Greece has a very dry climate, rightfully likened to California: ocean breezes that bring in no moisture; scrub brush and agaves; great bare swathes of rocky outcroppings in the hills; islands offshore; and stupendously bad drivers. Because of the low moisture, the air has a hard crystal quality beloved of Plein Aire painters and poets. Also, you sweat freely without ever realizing it and you stay dehydrated. There is never enough to drink. They tell you not to drink the tap-water, and bottled water [€1] and soft drinks [€5] are costly. Beer is fairly reasonable compared to here and is cunningly called Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta with Alpha being the palest ale.
Now, my dear Greek friends, please take no offense as I make broad characterizations of your nation and countrymen. I love Greece; this is our 3rd visit and we would go again. But I want to make some generalizations, in no particular order:
· Ancient Greece is in no way related to modern Greece. Following Alexander the Great, Greece was conquered and spent some 1000 years under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Everything changed during that time, as you imagine: food, language, dress, etc. The delicious food you get in Greece today is Turkish- baklava, souvlaki, tzatziki, breads. [Olives and olive oil are native to Greece!]. The language is far removed from classic Greek that was used in the Bible. The traditional costumes, from the white skirted soldiers to the baggy pants of the dancers, are Turkish. So, when you visit Greece, you are visiting at least 3 distinct Greeces:
o the Achaeans of the Homeric, heroic age [Bronze Age]
o the Hellas of the Classic, 5th century time frame [think Parthenon and the 300]
o and modern Greece, which is teetering on the edge of chaos as it plunges into the materialism of the EU.
· The Greek melting pot of peoples are as contentious as ever. No 2 Greeks can or will agree on anything—and I’m ok with that—but they have an every-man-for-himself [and to Hades with women] attitude which shows up most often in traffic. LA traffic is gracious by comparison.
· They hold to the Reverence of the Stranger; they treat you like you’re a blessing from heaven, but forget you the moment you’re out of sight.
· Their war of independence was in 1821, spurred by a number of romantic Brits, such as Shelley and Byron. Chaos reigned through WWII, which was followed by Civil War [and Communist forces]. The modern state of Greece really only dates from the 1950s at which time, the Pelopponese was the nation [not even Athens was included]. The islands and the mainland finally coalesced. And now they are joined with the EU, which virtually means rule by Germany [imo].
· The young people we talked to are among the Entitled Generation. They generally have cell phones; thousands have motorbikes or small cars; and they want MORE-NOW. We talked to one waitress who was resentful because she doesn’t want to work hard and wait til age 50+ [as we did] to travel and live high. It is this type of young folks causing the unrest re: austerity measures. By contrast, we bought a hand-crocheted owl from a pretty street vendor from Romania [until recently Communist], who was thrilled to have the opportunity to work in Greece. Round and round it goes…
· Greek people want to own dogs for status [there were many new pet stores in Athens than before] they treat the street cats well. Most are feral but many are tame enough [and clean enough] to pet. The correct way to summon a cat in Greece is:
o Put your teeth together like you’re going to say “T” with lips open
o Form “Ws” with your lips over and over while hissing through your teeth.
· I will have more cat stories, so stay tuned.
Enough broad statements for now. Our Odyssey began in Athens…