Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

The Greek Debt

June 17, 2015
In Hydra 1969

In Hydra in 1969 with Dougal, Janice, Nikos, and unknown.

In 1969, a few months after graduating from high school, I flew to Europe, where I spent several months exploring by thumb and by train. Of all the countries I traveled through, my favorite by far was Greece. It was a beautiful land with its own distinct culture. The old Mediterranean peasant world still had a strong presence, which made a big impression on me. The Greeks in general were extraordinarily friendly, openly curious about people from other countries, and generous. One day, at an outdoor market I asked a farmer if I could buy an orange. He seemed puzzled and asked, “One kilo?” “No, one orange,” I said. He frowned and shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to sell me just one orange. He gave it to me. One of the special aspects of Greece, especially Crete, was the sense of timelessness—by which I mean I had little awareness of being in a particular historical era. Visually, everything was distinct. As Henry Miller said of Crete in The Colossus of Maroussi, “You see everything in its uniqueness—a man sitting under a tree: a donkey climbing a path near a mountain: a ship in a harbor in a sea of turquoise: a table on a terrace beneath a cloud.” I’d already begun my lifelong loathing of modernity—the tawdry commercialism, superficial relationships, the hustle—and I loved Greece for the slow pace of life and its beauty. Living life was more important than business. (It’s pitiful that people who believe life should be beautiful are regarded now as romantics. It’s a symptom of how lost we’ve become.)

In 2007 I returned to Greece to do research for my book Street Song. I wasn’t expecting it to be the same, but the degree of change was startling. Everything that I loved about Greece was gone. It had lost that special sense of timelessness. Greece had become a resort for wealthy northern Europeans and Americans. And the Greeks themselves had become sullen. All they wanted was your money. It took me a few days to figure out exactly what had happened: globalization. Greece was now just an outpost on the international corporate circuit. One day I tried to talk to a Greek about it, and he blew me off. He was gruff and uncommunicative. I finally did talk to a Greek about it,  a man who owned a laundromat and spoke English. He agreed with me—very passionately—that something had gone very wrong in Greece. All anybody did was work and work, and they were all unhappy about it. They all believed that they had no choice. Much of their work consisted in serving the fat Germans who lounged about on the beaches and treated them like serfs.

There is a lot of anger directed at Greece in the Western World because of the new government’s threat to default on its debt. A tremendous amount of pressure is being put on them to stay the course of austerity and to open the doors wider to those who have no interest in Greece other than to rape and pillage. I, for one, hope they can resist. If it means default, then bless them. The insane, pointless workaholism of the Germans and Americans goes against the character of the Greeks—against the character of human beings, really. We are not designed to live this way and we’re heading for a nervous breakdown.

America, Germany, and England as well as some other countries have declared to the rest of the world that globalization is the only way to go, that every country must be part of it or it won’t survive. No one is given a choice. The global economy is very clearly a great evil to me. It’s tawdry and shallow. We’ve gone far beyond any level of comfort that we actually need, and yet we’re still not satisfied. Our levels of anger and frustration grow continually because materialism can never satisfy. Something is going to bring the whole thing down one day. I think of the bankers as drug dealers. They try to get you hooked and then send in their enforcers if you don’t pay up. It’s probably too much to hope that a default by Greece would begin the unraveling, but it would be most appropriate if it did. The Western World’s enshrinement of rationality and logic began in Greece, and it is rationality and logic that have led us to the horrific level of materialism that we live by today. If Greece can begin the process of the collapse of that system—which must collapse for the world to survive—it will be one of those beautifully ironic moments that history sometimes serves up.

The Coming Election

June 14, 2012

In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama with enthusiasm. This time I’ll be voting for him as the lesser of two evils. One thing I pray that I’ve learned once and for all is that under the current setup there’s no chance of a truly good man or woman getting into the White House and doing good things. I don’t know what Obama’s original intentions were, but it seems to me that as soon as he got into office he was taken aside and told how things really work. He could either go along or be destroyed. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. That’s how empires do business, and this is an empire. Eventually, like all empires, it will come apart. Actually, I think that’s already begun to happen.

