When you visit Greece, you find a noticeable discrepancy between the place and the state of affairs. There is the rare natural beauty, the weather, and the incomparable culture and history.
I will focus now on the positive elements, which fill the sails of the soul with fresh aromatic air and the mind with deep wonder, as vast as the deep blue Aegean Sea. You come to feel that frequent pilgrimages to homeland are not only priceless, but essential.
One example: We boarded a boat in a village in Crete along with 20 other passengers which took us to a distant (and incredibly beautiful) beach.
The young but experienced captain – let’s call him Sifis – polite, and speaking good English, turns on the motor and the boat slips away playfully, as if skimming upon oil, over the crystal clear sea, which is its longtime acquaintance.
Just before we reach our destination, Sifis asks for the fare – four euros per person.
We were the only Greeks. “Why not collect the fare when we entered the boat?” I ask him. “If someone does not pay you now, what will you do? “
“It’s ok,” he replied, surprised. “Let him not pay. What, should I do, as soon as someone sets foot on my boat I ask him for money?”
Find, if you can, this romantic beauty, subtlety of soul and hospitality elsewhere.
Another example: In the center of an Athens basin dead from the lack of building activity, at the site of the old racecourse at the Faliron Delta, a huge undertaking is underway, a miracle of vision, scale, and execution: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
Arriving there, you momentarily feel that you were suddenly, mysteriously transported to Manhattan, to a construction project spanning several blocks.
Bulldozers, cranes – 500 different types of equipment are in use. About 1100 people are working there now!
Olive trees with thick trunks, decades old, about 1,200 trees in total and 320,000 shrubs will be planted, selected with great care from different parts of the country, the soil also well-chosen and arranged perfectly.
When the gates of the Cultural Center are opened, the visitor will think that these trees have been there forever.
Above all, what most impressed me is the philosophy of perfection that prevails that encompasses everything and everywhere.
The three components of the Cultural Center, The National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera, and the Stavros Niarchos Park will not only rival the best of their kind, they will be better than the best of the best.
This colossal project, worth 566 million euros – the biggest project in Europe at the moment – could not have come at a better time.
Beyond the valuable jobs it has offered to so many people – it is reminiscent of the construction of the Empire State Building during the depths of the Great Depression – it also has the potential to inspire the masses and the authorities to set new, high national goals that will lift the country up, high above the current misery and even make them an example for the rest of the world.
Final example: High atop a restaurant of a hotel, I admire the unbelievable views of the illuminated Acropolis.
That God-sculpted rock upon which man, the Ancient Greeks, deposited the products of his highest self, logic, knowledge, and values.
This hill, and its environs, says all that can be said about man, his character, mind, consciousness, and art.
Since then, man has created more representations of his wisdom. But that only added to the Greek contributions.
There is no comparable view in the world than the site of Acropolis. Nothing, no place can be compared with it. That’s it. And it is in Athens.
The next time you get depressed about the situation in the country – as melancholy sometimes overcomes me – when you feel the powerful dissonance between what was, what is and what could have been for Greece, talk to Sifis, visit The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and drink some ouzo as you gaze upon the Acropolis on a perfect summer night.
You will feel like a new person. You will be filled with optimism and hope. And you will renew your faith – and your determination – for a better Greece.