It’s sort of like waking up. Or falling into a dream. Or breaking the water’s surface and finding oneself in another world. Or floating up from the depths and breaking into fresh, clear air. That’s how it is. Transiting the birth canal. Getting in one of those giant cigar tubes with wings and getting out in not just another country but another world. And here we are. Aahhh…
It’s not just the flora and fauna, although they are quite different from what I know of the US. And it’s not just the geography, although it’s the size of Alabama with more coastline than the entire US, 2500 islands, and the majority of the population living within sight of the sea. And it’s not just the climate, which is extraordinarily temperate 10 months of the year — July and August are the exceptions. And it’s not just the food …I shouldn’t get started about the food.
It’s the people who make this a special place, welcoming, warm, generous, easy to be with. I don’t know what it is exactly but it seems to stem from their deep connection to this place. It’s as if they’re living in their great, great, great, great, great, great, etc. grandparents’ house. They’ve always lived here, they know all there is to know about living here, they’re made up of these minerals, these waters, this sunlight, shaped by the climate and geography. They belong to the place. All of their neighbors do, too. They are comfortable in themselves and in their land to an extent that we, with the possible exception of the indians, don’t know.
I think that easy way of being is a part of what makes it so pleasant to be here. The emphasis is on living life fully, on feeling life’s pains and pleasures completely, on the preeminence of family, on celebrating the good times and mourning the bad times. Other issues take their place down the list.
Even now, with the country suffering through a deep economic depression from which it looks to be a long, slow slog to recovery, the spirit of Greece is irrepressible and effervescent. (There’s an interesting comparison of Greece’s current depression and the US Great Depression here: Seen From Greece, Great Depression Looks Good .) Pensions have been cut in half, college graduates work in supermarkets for the equivalent of $7200/year, medicines and medical technology are in short supply, shopping streets are gap-toothed with closed stores, unfinished highways and railroads rust and grow weeds but…but the smiles are still quick and genuine, families and friends still gather at every opportunity, and the Greeks remain possibly the world’s most welcoming, generous, and cheerful hosts.
Is that why it just feels good to be here? Maybe it’s watching clouds scythe across the mountains, maybe it’s learning the moods of the sea, maybe it’s finding fields of wildflowers, orchards speckled with lemons, poppies along the railroad tracks, wine from grapes called assyrtiko and agiorgitiko, produce from farms just over there…maybe, maybe. But I think it’s because the Greeks have their priorities organized around what really matters, and because the sense of peace that comes from knowing the important stuff is well looked after infuses every aspect of life. At least that’s what I think… peace, calm, happiness, love. The world turned upside up. Aahhh….