I would sooner live in Greece than under another Republican president. That’s not hyperbole. I’ve been to Greece and I liked it. I think Greece will soon be out of the global economy, which would make the idea even more attractive to me. (It’s also possible that it will, in effect, lose its sovereignty and become nothing more than a playground for the rich.) But moving to another country is extremely difficult. So even if the nightmare of a Romney presidency were to come about, I see it as highly doubtful that I’d be able to pull it off. I can’t dismiss the idea entirely, though. Romney keeps making bigger and bigger deals with the devil. (This is the first time, by the way, I’ve ever had the wish that I could leave the country. It’s not something I do every election year.)

What a strange, strange time we live in. I’ve seen strange times that are good, but this ain’t one of ’em. It’s not that I don’t believe there’s any hope. I do. (I know people who believe that having any hope at all is “hopelessly naive.”) But the hope I see is extremely difficult—probably impossible—to make understandable at this point in time.

Progress Report #42: Back from the Past

September 28, 2010
In Greece in 1969

Me in my Cretan boots with a Greek pal in 1969

I got back from my trip a few days ago. My jet lag has nearly passed, and I hope to get back to my writing desk tomorrow. The trip turned out to be highly successful. The writing I did in Greece fulfilled the plan, albeit in ways that I didn’t foresee exactly. Of course.

The photo above was taken during the period that I went over to write about. A Cretan bootmaker in the village of Pitsidia made those boots specifically for my feet. During this most recent trip I met a man who knew that bootmaker and filled in a couple of blank spots in my memory. The bootmaker was a musician who sat in front of his shop and played the Cretan lyra (yes, I remember now). He also spoke some German. I did, too, so that’s how he and I must have communicated. These are the endless, small details that create the universe within the pages of a book.

I think some people might object to this statement (I’m sure some will, actually), but looking at this photo and looking at the shots I took on this return trip reaffirm my view that the world was more real then. People were more real, places were more real. (More real because more sincere.) I’ll probably get into this in a later post, but I saw again that globalization is relentlessly trashing every culture on the planet. It’s hard for me to think of any place on earth that I’d like to travel to. Every place is the same now or in the process of becoming the same. Some people find this exciting. I think it’s lunacy.

Clinging to Our Fantasy

February 11, 2009

I read a book review in the New York Times that got me all het up. Both the author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, and the book’s reviewer, Dwight Garner, live in a fantasy world, I think. A lot of Americans do. It’s largely the result of our belief in “American exceptionalism.” No one is exceptional. Karma is karma. Cause and effect. That’s it.

The passage that got me all in a lather was the reviewer’s praise for an earlier work of Barnett’s called “The Pentagon’s New Map.” I quote:

Mr. Barnett’s sane idea: bring the world’s rowdy, hormonal, emotionally tortured teenage countries to the adult table, and teach them to prosper through capitalism, cooperation, and openness. The enemy “is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition — disconnectedness,” he explained.

This is hubris, the same old hubris we’ve been suffering from for decades. It seems especially ridiculous to be praising something like that considering what we’re putting the world through right now with the near collapse of our financial system. And the statement is cheap intellectually. For one thing, capitalism and cooperation are inimical to one another. In reality, competition is always given the run of the field. “Cooperation” is just a nice sounding word. But you aren’t supposed to point that out. We never have real debate about something like that. Certain ideas are not to be questioned.

My main complaint is with the author’s and the reviewer’s enthusiasm for globalization. Globalization was one of those things I didn’t give much serious thought to—although I was inclined against it instinctively—until I saw it in action. In the summer of 2007, I went to Greece, my first trip back there since 1969. What I saw appalled me. The culture of Greece has been ruined by globalization. The Greeks used to be an extraordinarily friendly, relaxed, and generous people. But they are grumpy now—sullen teenage girls taking your money at the cash register. I talked to the owner of a laundromat in Iraklion about what I thought I was seeing, and he confirmed it. He said that the Greeks are under a great deal of stress now, chasing money. He hated what it had done to his country. The old life is gone. Everything is commerce now. Greece functions largely as a resort for the affluent Northern Europeans and Americans. The tourists have no interest in the place or the people who live there. They drink and work on their tans. So the Greeks have lost their warmth toward strangers. Who can blame them? Greece has started to look like every other place in the world—same products, same bored teenagers, same pop music, same frantic activity, same plastic architecture. It’s gotten so that there’s really no reason to go anywhere anymore. The global corporations are creating a monoculture that is ruining the spirit.

A truly sane idea is: we have nothing to give the rest of the world until we give up the fantasy of everyone becoming a millionaire and start searching for our soul again.