Donaldus–Long ferry ride from Santorini. The ferries are “better” now but less fun. We managed to sail from Santorini to Athens in six hours, with a stop in Naxos, and another in Mykonos. But there is almost no deck to stand on. It’s more efficient now, more like transport, but less like adventure. The same is true of the buses on Santorini–they are coaches now, rather than the rickety, rattle-trap buses I remember from my last time here. We took turns dozing. On the TV monitors before us, a continuous loop of the Greek equivalent of “home videos,” featuring people crashing through fences and flipping ATVs
The world moves toward being hermetically sealed, and almost all experience is now mediated. One comes to Greece to feel the raw, to get in touch with the simplicity of real human satisfaction.
Tonight, at the Piraeus (the ancient port of Athens, ten miles from the center of the city) we checked into a nondescript hotel, cooled off, took care of a few tasks, booked hotels for the rest of our journey, and then ventured out to dinner. The cafe recommended by the front desk turned out to be a “local,” by which I mean that nobody on staff really spoke much English. We ordered the usual things–pita and tzatziki, kabobs, Greek salad, house white wine, sparkling water. The waiter was a young woman who found the presence of foreigners amusing, and who served us with more real connection and generosity than you can get in virtually any American restaurant. The meal was simple but superb. The owner of the restaurant, a man in his sixties, came over to explain the framed portraits of Greek national heroes over our heads and the front page of a newspaper, in modern Greek, from the Second World War. We understood almost nothing, but it was clear that these things mattered to him.
Somehow the world needs to turn back from the kind of sterile consumerism that characterizes most of our transactions. TV screens are now everywhere. Almost everything in the first world is climate controlled, including the global climate we are endangering to provide a narrow standard of “comfort.” The Greek people are the most openly friendly and relaxed of any I have ever met. They are glad to be appreciated and they frequently go out of their way to make that clear to their guests.
We have cut ourselves off from authenticity in a thousand ways, and it has crept up on us in a way that makes us unmindful of how serious a revolution has occurred to cut us off from true intercourse with others. One only has to travel to a country that has not surrendered to those numbing trends of artificial politeness covering essential indifference or even contempt, to feel what life was and perhaps still can be.
Tomorrow we rent a care and venture into the heart of the Homeric world of the Peloponnese.