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Friday, April 29, 2005

GREECE: THE SPIRIT, THE LIFE: ZOE

"To rejoice in life, to find the world beautiful and delightful to live in, was a mark of the Greek spirit which distinguished it from all that had gone before. It is a vital distinction."
Edith Hamilton, 1867 - 1963

Ever since my first trip to Greece in 1978, I have been imbued with the Greek Spirit. Greece has become part of my soul -- or perhaps it always was -- going back to my first long novel, at the age of seventeen, when I immersed myself in the character of Adele, a young Theban girl who is captured on her wedding night by the Macedonians. That was when I 'fell in love' with Alexander and with Greece.

Many times people have said to me, "Do you believe you might have lived there in those times?" When I read back over that old manuscript, the descriptions of the countryside (which I only knew from library books) I had described everything so clearly, and accurately it was uncanny. Many time, in traveling around Greece, I've had deja vu experiences: from the first day I went out into the street in Athens in 1978 and wandered into the ancient agora, 'seeing' it just as it had been, to my visits to Delphi, especially the time I was sitting by the path leading to the stadium and had a clear vision of a youthful Alexander walking by me with his companions. When I am in Greece, I am transported to that other time, the ancient world of philosophers and heroes.

"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho lived and sung..." George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron

When I lived in Athens in the '80's, I lived on Odos Vironos, Byron's Street, in Plaka, just below the East flank of the Acropolis, not far from the Theatre of Dionysos. That was the actor's district, in ancient times. And you could feel it, sense it from the energy. I lived in a little apartment below Kyria Dina's house and shared a lovely courtyard with Roberto, an Argentinian artist, who lived in a little spitaki in the courtyard. Behind his house was another, used by one of the curators of the Acropolis museum, a scupltor who was working on restoring the fabled Caryatid's so there was a plaster casting of one of these Maidens out in his courtyard. I was surrounded by writers and artists, along with the flotsam and jetsom of ex-pats who hung out down at the Dirty Corner, where Lysikrates monument stands (one of the last remaining tripod monuments awarded to a winning choir at the Theatre of Dionysos.) We called it the Dirty Corner because of the dust blowing about from the new digs there. Once that monument, now cemented in, was a place where Lord Byron used to sit and write when he stayed at the monastery that used to be on that corner. Running at an angle off Byron's street, is Shelly Street, named after Percy Byce Shelly, Byron's friend. And near that is Odos Tripodon , the street of the Tripods which at one time was lined with monuments awarded to choirs.

"O bright and violet-crowned and famed in song,
bulwark of Greece, famous Athens, divine city!" Pindar 518-438 B.C.

I grew to love all aspects of Greece, from the noisy pulsating city of Athens to the idyllic, pastoral countryside (where Pan still holds court!) and the lovely, serene islands.

The two years that I had the privilege of living part-time in the little shepherd's village of Lala, on the island of Evvia, was probably the most memorable of my lifetime. To me, Lala was the Garden of Eden. There was magic on that mountainside. There you could experience perfect peace and solitude.

I remember one day, as I sat on the hillside above the mill where the waterfall splashed down , I looked up and saw my shepherd, Mitso, standing just above me, with his sheep.
He spoke to me, about "the zoe", the life, how beautiful it was. How perfect.

I can close my eyes any time and in that instant I can be there, anywhere my thoughts take me: sitting on that stony path talking to my shepherd; sitting by the sparkling teal-blue sea at a tavern eating marinated octopus and sipping krasi; sharing the day's adventures with my frineds at the To Kati Allo taverna on Hatzichristou Street (though some of them are gone now, their spirits still reside there.) Memories of the infamous "Dirty Corner" linger in my mind; the Parthenon lit with a golden light under a full moon; the view of the red tile rooftops of Plaka from my favorite perch on the pathway below the north flank of Acropolis.
I hear the bouzouki music, the elegant lilt of the Greek language, the sound of sheep bells on the mountainside, the cicacdas chirring in the trees, the plaintive sound of the koukouvia calling down the mountainside at night; the traffic, the wheeze and clank of the trollies as they pass under my window.

"Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquance." John Miller 1608-1674

This is the zoe, the life. This is what you will remember:
The quality of light, the colours, the earthy pine-scented fragrance of the air; the way people there never forget you. This is Greece.

"Fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens as you have it before you day by day, fall in love with her, and when you feel her great, remember that this greatness was won by men and with courage, with knowlege and their duty, and with a sense of honour and action"
Thucydides 460-400B.C.






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