I love to stand in bare feet on the sun-warmed tiles of the balcony and lean my hands on the hot rail. I watch a white butterfly with black etchings dance across my view riding on the breezes that sough in the pines and make the tiny early fruits, lemons, pears and pomegranates bounce on the trees in the garden.
I look across the sea gently rippling. It is always in motion and I hear the rush of the waves on the rocks far below me. The ferry glides by and I look across to Athens and I wonder. My eyes are moist.
I have been reading Joseph Campbell this morning. He describes the American dollar bill and the symbols that once were significant but since the First World War have been breached. He described the pyramid with the eye above it and the desert in the background and the garden in the fore. This was the declaration that the United States (then thirteen) would no longer be involved in the tyranny, chaos and wars of Europe.
He is speaking of cultural mythologies and ways of experiencing being alive. What we all seek even more than the meaning of life; the experience of being alive so that when we die we have no regret. He says we can look at worldwide mythologies, and, while the motifs are the same each culture has their own language and custom derived to make sense of these archetypes so that life is meaningful and beneficial within that community, their land, their challenges, their traditions.
And now I stand looking at Athens. I wonder and my eyes are moist. A ritual is taking place right now as I write that is meant to defame, destroy and distract with lack of sleep a man who dared to say ‘this we cannot do’. These are tactics of breaking a man’s spirit, not diplomacy. To punish and bring him and the country he rode in on to its knees.
Tsipras is young and idealistic. I wonder too if he had any idea when he was joyful in winning the election that he would have to face the beasts of mythological proportion. And be ground in a grinder that only wishes to create the hierarchy within a union, an oxymoron in itself. And he faces not just the beasts of Europe but the beasts of his own country of hubris and greed and those who are afraid and self-serving acting in outrage and solidarity of ‘what’s in it for me?”.
I say I am Philhellene. I love this country. Hellas. I wonder if in these days she will fall under the yoke which debt will hold her for decades, and the children of her children. Greece is not really a cultural equivalent of Europe. It had no renaissance as it fell under Ottoman rule. All its teachings, the books, the wisdom, the wonders of medicine, art, democracy, science born here within my view this morning, flew into the willing hands of the scholars of Europe. The Dark Ages were over and the Age of Reason begun sprouting from Greek inspiration, while the natural mother of this wisdom dropped into the darkness and the tribal villages to wait for her freedom. Freedom won and then lost in WW2. Freedom won and then lost with the Junta. Freedom won and now what?
Cut your pensions! Sell your assets! Or else, or else or else – what?
For anyone who has stepped on this land, felt the sun-warmed tiles under bare feet and looked at the every-changing-ever-the-same silent motion of the sea, seen the wilflowers in the spring will understand that the land and its gifts are not assets in the sense that northern Europeans might appraise them. It is not a commodity. It is a living breathing system of which we are all part.
This is a land where whole island communities or generations of families are on the sea as fishermen or captains. From the toy like boats the same as ancient pictures to ferries and tankers and cruise ships the Greeks live in benevolent concert with nature. To my mind this is too big an ask for mere money. It is like being asked to dissert your own heart. Could you? Would you?
There is reverence and pride and heritage in this land. The olive growers walk amongst their trees in the fall and ask the olives when they are ready for harvest. They have tended the trees of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers and their fathers before that. The language of the tree that gives such bounty is in their soul. This is not mystery, but the love that transcends generations into ancient times. Greeks feel the land. They are one. The Greek ancestry. The stories of the gods. Were they merely family stories of great great great plus grandfathers and mothers who braved the monsters, the Minotaur as suggested by Varoufakis in his book the Global Minotaur? Did he realize he would be facing it directly and feel its breath on his face?
Are we witnessing a story of mythological proportion right now? Have we an unlikely hero who is willing to stand up to a great crowd of very focussed, very talented people, very motivated powers who see in the hand of this upstart a small stone in a sling? These are survival games of the highest order. But survival of what? A contrived union in which some members are a little more equal than others? Where wealth and power are the measure of all things and not man himself as Protagoras said in the 5th century B.C.?
In the past few months when a new government might have been supported – the new broom that sweeps clean the transgressions of those who in Greece who were culpable of mismanagement or misappropriation of the debt funds, we see the opposite. The hard line, cat and mouse tactics – toying with the young one – has brought economic duress to Greece. In the height of its tourist season, its primary industry, world newspapers are scaring people away. It’s a tragedy of Greek proportion. Just last year, the economy was reviving; tourism returning and here on our Aegina Island homes and hotels were getting facelifts. Paint and new stone walls and new signs and new little cafes by the beach. And now there is a collective holding of breath. Business is down. Foreigners are afraid they may have to ‘airlifted’ out – a term used for emergencies and disasters. What are people to think if they believe what they read?
Unemployment is 35%. The people who will be further beleaguered by raised taxes and cut pensions are those who have no real voice – the retired, the elderly, the unemployed. And if the precious natural assets were indeed sold off – to whom would they fall? The United States and Russia in addition to the EU throw in their advice and you begin to see that this isn’t about Greece at all.
There could be a solution that is win win. But if the overriding issues are about money and power and control, it is not a likely option. It has come down to might is right which throws us all into the dark ages.
Joseph Campbell said that we have lost our mythology and had better find a replacement soon that incorporates a brotherhood of the planet. We are on a trajectory that is life annihilating. “All of our concerns have to do with economics and politics and not with the voice and sound of reason. And of course what destroys reason is passion. The principle passion in politics is greed. That is what pulls you down.” When it comes to politics, I hold to no ‘isms’ but agree with Campbell that we must forge a planetary brotherhood or perish leaving all of this moot.
Yesterday while I was floating in the crystal clear aqua waters, gently rolling on the incoming evening tide, a flock of swallows swooped and played and sang and called to one another. Swallows are the very symbol of Greece along with dolphins. Creatures of the air and sea. Creatures of joy and creatures of freedom.
Whatever is decided over these fateful days really doesn’t matter in the scheme of eternity. Of love and beauty and excellence. Those remain before our eyes, inviolable. My heart is wide open and I am calmly attentive. The Greek people may be just resigned enough to drop into a deeper knowing and security. I feel a great quickening in the ancient energies over there in that sprawling city in the crux of the three mountains. There is a memory there of greatness. Of Moderation. Of Excellence. Of Beauty. Of the common good. And like a heart it pulses throughout.
I am looking at that and I am not sad any more.
Me agapi (with love),