always have long afternoon lunches in her yard with my brother, her daughter, my parents if they were visiting and any other neighbourhood women or family who happened to be around. I wish I could remember in more detail the many stories she would tell me but I don’t. What is most memorable about these, though, is the overwhelming feeling of mystery and intrigue I remember feeling when I spoke with her as a child. I would ask her about my grandmother and she would tell me about her ‘sixth sense’. She would tell me about my grandmother’s dreams/visions and how they often bore on reality, and about her ability to analyse the dreams of others, for better or for worse. My grandmother had visions of Agios Ioannis (John the Baptist), she told me, and died on January 7, which in Greece is the day of the year dedicated to him. She taught me about the mysterious arts of telling someone’s fortune from the coffee grinds left at the bottom of a cup and of determining the sex of an unborn child by dangling a cross in front of the expectant mother and waiting for it to swing. Worlds away from my sheltered life in a leafy neighbourhood in Toronto my conversations with my aunt exposed me to a different world – one of unexplainable events, mysteries, fate, luck, fortune, superstition. Though I don’t consider myself particularly superstitious, my memories of my conversations with her still make me wonder…I wish I could speak to her again.

A Self-Portrait

Some of my most memorable conversations have been those I had with my aunt Yioula, my mother’s older sister who passed away four years ago. I would visit my mother’s family in Greece every summer since birth and would always have long afternoon lunches in her yard with my brother, her daughter, my parents if they were visiting and any other neighbourhood women or family who happened to be around. I wish I could remember in more detail the many stories she would tell me but I don’t. What is most memorable about these, though, is the overwhelming feeling of mystery and intrigue I remember feeling when I spoke with her as a child. I would ask her about my grandmother and she would tell me about her ‘sixth sense’. She would tell me about my grandmother’s dreams/visions and how they often bore on reality, and about her ability to analyse the dreams of others, for better or for worse. My grandmother had visions of Agios Ioannis (John the Baptist), she told me, and died on January 7, which in Greece is the day of the year dedicated to him. She taught me about the mysterious arts of telling someone’s fortune from the coffee grinds left at the bottom of a cup and of determining the sex of an unborn child by dangling a cross in front of the expectant mother and waiting for it to swing. Worlds away from my sheltered life in a leafy neighbourhood in Toronto my conversations with my aunt exposed me to a different world – one of unexplainable events, mysteries, fate, luck, fortune, superstition. Though I don’t consider myself particularly superstitious, my memories of my conversations with her still make me wonder…I wish I could speak to her again.

I am endlessly grateful for my background and the experiences it has brought me. My mother was born and raised in Greece and moved to Toronto when she was eighteen, in 1968. My father was born and raised in Burnley and Mansfield here in the UK and moved to Toronto when he was 25, in 1973. I was born in Toronto in 1979 and grew up there though I often think that I did a lot of my growing up during my summers away. Unlike my friends and peers at school, I never went to summer camp. Instead I would go to my mother’s home town, Livadia, on mainland Greece and float from my uncle Taki’s house (where I’d sleep – his kids were the same age as me) to my aunt Yioula’s for lunch, to my Aunt Haido’s for the afternoon (she lived right next door to my Aunt Yioula so I often think of them as a unit – in fact until my Aunt Yioula passed away my cousins and I would always refer to them as the Aunts, for example we’d say I’m going to our Aunts’ now instead of distinguishing their homes as separate). These were my second homes and a formed a complementary though very different aspect of my ‘normal’ life.

Unlike my privileged upbringing in Toronto, in Greece I would learn about living a more modest and simple life. I learned to appreciate everything my parents had worked so hard to give me. But I also learned to love and respect the different world I was granted access to. My mother’s siblings didn’t have very much money but they seemed so rich to me. They and my cousins taught me about the simple pleasures I still long for today. Even now I wait with anticipation for the summer so that I can return to my Aunt’s yard to pick figs and peaches from her trees. And also to spend hours staring at the starry sky from my uncle’s house where I used to lie on the roof with my cousins waiting for falling stars.

