Travelling has been my anchor over the last year or two, this no doubt sounds like a contradiction in terms – travel as anchor, but it has been the best way I have come up with to find some semblance of sense in myself and the wider world, unfamiliar places and people have given me grounding, quietened confused thoughts, shone glimpses of light into dark corners. My latest little adventure is in Greece, I begin it decanted onto the tarmac at Athens airport, the June morning bright and warm is an antedote to the pouring rain & cold I left behind in London.
I take a taxi to the centre of town, chat with the driver as I watch the city unfolding before me, he is friendly and affable, he tells me that there are slim pickings in the taxi business since austerity, that he may have to sell up and try something else, there’s a kind of weariness in his voice, a resignation, as we get closer to the centre the traffic increases & our speed decreases like a balancing mathematical equation, each time we come to a stop at red lights there is a new parade of beggars and hawkers soliciting for euros and cents, any amount will do, old ladies with sad faces and outstretched hands, youngsters flogging tissues and cans of soda, the faces of the people tapping on my window do a great job of reminding me if I needed it, that Greece is struggling.
Half an hour after leaving the airport the taxi drops me outside my hotel, l lug my bags across the road and into the air conditioned swankiness of the Athena Palace. Ten minutes later I am in my room unpacking when I get a call from the desk, the taxi driver has left my sunglasses at reception. I go back to the front desk and pick them up, I’m touched that a man with his own worries can be bothered to trapse back after a tourist that he doesnt know from Adam to return something left on a back seat. The first person I meet and talk to in Athens does me a kindness. .
I am in Greece for a bunch of reasons, the stand-outs are the Sun & the Sea, hello, I am Martin & I’m an aquaholic. I am in Athens for the ancient & the modern, there is something very powerful about the great old cities, Varanasi, Rome, Jerusalem, the cities that have been around for millennia that I find fascinating, I walk up to the Parthenon, through the Agora, the museums, the libraries, then the more modern streets, the markets, the shops, I sit in street cafes in warm sunshine and watch as Athens, modern Athens walks on by. I am struck by the graffiti, the hundreds & hundreds of spray can pictures on every back street wall & shutter, political, venous, on one the footnote says Athens can you hear your children calling you? I’m struck by the sentiment, this great city of almost four million, she does a mighty fine job of showing what it is to be human, if you have a little time to wander the streets, to soak it all in you begin to glimpse a little of the hearts & souls of the people who’s lives play out amongst the streets and boulevards, the haves, the have nots. I say her of Athens because if you were to ask me to describe this City I would say that she is rather like a very ancient lady, the sort that one sometimes comes across at large family gatherings. This grand old lady has been around forever, seen it all come & in turn go, the rises, the falls, the light & the dark. And like the wise old lady, presiding over the family gathering, each furrow and line on the matriachs face is a tale, she sits quietly, observing her children, she has seen enough over the years to tell her that it’s all an endless play, that however much she might wish her children prosperity that the fates will decide, for now it’s hard, 25% unemployment, five times the rate of the UK, austerity is not just a word here for many of her children it’s a fact of life. & on the other side the haves, the rich, sitting pretty, her role simply to stand witness as destinies unfold generation after generation.
There’s a beauty in Athens and more than it’s fair share of melancholy, I am pleased I got to see a little of it, after few days I head off to the Gulf of Corinth & the Peleponnese, the southern landmass of Greece, mountains & coastline, olive groves and vineyards, in this country away from the urbane centres peppered infrequently across the country I am now in a land where the population is one tenth of the density of England, one gets the feeling of space & time, travelling through Corinth, Arcadia, Sparta, names that trip off the memory of schoolday classics classes, but it is also present, the tractors in the fields, the roadside cafes, the new buildings being constructed, children in villages on bicycles, and through it all the sun beats down warming my skin, this is Greece, ancient & modern, beyond time.
I visit ancient sites across Morea, Greek,Venetian, Byzantine, Icons & castles, ruins and refurbs, through them all is the feeling of change and movement, nothing remains the same, nothing is static, all things have their time, their beginnings, their ends, some are re-born, there is only one constant, movement.
I stay with a friend who has a place by the sea, I wander into the local small town, look at the shops that sell the same kind of assorted ephemera & junk as a million other small towns across the globe, play spectator at the cafe square, watch the local life gently amble by, here there seems no hurry to do anything, it can all be done another time, I notice how many shops are empty, how many for sale signs are hung on apartment walls, how quiet the place feels, like a little backwater forgotten. When I talk to people I hear repeated stories that tell of dreams that have crashed, of businesses folded, of hard times. And those people seem just tired, all played out, without too much in the way of hope. I know what that feels like, I remember it well. But I also understood somewhere along the way that reality is just a perception, it’s how you look at things, the story you tell yourself, that becomes your reality. My own travels have all been about finding a different way of looking, I am still travelling, still looking. For now beautiful Greece, its towns & country it’s mountains and islands and it’s people are in front of me, waiting to be explored. I know that all is change, that today the sun will rise and it will set, that whatever happens between the two is waiting to be discovered and that how I decide to remember today & tomorrow will be entirely up to me.