The Real Spirit of Hellas

Columns | Vienna Review | September 2010

Clear turquoise water, the soft smell of salt and a smear of sun block on my nose; 42 degrees Celsius and an uncivilized mass of tourists that claim the entire world. This is the modern day paradox – the blissful anticipation of spending a marvelous and relaxing summer holiday on a scenic peninsula in Greece and the shocking reality of exaggerated globalization. The trend is not towards experiencing the cultural heritage of a country, its cuisine or its ideas about life, but rather to make oneself  at home in a foreign country. Order a Heineken or a Stella in some touristic village in central Greece; forget the local beers like Mythos or Alpha.

After a week of various European exports devouring the daily buffet in our hotel, we decided it was time to seek out the real spirit of Hellas. We had an envelope to deliver it to a friend of a friend in Chalkidiki. Only having the envelope, a picture of an elderly man and his incomplete address, we set off. It lead us into a landlocked area of the peninsula that had been dramatically affected by the devastating fires a couple of years back.

We hadn’t been all that long on our search when a walnut-colored silhouette approached us with a warm smile. We had found our man. Georgious – that was his name – seemed amazed, touched by the unexpected visit from central Europe and the message from his old friend, and soon we swept away by the hospitality of our Greek host. Georgious who owns a little bakery and had worked there all his life; he insisted on showing us the untouched part of Greece and after a cup of freshly brewed Greek coffee and some figs from his back-door garden, we were on our way to the most amazing little bay I had ever seen.  Crystal blue water, steep cliffs and a gob-smacking view let me wondering why the spot was so deserted.

"Do you see the hotel right up there? This is where the tourists go," Georgious said. "They pay 20-50 Euros per day and the water from the sea is pumped up into some swimming pool. But here, you are not asked to pay. Nature is there for everybody to enjoy, not to exploit."

By the time we had to leave, we were no longer strangers; we were Georgious’ friends who had learned to understand a little of the Greek philosophy of life. As a farewell present, he gave us two cucumbers from his garden.

"Try these with some salt. You will like them!" he declared, and drove back to his 500 year old olive trees to take a nap and dream about the beauty of his garden.

- Sarah Rabl

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