I had a revealing experience about myself this summer that oddly enough has to do with the bathroom in my Aunt Haido’s house. My aunt’s house was built nearly forty years ago as her dowry and very little has been done to it. In true Greek tradition she and my uncle decided that they would build themselves a small apartment below their actual house so that they could vacate it and leave it as dowry to one of their daughters. They did up their new home with a separate entrance that you get to by going down some external stairs. They moved all their furniture down and left the main house empty bar a big bed that now rests in the living room and a couch and TV in the kitchen. For a variety of complicated reasons my aunt still spends all of her time in her old house even though it is more or less empty and falling apart. When I arrived she asked me if I wanted to go sleep downstairs in the new apartment but I told her I would rather stay in the living room of the old house – it felt more like home. She told me to at least use the new bathroom to bathe and again I refused, telling her I was more comfortable in the old bathroom. My aunt looked at me proudly. She told me that her own young grandchildren refused to use that old bathroom. They were disgusted but the worn tiles and yellowing bathtub. When I was a very little girl I think she worried I would become spoilt by the luxuries of my life at home. But what she hadn’t realized was what a profound effect she and the rest of my mother’s family would have on me.

My father flew over from Toronto last Friday because my grandmother (his stepmother – his real mother died when he was eleven) passed away and we went to her funeral together. My grandmother Rosemary was a Quaker so my grandfather organized a Quaker funeral for her. It was one of the most inspiring and uplifting services I’ve ever been to. Both my grandmother and my grandfather were (he still is) extremely active in the community from politics to charity work and there were so many people in attendance that not everyone could fit in the meeting hall. I had never been to a Quaker meeting before but it was organized such that we would all sit in silent prayer for half an hour or forty minutes and whoever was moved to speak could speak whenever they felt compelled. My grandfather stood up and read a poem that my grandmother had written about death. It was so beautiful and his voice shook and I couldn’t help but break down, not just from sadness but also from awe at her talent. So many people followed his lead, talking about her social activism, her contributions to the community, her feisty personality. Her son spoke about his childhood with her. Never would I have imagined it but my father spoke as well. He talked about how she had saved his father from a lonely life and he reminisced about the friendship she had given him as a young man without a mother. He mentioned her old chequered sports car that she would zip them around town in and everyone chuckled, picturing my grandmother recklessly speeding down the streets of Mansfield as a younger woman. I’ve never heard my father speak about his feelings or his youth so openly. He is painfully shy and never talks about his emotions. Amazingly and, I’m sure, against every fibre in his being he found the courage to express his own grief and in doing so supported his own father in his grief. It’s funny because in many ways I felt I learned so much about my father in that brief moment.

The whole experience also got me thinking a lot about social responsibility and community. My grandparents worked very hard to instil in me a sense of social responsibility when I would visit them in England. I remember going to Labour rallies with them as a child and to the Oxfam shop that they both helped run. Looking around that room at the funeral, I saw so many people that not only talked and thought about their beliefs but also took action. I realized that I have become very complacent and inactive and would like to change that. I’m not sure how just yet but I will do it.

I met up with a couple friends of mine this summer and the conversation somehow turned to flying. I explained to them that although I’ve travelled a lot and never used to be afraid, recently I’ve become much more fearful when I get on a plane. For example when I was flying back to London from Toronto about a month ago there was, what seemed to me, prolonged turbulence and I found myself clutching onto the armrests. I looked around the plane to see how other people were reacting and to my surprise everyone looked completely relaxed and normal. Both of my friends could relate to my experience. Our philosophical musings led us to the conclusion that when you hit your mid twenties you become more aware of your mortality.

I don’t think I have a sixth sense but I was told once by my aunt Yioula (see above) that because I was born on a Saturday, I have the special powers of the ‘Mati’ or the Eye. According to Greek folklore or superstition, people born on a Saturday have a powerful Eye (commonly referred to as the Evil Eye in Western cultures though I was assured by her that it is by no means only evil and can be used for positive purposes as well). According to this superstition I (and all those born on a Saturday) have a more powerful ability than most (all those not born on a Saturday) to instigate good events by wishing for them or to instigate bad events by wishing for them or by placing curses. I never believed in the Eye but it still made me feel kind of special.

If I had to guess what some of the first words my friends would use to describe me I bet they would be romantic, sensitive, emotional or intuitive. Rational would definitely come pretty low down on that list. I think that fundamentally most of my friends share the same basic characteristics though in varying degrees and mixes. Some of my closest friends to this day remain those I made in childhood and adolescence. There’s something about someone knowing so much about your past that makes your relationship more honest. I love the fact that my old friends have seen me flourish but have also seen me struggle, and be awkward. I don’t need to provide a lot of context to a situation because they already know me so well. So, even if I make a decision that seems completely out of left field, which I have done on more than one occasion, my closest friends don’t think it’s strange at all but actually rather in tune with my personality.

