In mid-May 2011, I took the bus from Athens to Astakos in Central Greece. The ride was smooth and comfortable. The bus driver was young and master of his craft, though he sporadically made phone calls and smoked.
Aside from such annoyance, the only incidence that disturbed me was his carelessness in going over a pigeon. The crushing of the bird sounded like a small explosion. I raised my voice in protest but the driver ignored me as if killing the pigeon meant nothing to him.
The ride to Astakos lasted from 2:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. I enjoyed the journey immensely because we went through a beautiful region of the country known as Aitoloakarnania. After Corinth we crossed Peloponnesos to Central Greece through the new Rio-Antirio Bridge built in 2004 for the Athens Olympics. Central or Sterea (Solid) Greece is largely rural with lush small valleys, villages, and mountains. Nature in May was at its colorful best. Flowers surrounded farms, homes, and villages.
Nikos Papatrechas waited for me at Astakos, a lively fishing village of 3,000 by the Ionian Sea. Its name, Astakos, means ‘lobster’. Nikos worked for years in factories in Germany and the United States. He now lives in a tiny village with the name of Machairas, which in Greek means ‘one with a knife or sword’. Machairas is about 30 minutes by car from Astakos. Nikos has little education but he has the wisdom of a man who learned from experience. He right away introduced me to Greece by saying the country was going through an unprecedented wave of corruption.
We went to a tavern for dinner. The tomato-cucumber-feta cheese salad and a huge plate full with a kilo of roasted kid and fried potatoes were divine. We wished each other good health with glasses full with red wine. But it did not take long for Nikos to become a deipnosophistes: a man who asks serious, nay philosophical questions over dinner, charging the delightful atmosphere with political thought. After all, we were enjoying a feast while the country was reeling with a variety of financial woes.
In 2011, ill fares the land of Greece.
Nikos said as a matter of fact, Greeks suffered from varieties of pathologies associated with things foreign. Indeed, a superficial look at modern Greece suffices to convince an observer Greece and her people are drowned in non-Greek things. Men and women wear blue jeans as if the pants are part of their national identity. Those who smoke, and they are still many, smoke Marlboro or other American brands. Merchants use English names for their stores. This is particularly true in tourist towns or islands. Greek TV stations have names like Alter, Sky and Mega. Advertisements in TV, magazines, newspapers mix Greek and English, printing slogans in English that make no sense in Greek. Even fast food, by far the worst American tradition, had made it to Greece, a country that has probably the best food tradition in the West. Nevertheless, the overwhelming American influence in Greece gives the impression the country is under American occupation.
Greece also imports just about all she needs for food and commerce; cars and all machinery and gadgets. This dependency on foreigners is becoming catastrophic, undermining the Greeks’ self-esteem, colonising them as much as Europeans and Americans colonised Africans and Asians.
In addition, the Greeks’ reliance on foreigners for their way of life has put them in the catastrophic debt to European and American banks now demanding the keys to Greek sovereignty. Such humiliation and the growing impoverishment of Greece are shredding Greek society to pieces. All in all, it is as if the foreign disease of the Greeks is causing loss of self-respect, opening the road to ruin.
These thoughts crossed my mind while Nikos talked across the tavern to some men he knew, ordering wine for them.
At 10 p.m. that evening Nikos drove me to his house in Machairas. We went through the narrow streets of Astakos but, above all, we traveled the lovely roads of the silent countryside. He lavished his home with classical architecture so it is large and beautiful standing like an ancient monument in the fields of Machairas. The house is surrounded by a five-acre garden of fruit trees.
It was next day in early morning that I enjoyed the natural environment around Nikos’ home, its Ionic columns gracing it. The sun god Helios was out in glory, its golden rays warming the earth. Little birds were darting from the roof of the house to the trees of the garden. The flowers, especially the red puppy, shone brightly in the light of the morning sun.
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