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Saturday, June 30, 2007

RETURNING

"Some time, man or woman, traveler,
afterward when I am not alive,
look here, look for me here
between the stones and the ocean,
in the light storming
in the foam.
Look here, look for me here,
for here is where I shall come, saying nothing,
no voice, no mouth, pure,
here I shall be again the movement
of the water, of
its wild heart,
here I shall be both lost and found --
here I shall be perhaps both stone and silence."
Pablo Neruda

Well, I'm home again. Barely. Still jet-lagged and going through the usual cultural shock.
The last few days, melting in the heat of Athens, broke, exhausted, having seen everything and everyone I had come to see, I was anxious to move on homeward. But by the time I arrived in Amsterdam, the reality hit me and felt sad at having to leave, wished I could have stayed on and on...

It's always like that with me and Greece. I am torn. It is my other home. I have friends and family there I love as much as my friends and family in Canada. Once I get there, I never want to leave, but know that eventually I have to. Just as I know I must always return there once I come back here.

I love the life there. I love the bright blue of the sky, the quality of light, the smell of the air, yes...even the heat. Most of all I love being in the ancient places, relishing the memories of when I resided on Vironos Street in Plaka, walking the well-trodden paths, running into people who knew me back then. It's a 'returning' when I go there, just as it's a 'returning' when I come back home to Canada.

The thing is, when I get back here, I go through weeks of culture shock. And this is why:
Athens has become even more beautiful than it ever was; I love the sea, the still-quaint villages, the people and their culture. I love being able to ride air-conditioned buses and not have to put up with drunks and ugliness; I love listening to the Greek language, the elegant way the Greeks speak, not having my ears bombarded with cheap filth. (Why do people here constantly bastardize the English language, swear so often -- use those awful words?) Why are so many people here so angry, so desperate? Why is there is much violence in North America?

A day after I returned, there was a story on the front page of the Vancouver newspapers: "Vancouver a scarred paradise, UN says." Our beautiful city is blighted by a two-kilometre square stretch of urban misery. "A grim analysis of the city's drug-drenched Downtown Eastside was included in a report released around the world by the UN Population Fund, which warns of huge social and environmental costs as urbanpopulations skyrocket over the next two decades." It describes Vancouver as a "breathakingly gorgeous" city with a sizzling economy. "But", states the UN, "nowhere is it more evident than in the Downtown Estide - a stretch of dcaying rooming houses, seedy strip bars and shady pawnshops. Worst of all, it is home to a hepatities C (HCV) rate of just below 70 per cent and an HIV prevelance rate of an estimated 30 per cent -- the same as Botswana's." Imagine that! "The same as Botswana's"

I was only home an hour or so, sitting on the Drive having tapas with my girlfriends, when the pan-handlers appeared. And the next day, as I rode through town, I saw people begging and sleeping on the streets. A friend told me he was in the DES the other day going to his radio station, and saw several women sleeping on the sidewalk. Two tour buses came by, the horrified tourists, gawking out the bus window. Can you imagine the impression they got of our 'beautiful' city?

It's disgusting. It's a disgrace, that while the fat-cat politicians spend billions of dollars on the 2010 Olympics, the poverty level here increase and along with it the crime rate. People are desperate. No wonder there is so much discontent, anger and unhappiness!

So, you can understand my dismay on returning. The whole time I was away in the city of Athens (more than 6 million population) I rarely saw a beggar (only the occasion old gypsy woman or terribly disfigured or disabled man. Yes, even the gypsies seem to have made themselves scarce.) I know there's crime there that didn't used to exist -- a lot of it blamed on people from the northern Balkans -- but it was a pleasure to not have it 'in your face', to read a newspaper and not be bombarded with horrible violent stories. (Yes, and not have to see a certain Bush-boy's stupid face staring at me from every TV screen or newspaper!)

OK, I'll get over it. Within another week or so I'll become innured to what is going on around me and learn to ignore it. I'll take cabs home at night and watch over my shoulder when I'm walking down the street. I'll remember to keep an eye on my belongings. (While I was away, my friend had her purse rifled while she ate dinner at a very high-end dining room in a classy hotel downtown. You're not safe anywhere here, it seems!)

In addition to adjusting to the 'life' here -- the weather is impossibly horrible. I left Athens sizzling in record high temperatures (which were, yes, 'unbearable'). When I arrived at Amsterdam, with an 8-hr lay-over during which I'd hoped to explore the city, there was a storm with high winds and freezing rain. I lasted an hour in the town before I was soaked and frozen and had to return to Schipol to wait for my flight home, which was delayed an hour because of the weather. Arrived home to the same. It's apparantly been raining most of the time I was gone. There have only been a few rare glimpses of sunshine since I arrived back. Help! my tan is fading (or is it being washed away?)

No wonder I want to go back! And if I had the finances you can bet I would. I'd like to be able to afford to spend six months every year in Greece like I used to. Meanwhile, I'll have to make do with the occasional vacation there. But in my heart, that's where I really want to be and I shall return.

So...now that I have returned home...I must get over the jet-lag which makes my brain all mushy, and try to resume work on my novel. Maybe if I bury myself in Alexander's world it will help to distract me from what is going on around me.

"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 "The Greek Way" 1930. Ch. 1

4 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

It's interesting that you are still in love with Greece afer so much time spent there. I had been in love with Sweden, but after two years living there, I saw all the flaws and while I still like the place, and would live there again if I got a job for example, I'm no longer waxing poetic about Sweden like you do with Greece.

I prefer rain to the Mediterranean heat, though. :)

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Welcome back! It sounds like you had a truly fabulous, memorable trip, Wynn. I found your comparisons between North America and Greece to be interesting and insightful. Lord knows we could certainly take some of the saner, quieter, more relaxed notions from such countries and implement them here.

Adrian Swift said...

Welcome Back!

I can relate so well to what you wrote. Glad you had a great time in Athens, and glad to know the city is taking such good care of itself. Is the air pollution still so bad as it used to be?

Wynn Bexton said...

Evharisto poli for your welcome homes. I'm settling in (sort of). Tonight I'm watching a DVD of a concert a Lykabettos (2006) with Alexiou, Malamas and Ioannidis. It's brought me right back there.

Adrian, there's still some air pollution but not as bad as it used to be with that horrid yellow cloud hanging over the coast. Gore was there with his "inconvenient truth' movie while I was there and the Greeks are really taking the environmental stuff seriously.