I lied. This is the penultimate post. I assure you, Amy, I did not mean to swindle you. It’s just that there’s so much to write, and I didn’t know how to summarize my Greek pilgrimage in so few words and…ah.
Well! It felt not so long ago that I was rambling about the newness of Athens. And here I am, huddled comfortably in Brumler till I get to move in Wyckoff Hall. It has been a good four months of travel. Well, seven, if the summer going back to Kuala Lumpur counts. Seven months, ten countries, and a chance to immersively utilize each of the five languages I study on a day to day basis. It has been grand.
Thoughts on leaving Greece: I count it a grand privilege to have studied a culture both in its ancient and modern incarnations – or even to study the notion of cultural continuity at all. Again and again I found myself both pleased and surprised by the great Hellenic affinity with its classical past. Back in September, on a boat trip with a merry, bearded Greek skipper, I had mentioned ever so briefly that I’m ethnically Chinese.
“Yes, yes, Κινεσος…you too have a very…long history. Like Greek,” Giorgos said, quite matter of factly. He went on the next day to recount the Battle of Salamis to us, pointing at the Saronic islands was we passed.
And of course, the Chinese lady in Chinatown, Athens, had the same reaction, just the other way round in Mandarin. “Oh yes, Greek history is quite long. Almost like ours.”
And with any association with a classical past, there’s always a desire to either romanticize it (hence the gold-gilded “Spartans” one finds in front of the Acropolis), or to bring it down to our level (in the sort of gritty aesthetic of, say, 300). It’s not so terribly different from how you get both the gaudy posters of imperial porcelain plastered over the Beijing airport, and the Amy-Tan-esque depictions of the Joy Luck Club. I guess one of the things I truly liked about being with Greeks, eating Greek food, and learning Attic, Byzantine, and modern Greek simultaneously was the way the many Greeces (Ελλαδες??) collided. It’s like being in a house full of a friend’s relatives: something important is being discussed, but you don’t know what the purgatory’s going on.
And it’s interesting, how, in the shadow of the marvelous Parthenon, in the local open-air market of Pangrati, in the little taverna at Varnava Square, a lot of the images of Greece you once had fall away. The desire to romanticize it – to paint lilies, I suppose – evaporates: nothing prepares you for the immaculate regality of old Epidauros. Nothing speaks louder than the drowsing crypts of the church of Osios Loukas. And there’s no need to make the reality any more mottled and colored and gritty than it is: the graffiti of Thessaloniki defies any pigeonholing. And there’s no human adornment that could ever quite surpass the soaring heights of Meteora of the sea draped over Nafplio. It’s all too little and too much.
I’d like to say I know the real Greece, but I’m afraid four months is simply not enough time to say that. (Yeah, some of us have Greek blood and are lucky like that. Looking at you, Emma U.!) But it has been marvelous. It was a strange, bouncy sort of feeling I had leaving for the airport. It was three a.m. and half of my dorm mates were leaving with me, and the taxi driver was playing some glaringly subtle rebetico as we drove out to Venizelos. I had Istanbul to see but Greece to leave and it was all so terribly strange. I am grateful. Χαιρετε, ‘Οι φιλοι.