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Thread: It's All Greek To Me.

  1. #1
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    It's All Greek To Me.

    It's All Greek To Me.

    Why take a trip to Athens next week? A confused mixture of rational, (some perhaps quirky), others at first sight of a superficial nature.

    I had not visited Greece since 1963, but have formed the view over many years that whereas travel when young is an important part of education; in the elder, (which I certainly am), it is a part of experience. How much so I've yet to judge, as fortune is invariably full of fresh variety. The Athenian statesman Solon pointed out that a man lives many days, and every day brings something different; therefore presumably you can call no man "happy" until he is dead!

    The trip could also be a nostalgia for my youth; but then by definition, that would be insignificant if one considers visiting a city with a recorded history spanning 3,400 years. And even if, (like Homer in the "Odyssey,") it is comparable to the setting sun; the grandeur I believe remains, even if the intensity has waned.

    On a superficial level, I have already factored into my imagination the goals of drinking "ouzo" on a balcony overlooking the sheer magnificence of the "Acropolis." To also indulge in proper Greek cuisine in local tavernas; and even get my current patriarch's style overgrown white beard, transformed into something more formal, dare I say "classical?"

    It will also be of some interest, (combined with sympathy,) to view in context, the effect on the Greek character and spirit, of nine years of crippling austerity with the cruel sapping effects of; unemployment, real poverty and associated consequences.

    It is important to remember that the dignity and the weakness of man is the ultimate source of that tragic note that runs through all Classical Greek literature. So far was the Greek from thinking that Man was a mere nothing in the sight of the gods that he always had to be reminding himself that Man is not God, and that it is impious to think it. It was in effect a display of a superb self-confidence in humanity itself.

    Thus the tragic note which we note in the "Iliad" and in most of Greek literature has been produced by the tension between two forces; a passionate delight in life, and a clear apprehension of what was then regarded as its unalterable framework.

    In Greek thinking the quality of a man matters more than his achievements. This was very much apparent in the Spartans, where it would not be unfair to say that Sparta created not so much things in words or stone, but in men themselves.

    Homer had taught that habit of mind - essentially aristocratic, in whatever class of society it may be found- which puts quality before quantity, noble struggle before mere achievements, and honour before opulence.

    Perhaps therefore as I wander through long, weather worn antiquities; living columns may emit confused words, and disguised derelict symbols may observe my presence with familiar glances?
    Last edited by MANICHAEAN; 02-04-2018 at 12:35 PM.

  2. #2
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Chapter 2.

    The Saturday mid-day flight from London Heathrow to Athens initiated an awareness of something different. Perhaps it was just the change in routine from the previous six months in the U.K. New images arose: looking down on French fields outwardly chaste under a blanket of snow, the sharp ruggedness of the protruding Alps, and the gentle sweep of the Adriatic coast of Italy down towards the ultimate destination.

    The flight was full; and being the Greek national carrier, it reflected this in its journey and composition. I've never either; come into contact with, or observed properly Greek nationals up close, but was now given the opportunity. A physical distinctiveness in the dark eyes and hair, a stolidity in the demeanour, a seeming emphasis on attire both formal and in shading. Outwardly serious they appeared; but seriously Greek enough to expect, (and get), an inflight lunch extending over two hours, replete with; feta salad, veal/vegetable main dishes, sweet honey infused desserts and unrelenting visits by the drinks trolley.

    The Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport was experiencing rain showers on touchdown, but apart from that the arrival was of no untoward consequence. I'd been warned of taxi scams outside; but dealt with that direct, by asking the yellow cab at the front of the line how much to the Royal Olympic Hotel in the city centre. "38 euros" was the response, with a touch of surliness. Thus the initial part of the ride, at high speeds on the expressway, was undertaken in silence. Then it slowly, but imperceptibly changed, when two strangers find that they actually do enjoy each other's company. By the time the hotel was reached, we had comprehensively traversed in animated conversation; the Greek economic situation, Brexit, and the merits of his wife's cooking. The initial outward formality had been breached and the stirrings of a transient friendship had taken its place.

    I won't waste much of the readers time regarding this particular Athens hotel; suffice to say it had some confusing features. Comfortable enough; even with a breezy fourth floor balcony, complete with a table and chairs. But no spare electric sockets to charge phones and other devices. But then, by crawling on my hands and knees under the table, I found one! Likewise an incongruity about the bathroom where to sit on the loo, ones right arm traversed the wash hand basin. But over the years I'd been in worse habitats and was if anything, amused, rather than annoyed.

    There was perhaps a need on my part to start partaking of what had evolved from the Greek cultural heritage; a respect for the wholeness of life, with a consequent dislike of specialization; implying by definition, a contempt for efficiency.

    Was it perhaps beginning with the Greeks, in what is termed by many "the cradle of civilisation," that man was never able to leave things alone. He was always enquiring, always finding out, improving, and being engaged in a journey of progression. Was it this progress, that both; broke that initial Greek invention of the "polis" or city-state, where all were constructively engaged, and likewise further down the line, resulted in hotel accommodation of questionable design and efficiency?

