Posted by: scintillatingspeck | October 20, 2013


Our pet names for each other may be similar or even identical, but the stories behind them belong to a tender realm of unique intimacy.

I was reminded of this while reading Zorba the Greek during my retreat at Woolman Hill this weekend.  In that tale, the mischievous and vibrant Zorba encounters Dame Hortense, an aging trollop clinging to any last vestige of beauty she can muster, and he, with the aid of food, wine, and impassioned flattery, successfully woos her.  He calls her “my Bouboulina.”  A footnote in the text reads: “Bouboulina was a heroine of the war of independence (1821-28).  She fought valiantly on the sea like Canaris and Miaoulis.”

When I read the words “my Bouboulina,” however, I immediately thought of another term of endearment coined by my mother, one of her Italianized Yiddishisms: she would call me and my sister “bubolina,” which was her twist on the Yiddish “bubala” (meaning “sweetie” or “darling”), except with rounded vowels and the Italian diminutive “-ina.”  When I was growing up, I’m not sure if I had an inkling of the uniqueness of this affectionate term.  (You may or may not recall from my previous writings that my mother was born and raised in Bologna, Italy, a Catholic, and that my father was born and raised in Rochester, New York, a Jew, and that they met in Italy when they were both students at the University of Bologna, fell in love, my mother converted, and they married.)

It delighted me to stumble across this reference to “my Bouboulina” this weekend.  I spent the first half-day mostly trying to pry myself out of my own head.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeking; I wanted healing and peace, and I allowed myself to drift somewhat, hiking around, gradually feeling my mind clear, writing when I was moved to do so, sleeping more than usual.

I brought Zorba the Greek with me because it was given to me by someone I love, and I hadn’t read much of it yet.  It spoke to me from the shelf, saying “Read me now.”  It’s the story of a man who lives his life with immense vitality and enjoyment, in a direct relationship with his senses, no matter where he is or what he’s doing.  This gift, this enduring token of affection, brings back every loving term of endearment, and the sure knowledge that I am loved, and that those who love me want me to live with joy.

Live with joy, bubolini!


We stayed silent by the brazier until far into the night.  I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea.  Nothing else.  And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.  …  We were both in a good humor, not so much for having drunk a lot but on account of the indescribable happiness within us.  We were deeply aware, each of us in our own way, that we were two little ephemeral insects, clinging tightly to the terrestrial bark, that we had found a convenient corner near the sea, behind some bamboos, planks and empty petrol cans, where we hung together, and, lastly, that we had before us some pleasant things and food, and within us serenity, affection and security.

-from Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis


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