Chara, our tour guide, was herself a Greek classic, whose native good looks were worthy of a statue and could have made her a movie star. Throughout the afternoon, she led us around her island showing the villages, hills, town squares and panoramic views that are part of a tour guide’s daily odyssey.
What could not be seen, but certainly felt, are ancient gods that traverse the hills, given immortality by epic legends. (Off the coast of one island there’s a rock that looks like the bow of a ship pointed upward. Legend has it that it was Ulysses’ boat that had been turned to stone.) Listen carefully and the Muses are singing, whether you can hear them or not.
Chara’s stage is her island and she delivers her lines with good English, embellished by enough of an accent to complement her Greek look. She was articulate and well informed – and spoke passionately about her island.
Then came the question,
It was a question that probably all of us on the tour, myself included, had wanted to ask but were not sure if we should, as though it might anger the gods. That did not stop one woman in the group, who within ear shot of the all-knowing Zeus asked, “What about the economy?”
For the first time that afternoon, Chara seemed to struggle for words. Greece’s troubled finances have been Europe’s anvil, plunging the continent toward the sharks. Chara paused, took a swig of water and then seemed to undergo a catharsis. Her mind, associated with a people who produced some of the world’s greatest philosophy, raced for a strategy and landed at frankness. Here was her moment of releasing the frustration. “Honestly,” she told the group, “I don’t see how were are going to make it past winter.”
Then she revealed that her dad, a retired government worker, just saw his pension slashed by 600 euros. She wondered if she would have to provide more support for her family, though the crisis was causing a decline in tourism, her industry. She lamented that she had believed in the various government officials that she had voted for, but nothing has worked. Than came her diatribe about the euro, drachmas and the European Union. “It is like having one dress,” she said of the latter “and trying to make it fit three different people. Greece is different from the other places.” She also attacked the stereotypes: “We are not lazy Greeks; we work hard.”
I felt sorry for Chara. At another time in another place her looks, charm and intelligence could place her on top of the world, but her world is an island – a relatively small one at that.
Though we could not totally feel her pain, I doubt if any of the Americans, myself included, felt the same pessimism. We, after all, come from the land of the bailout where a strong central government would never let a state roll over and die. Certainly former nemesis Germany and the European powerhouses will keep Greece afloat. An island that gave the world feta and Socrates must be preserved.
Chara (that’s not her real name) would express none of that optimism, at least not this moment.
Later that evening the cruise boat glided from the island. The sunset had turned the Mediterranean cost gold. It was the end of another beautiful day in Greece, though even Muses sometimes sing the blues.