Thursday, 29 July 2010

Greek Summer

Days pass slowly and languorously on the Greek island my wife’s family calls home. Newspapers, if they come at all, don’t show up until the afternoon. Foreign papers are a sometimes thing. TV reception is not brilliant, and not many places have WI-FI. The country of Greece may be in financial turmoil, but many of the islands have only a tenuous relationship to the mainland, and consider themselves somewhat removed from the mess in Athens.
After a few days of nervous decompression when you nervously twitch and open your Blackberry constantly to see what the rest of the world is doing, you summon the courage to leave the house without it.

A conversation with the produce dealer about the quality of this year’s watermelon crop begins to seem much more important. Or you see a friend you haven’t seen since last summer and learn what’s new in his life. You offer condolences to the family of friend who lived a good, long life and peacefully passed away recently. You’re cheered by the news that Marina has survived her cancer scare.

The timeless Orthodox rituals for birth, Christening, marriage, annual celebrations, and, ultimately, death assume an enhanced and natural role far more important than the frenetic scurrying around that passes for life on the mainland. The icons, incense, and chanting have been around for 2,000 years, and have outlived most seemingly ‘critical’ daily events from the fall of Rome to the great Russian spy scare.

One can explore the ancient footpaths laboriously crafted by hand from stone or admire the quality of the dry stone walls that criss-cross the island. You wonder who made them and how long it took to get those stones to fit so perfectly. You can stop on a high hill, gaze out on the deep blue Aegean Sea, and watch a hawk gently ride the thermals coming off the valleys as it hunts for a meal.

Oh, there’s plenty of news on the island. But you won’t see much of it on CNN. The new ferry serving the island is the subject of endless discussions. It’s half-an-hour faster, but Maria says it bounces too much. Then, of course, there’s the on-going development along the agora, main street, where the municipality is attempting to put all the power lines underground. This provides employment and opportunity for all the retirees in the coffee shops to explain how they would do it differently, and of course better, in their day. But the big news is the upcoming mayoral election in October. Who will run? What will they do about the bus station mess? Will they change the road system? And on, and on. Not a word about the IMF, sovereign debt, or even the perfidious ‘Northerners’ who want to change much of Greek life.

Quickly you realize that the absence of what passes for ‘news’ is a real blessing. We can actually survive quite well, thank you, without the noise/static of 24-hour news, political bombast, or the general frantic attempts to breathe life and manufactured melodrama into events that should never have become known outside a small circle.

Maybe we would all be better off if newspapers, television stations, bloggers, twitters, and all the other self-important commentators intruding upon our lives all took a few months off. It would probably be a good idea to include politicians and most government employees in this enforced holiday.

Think about it. Wouldn’t we all be better off if all these people took some serious time off? Perhaps they would even start to think about what they do. Maybe even read a book that doesn’t have illustrations. It’s probably too much to hope that they would re-consider the error of their ways. But at least the rest of us would be spared the daily rant. Imagine the joy of turning on the television to be greeted by a simple message: Closed until September.

I imagine the various presidents, prime ministers or dictators- for- life would benefit from some compulsory idleness. President Obama could work on his fade-away jumper, the energizer bunny of a French president could let his battery run down, and Vladimir Putin could work on learning how to smile. Hang out the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign on the White House, Kremlin and Elysee Palace and let the world get along without them for awhile. We could all do with a rest.