New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Some notes written by a friend’s mother many decades ago surfaced recently, tucked away in a book whose title is simply “GREECE”. Brief descriptions of the sites she was about to visit on her first trip to Greece, the tour’s itinerary, and cards from Zolotas, Zonars and a casual, authentic taverna in Athens, added to the rest on her return, bookmarked two pages.
Although my friend’s adventurous mother was of Scottish descent, Greece spoke to her, as shown by the pages she wanted to remember.
Both pages speak about the timelessness of Greece, its physical beauty and transcendent spirit moving through the centuries, through changing times. They could have been written yesterday.
The first page she marked contains a passage written by one of the most essentially Romantic of French poets, Gérard de Nerval (1808–1855):
“Last night we were told that we would sight the coast of the Peloponnese at daybreak. At five in the morning, I was on deck, scanning the edge of the sea, which lay like a huge, dark blue wheel under the azure vault of the sky, and expecting at any minute to see Taîgetos loom into view like the sudden apparition of a god. The horizon was still dark but for the bright furrow of light which ran across the surface of the sea from the morning star. The paddles of the steamer sent the white foam splashing outwards, leaving a long, phosphorescent trail far behind us.. My day began like a Homeric poem, in which pink-fingered dawn really opened the door to the East! Of course, I am not talking about dawn as we know it: the goddess does not travel so far from home…”
On the second marked page, a passage written by the author of the text of “GREECE”, Pierre Leprohon in which he mentions difficulties of that time could have been written during Greece’s current crisis.
“The Greece we are about to meet is already a part of us: it is a part of our knowledge and our culture; it is in us quite as much as it is in the headlands and islands which emerge into the light of early morning on a placid sea, or in the ruins which have turned a mellow golden color in the sun of two thousand years–and perhaps even more so. Today, the Greece which discovered the meaning of life and art, and which took both of them to the heights of perfection, is, above all, non-material: It is the memories which hover over Delphi and Olympia, and the light which makes the headlands stand out against the sea, and the columns of the Parthenon against the sky. But, beyond the memories and the light, there is the present-day reality of Greece, a country reduced to certain limits and beset by certain problems…”
He goes on to quote Kazantzakis:
“I often think of my people, forever downtrodden, persecuted and hungry, and I am filled with admiration and pity. For how many thousands of years have we clung to these rocks and these narrow fields, in the face of the barbarian onslaught? And, far from merely holding on, we have also found the strength and the time to give the world the two most priceless gifts: freedom of the soul, and clarity of the mind.”
My friend’s mother wrote in her notes, “Greece has preserved her distinctive characteristics in spite of persecution and foreign interference”, and “Greece attracts us by her past and holds us by her present”. I believe that if she were alive, she would be in Greece this summer, helping the country with tourist dollars as she renewed her spirit and revived her inspirations (she wrote about her travels for her local newspaper.)
The Greek News’ campaign, “Let’s Go To Greece This Summer”, speaks to this. The Greeks have been inordinately courageous and independent during this catastrophic period of economic and social crisis; nonetheless, buffeted about by circumstances beyond their control, the people are in desperate need of economic sustenance and moral support.
Because she had never been to Greece, my friend’s mother chose a history-oriented, classic tour that, of course, included Athens, “a modern, fun city that you can walk around in with eyes wide open and everything past and present appears before you”, where they visited the National Archaeological Museum and the Benaki Museum a number of archaeological sites. The Acropolis, of course–“The Parthenon is the most overpowering ruin on earth”–as well as Piraeus; Corinth, Mycenae, Nauplia, Epidaurus. This tour is of perennial value.
Although they are handwritten, some of her notes on the destinations may have been from the tour director, as they are basic.
Corinth, she writes, was “the most prosperous of the Greek cities. Built centuries before the birth of Christ, it was conquered by the Roman Consul, Mummias, in 146 B.C. and almost completely destroyed. Rebuilt 100 years later in the time of Julius Caesar, no expense was spared in making ancient Corinth a place of beauty. Here are ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Baths of Aphrodite, and a Roman theater. The home of St. Paul for a year and a half (two of his Epistles are addressed to the Corinthians), “and now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Today Ancient Corinth is uninhabited. New Corinth, 3 miles northeast, has a population of 5,000.
Next mentioned is Mycenae, “Located in the Greek Peloponnesos, overlooking the Argive Plain, 6 miles northeast of Argos, Mycenae existed as early as 3,000 B.C. Captured and destroyed by the Argives in 470 B.C. Excavations have unearthed gems, pottery, and other articles, proving the existence of a highly developed, pre-Hellenic civilization. Pre-historical, traditional capital of Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus took over the throne. Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon on his return. The Lion Gate, Tomb of Agamemnon. Extensive use of wood in the palace ruins.
Then Nauplia,“9,000 inhabitants, 12 km from Argos on the Argolian Gulf. Beautiful view of the mountains of Arcadia. Temple of Artemis, Stadion.
Finally, Epidaurus, “Ancient place of pilgrimage for cures. Sanctuary of Aesculapius, healer of men, son of Apollo. Atmosphere of peace prevails here. Theater in almost perfect state of preservation. Whisper and you will be heard throughout.”
“Greek hospitality is not a formality, but an innate quality of the race,” wrote our traveler, who, although she visited Greece for the first time in her later years, was so infused by the deep spirit of this singular place, that she wrote, “It has been written that ‘a journey to Greece is one of the finest man can make in his lifetime’”.