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It is all Greek …

September 26, 2015

 Flying from the East, it is over Izmir, on Turkey’s West coast, that one feels that Greece, is now not too far. The beauty of the Aegean sea is visible to the right while the Mediterranean glimmers on the left. The Greek names like Chios, Kerma and Olida begin to appear on the flight routs charts. The water are brimming with islands, small and big, of all sizes, shapes and hues. Flying over the island of Karystos, we head towards another island, Kea, from where we turn towards runway 33 of Athens, the capital with a population of 4 million almost half of Greece. On the ‘finals’ flying over beaches and small harbours, we see the ‘Athens’ city, stretching sleepily, right from the Mediterranean coast up along the shallows hills and the undulating plains of Greece. The Gods had chosen their land with care having little doubt that first cultured civilization was to begin from there.

 Driving to the Hilton, Greek music blares from speakers, sounding rather Oriental with shades of Arabic rhythm. The road signs are unreadable; try reading them and you get a headache. The Greek alphabets, though resembling English, are pronounced completely different. Only the algebraic symbols have the familiar sounds. The dress is black, black and black. The Greek women love black color and as Sofia Kolida, a local journalist, puts it because it is sexy. The Greek women also smoke a lot and while they are highly fashionable and keen to project their sexuality, are actually conservative in outlook unlike the mainstream European in the North.

 As for the men, they love talking. In the evenings, you find them sitting at the roadside cafes over a cup of bitter Greek coffee and chatting for hours. The youngsters are handsome just like the Greek statues on post cards but as middle age catches up, they support a pouch in front with typical flat behinds. The Greek men are also known for their preference of the same gender and could it be because of those few left behind by Alexander the Great that similar tastes are found in our frontier regions, other physical similarities notwithstanding. Not only that, my unproven hunch is that the ‘Peshawari Chappal’ which gets tied at the back resembles closely to the shoes worn by Greek senators during ancient times.

 Those ancient times gave Greece its unique identity and a rich heritage. The Greek mythology, in fact, provided the first complete concept of a religion. There was a Supreme being. The God and an Evil force which instigated men towards evil. A man who followed the right path rose in esteem to a higher level. Other religious attributes were also followed – prayers, holy sacrifice, a holy day and fasting. Over 3000 years ago, the Greeks gave the mankind the concept of human liberty and values of a democratic system. And besides philosophy and statecraft, they also left behind a lot in the arts, sciences, mathematics and architecture. The famous ‘Greek Oblong’, design of ‘the Acropolis’, is said to have it all – simplicity, beauty and strength. First the Arab world and then the Christian world made full use of the ancient Greek knowledge.

 Greece, now a part of the modern world and the EEC, is no more ancient nor it is one of the wealthier countries of the Europe. Its most valuable assets remain its rich heritage, unique culture, scenic landscape, heavenly islands and, not the least, its balmy Mediterranean climate. The tourists flock to Greece in great numbers making tourism the number one industry and revenue earner. Tourism is well organized with big ferries to transport visitors to islands, which have good hotels and literally a restaurant at every corner. At Athens, mass transit system is efficient and cheap but a shortage of taxis make the cap drivers treat the passengers with disdain. The visitors prefer package tours where comfortable buses are used with English speaking guides. There is also a sprinkling of sleazy bars with overflowing flesh and fake champagnes to lure in the tourists for good times.

 By European standards, Greece is an inexpensive place to visit. One dollar fetches 240 Drachmas and in 1000-1500. You can manage a Good meal . A lavish meal comes for 2-3000. The Greeks do not like chilies so carry your own ‘Tabasco sauce .

 The Greek salad with a slice of homemade cheese is always farm fresh and the other dishes like Souvlaki , kalamaki and tzatziki taste good. They also have a sweet tooth. The most native sweat dish is called ‘baklava, a very familiar sounding word; and would you believe that they make and eat ‘halva’ that we eat and call it same. 400 years of the ottoman rule has also left behind ‘shish kebab’ and pita bread’ (naan). The Greek peaches and olives are of top quality. As for the aphrodisiac properties of the olive oil, it has no appreciable effect. Finally, there are the familiar international culinary escapes such as the assembly line ‘McDonald’s’ or the ‘Wendy’s’.

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Ferry to islands ..

Ferry to islands ..

In Greece, every name ends with a final ‘S’, as my friend Kamarados put it. Mykonos, Poros and Marthinus are some of the islands. And so are the names like Irene Papas, Telly Savalas and Aristotle Onassis. With ‘Kalimara’ as the greeting and ‘Barkalow’ meaning ‘please’, the sigh of black-robed well fed priests of Greek Orthodox church and a mix of female glamour with conservatism, one feels oddly at home in Athens. There are also some funny local rules such as odd number cars permitted in city center on some days and even number cars on others. But all said and done, experiencing Greece is an experience not to be easily forgotten. My flight to Frankfurt is tomorrow and, after take off, I must turn left at 200 feet so that I do not overfly the ‘Acropolis’ and expose it to engine vibrations, another local rule. For now, ‘Kalimara’ or the more friendlier, ‘Khelmera’ …


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