I guess that in friendship and love I prioritise trust, understanding and honesty above all. But there are different kinds of friends that satisfy different needs. I’ve met wonderful friends with whom I love to go out and to talk to for hours on end but to whom I wouldn’t divulge my deepest darkest thoughts. The value of these friendships isn’t diminished by this fact. Different relationships satisfy different aspects of myself. I am sure that I satisfy those who count me as a friend in many different ways and to varying degrees.

I don’t often get lonely but I do miss the people I love who are far away from me, especially my parents and my brother. Often when I’m alone I think about them. It sometimes makes me sad to think about how long it will be until I can next see them. I haven’t really found a way to overcome this – it’s a feeling I’ve learned to live with since I moved away from Toronto, where my family and a lot of my friends still live, three years ago.

But that brings me to the reason I moved to London in the first place – Love. I moved here after I finished my undergrad degree to be with my boyfriend Nick. The happiness my relationship brings far outweighs any sadness. And that in itself makes it worth it. I guess I really am hopelessly romantic.


October 2004

I am endlessly grateful for my background and the experiences it has brought me. My mother was born and raised in Greece and moved to Toronto when she was eighteen, in 1968. My father was born and raised in Burnley and Mansfield here in the UK and moved to Toronto when he was 25, in 1973. I was born in Toronto in 1979 and grew up there though I often think that I did a lot of my growing up during my summers away. Unlike my friends and peers at school, I never went to summer camp. Instead I would go to my mother’s home town, Livadia, on mainland Greece and float from my uncle Taki’s house (where I’d sleep – his kids were the same age as me) to my aunt Yioula’s for lunch, to my Aunt Haido’s for the afternoon (she lived right next door to my Aunt Yioula so I often think of them as a unit – in fact until my Aunt Yioula passed away my cousins and I would always refer to them as the Aunts, for example we’d say I’m going to our Aunts’ now instead of distinguishing their homes as separate). These were my second homes and a formed a complementary though very different aspect of my ‘normal’ life.

Unlike my privileged upbringing in Toronto, in Greece I would learn about living a more modest and simple life. I learned to appreciate everything my parents had worked so hard to give me. But I also learned to love and respect the different world I was granted access to. My mother’s siblings didn’t have very much money but they seemed so rich to me. They and my cousins taught me about the simple pleasures I still long for today. Even now I wait with anticipation for the summer so that I can return to my Aunt’s yard to pick figs and peaches from her trees. And also to spend hours staring at the starry sky from my uncle’s house where I used to lie on the roof with my cousins waiting for falling stars.

I had a revealing experience about myself this summer that oddly enough has to do with the bathroom in my Aunt Haido’s house. My aunt’s house was built nearly forty years ago as her dowry and very little has been done to it. In true Greek tradition she and my uncle decided that they would build themselves a small apartment below their actual house so that they could vacate it and leave it as dowry to one of their daughters. They did up their new home with a separate entrance that you get to by going down some external stairs. They moved all their furniture down and left the main house empty bar a big bed that now rests in the living room and a couch and TV in the kitchen. For a variety of complicated reasons my aunt still spends all of her time in her old house even though it is more or less empty and falling apart. When I arrived she asked me if I wanted to go sleep downstairs in the new apartment but I told her I would rather stay in the living room of the old house – it felt more like home. She told me to at least use the new bathroom to bathe and again I refused, telling her I was more comfortable in the old bathroom. My aunt looked at me proudly. She told me that her own young grandchildren refused to use that old bathroom. They were disgusted but the worn tiles and yellowing bathtub. When I was a very little girl I think she worried I would become spoilt by the luxuries of my life at home. But what she hadn’t realized was what a profound effect she and the rest of my mother’s family would have on me.