  3. #3
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Chapter 3.

    The news came through late yesterday that my older brother had died back in England. We had been close, even though there was ten years difference in age. Perhaps getting such news whilst in another country is a good thing; providing as it does, something of a physical distance from the reality and drama of the event.

    I don't know; but at first it quite simply did not sink in. I went about my routine in Athens and ended up late morning in the Kaiv cafe with a strong Greek coffee suitably reinforced with "raki." Still no emotion, only a nagging element of guilt.

    "I should be feeling something."

    Down Anapafseos Street to the right I proceeded for some lunch, and then from nowhere it struck. Boyhood memories with my brother; realisation of a lost forever image in time. Waves of numbing sadness breaking on a beach of mortal existence; crests of unrelenting emotions curling up to beat down and breach wasted defences.

    Later that night I drank more than my normal intake; outwardly retaining the veneer of normality. I'd promised to attend a friendly local wine bar in Raka, where the owner had extended an invitation to taste different Greek wines. She was dark, bubbly, animated and unaware. After an hour, my palate had gone and I made my excuses; only to enter the next bar and progress onto beer with suitable Jim Beam bourbon chasers.

    I had come to Greece unashamedly to take upon myself all things Greek. Thus perhaps it was relevant, that on this occasion, I was to taste personal tragedy in such established hallowed ground.

  4. #4
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    Chapter 4.

    I had to acknowledge that Athens was giving me a new perspective in drawing a distinction between the knowledge I thought I had attained and my opinions. Away and singular, from a regime of ; chores, television and work, the mind was becoming more active; fresh stimuli at every step amid ancient ruins and the sights and smells of a vibrant Mediterranean city.

    Knowledge is not what a man has been told, shown or taught; it can only really be what he has found out for himself by a long and rigorous search. Moreover, I also realised, that only the permanent, not the transient can be the material of knowledge; only what "is", not the objects of sense which are always "becoming" something else.

    Tonight I went to one of my usual watering holes. The barmaid, (half Greek/Armenian), seemed not to be on her usual form. I enquired how she was. There was a look that signified that all was not well. I did not push; but eventually It transpired that she had that day lost her grandfather. I likewise explained that the night previously when I had been drinking heavy, ( in the same bar) I had also sustained a recent family bereavement. She reached over and touched my hand lightly, tears barely contained.

    I consider myself blessed that I can reciprocate deep feelings in individuals who on the surface display superficial veneers of normality. Equally blessed, that the Good Lord parades for those that wish to recognise, the frailties of mankind's existence and the compassion it should evoke.

  5. #5
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    Chapter 5.

    I flew home yesterday from Athens to London, looking down for perhaps the last time on the physical reality of a Greece below; and with time on my hands to reflect on the weeks visit.

    There was a need for the moment to forget the standard tourist images of the likes of Mykonos and Delos, with their sunny holiday beaches; and to fly over some of the wild, rocky parts of Greece; a country for the most part comprised of limestone mountains, narrow valleys, long gulfs, and few rivers - the surviving eminences of a drowned mountain system. I had to remind myself not to lose substance by grasping at the shadows. Such landscapes, had throughout Greek history meant that life, and consequently thought, had been built very close to the bed-rock of necessity, and a certain hardness, and therefore resilience, was the result. And anyway, it was an Athens in a brisk, wet February mood; where within ten minutes one could view the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian's Arch, and then stumble upon the doorway of an abandoned, graffiti daubed office block, with the sight of one poor derelict, who crouched, viewing streams of rainwater flowing down the worn gutters opposite.

    One thing I had learned was the mental dislocation required to turn from the civilised perfection of say, a Sophocles and Plato to a current Greek life in the raw. If anything, the inhabitants had been aided by a historic lively and dramatic sense, which in the past had made them picture the "powers" in something like human form; and in which their inherent impulse towards unity and order had combined them into a family, and even a family council under the God Zeus. But this impulse had gone further. Even though some of the powers, ( both then and now) may have seemed to be lawless and at times manifestly in conflict with each other; nevertheless there had seemed a regular rhythm in the universe which although at times strained, never broke. In other words, there had been a power which was more powerful than the gods; the gods were not omnipotent. And it was perhaps, this shadowy power, with its conception of a universal and impersonal power which contained the germ of religious life. There was no distinction between Nature and human nature, such that the powers that ruled the physical universe also ruled the moral universe.

    As in Pericles Funeral Speech to the Athenians, " You must be "erastae" of Athens." That is, "Let Athens be to you something that thrills you to the very marrow." Not the remark of a cold man. But then the Greek it seems has had little need to stimulate passion. He has throughout his history sought control and balance because he has needed them; he knows the extremes only too well. The thought of the tuned string is perhaps never very far from his mind. It was not an absence of tension or a lack of passion, but a correct tension which gives out the true and clear note.

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