My father flew over from Toronto last Friday because my grandmother (his stepmother – his real mother died when he was eleven) passed away and we went to her funeral together. My grandmother Rosemary was a Quaker so my grandfather organized a Quaker funeral for her. It was one of the most inspiring and uplifting services I’ve ever been to. Both my grandmother and my grandfather were (he still is) extremely active in the community from politics to charity work and there were so many people in attendance that not everyone could fit in the meeting hall. I had never been to a Quaker meeting before but it was organized such that we would all sit in silent prayer for half an hour or forty minutes and whoever was moved to speak could speak whenever they felt compelled. My grandfather stood up and read a poem that my grandmother had written about death. It was so beautiful and his voice shook and I couldn’t help but break down, not just from sadness but also from awe at her talent. So many people followed his lead, talking about her social activism, her contributions to the community, her feisty personality. Her son spoke about his childhood with her. Never would I have imagined it but my father spoke as well. He talked about how she had saved his father from a lonely life and he reminisced about the friendship she had given him as a young man without a mother. He mentioned her old chequered sports car that she would zip them around town in and everyone chuckled, picturing my grandmother recklessly speeding down the streets of Mansfield as a younger woman. I’ve never heard my father speak about his feelings or his youth so openly. He is painfully shy and never talks about his emotions. Amazingly and, I’m sure, against every fibre in his being he found the courage to express his own grief and in doing so supported his own father in his grief. It’s funny because in many ways I felt I learned so much about my father in that brief moment.

The whole experience also got me thinking a lot about social responsibility and community. My grandparents worked very hard to instil in me a sense of social responsibility when I would visit them in England. I remember going to Labour rallies with them as a child and to the Oxfam shop that they both helped run. Looking around that room at the funeral, I saw so many people that not only talked and thought about their beliefs but also took action. I realized that I have become very complacent and inactive and would like to change that. I’m not sure how just yet but I will do it.

I met up with a couple friends of mine this summer and the conversation somehow turned to flying. I explained to them that although I’ve travelled a lot and never used to be afraid, recently I’ve become much more fearful when I get on a plane. For example when I was flying back to London from Toronto about a month ago there was, what seemed to me, prolonged turbulence and I found myself clutching onto the armrests. I looked around the plane to see how other people were reacting and to my surprise everyone looked completely relaxed and normal. Both of my friends could relate to my experience. Our philosophical musings led us to the conclusion that when you hit your mid twenties you become more aware of your mortality.

I don’t think I have a sixth sense but I was told once by my aunt Yioula (see above) that because I was born on a Saturday, I have the special powers of the ‘Mati’ or the Eye. According to Greek folklore or superstition, people born on a Saturday have a powerful Eye (commonly referred to as the Evil Eye in Western cultures though I was assured by her that it is by no means only evil and can be used for positive purposes as well). According to this superstition I (and all those born on a Saturday) have a more powerful ability than most (all those not born on a Saturday) to instigate good events by wishing for them or to instigate bad events by wishing for them or by placing curses. I never believed in the Eye but it still made me feel kind of special.

If I had to guess what some of the first words my friends would use to describe me I bet they would be romantic, sensitive, emotional or intuitive. Rational would definitely come pretty low down on that list. I think that fundamentally most of my friends share the same basic characteristics though in varying degrees and mixes. Some of my closest friends to this day remain those I made in childhood and adolescence. There’s something about someone knowing so much about your past that makes your relationship more honest. I love the fact that my old friends have seen me flourish but have also seen me struggle, and be awkward. I don’t need to provide a lot of context to a situation because they already know me so well. So, even if I make a decision that seems completely out of left field, which I have done on more than one occasion, my closest friends don’t think it’s strange at all but actually rather in tune with my personality.

I guess that in friendship and love I prioritise trust, understanding and honesty above all. But there are different kinds of friends that satisfy different needs. I’ve met wonderful friends with whom I love to go out and to talk to for hours on end but to whom I wouldn’t divulge my deepest darkest thoughts. The value of these friendships isn’t diminished by this fact. Different relationships satisfy different aspects of myself. I am sure that I satisfy those who count me as a friend in many different ways and to varying degrees.

I don’t often get lonely but I do miss the people I love who are far away from me, especially my parents and my brother. Often when I’m alone I think about them. It sometimes makes me sad to think about how long it will be until I can next see them. I haven’t really found a way to overcome this – it’s a feeling I’ve learned to live with since I moved away from Toronto, where my family and a lot of my friends still live, three years ago.

But that brings me to the reason I moved to London in the first place – Love. I moved here after I finished my undergrad degree to be with my boyfriend Nick. The happiness my relationship brings far outweighs any sadness. And that in itself makes it worth it. I guess I really am hopelessly romantic.


October 2004