Entering the Ancient Lands

"You enter Greece as one might enter a dark crystal; the form of things becomes irregular, refracted." Lawrence Durrell, Prospero's Gold.

After traveling in Japan, China, Thailand and India it seems presumptuous to say we were finally entering the Ancient Lands once we stepped into Greece and Egypt. Yet stepping off the plane in these lands the four of us knew we were going back to the "roots," our roots--perhaps because of our Western bias and education.

For Salli, landing in Greece was a return after 24 years; for me a return after 22 years. For Samantha and Cassidy it was their first-time to the source of their favorite stories, the Greek myths, as well as the place of stories their parents told from younger days--before we'd met one another, before family, reading glasses, credit limits, party limits and sensible limits.

For years, as the girls grew up they heard of the times we'd spent there, of the wild Greek ways of instant friendship, acrobatic dance, basic food group meals, all sitting passionately atop 4,000 years layered in history and the names of top-billed history stars like Homer, Odysseus, Achilles, Helen, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Alexander.

The old Venetian lighthouse guards the harbro entrance to Rethymno on Crete.

Our plane was only a few minutes on the ground of Athens airport when Cassidy began asking if this was the way we remembered Greece. It seemed to be, only I wasn't quite sure. Maybe....

We took a taxi into the Plaka, the oldest part of Athens, a random cobweb of lanes and streets meandering around the base of the Acropolis. The streets seemed the same, oh yea, there was Hadrian's Arch, still the same that one, just as I remembered it when I stood beneath it nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Cassidy was excited, and she asked again if it was "like it used to be?"

Sort of, I think... only there were no car horns blaring, the air wasn't burning with pollution, people seemed better dressed than I remembered them.

It was like seeing a picture of myself from earlier years. I could recognize the shapes, remember the colors, even recall the textures and smells. But there was something dream-like, disconnected about it, like Rip Van Winkle's first look in the mirror.

It took several days before present day Greece came into focus for me. It's a country working on becoming modern. A proud member of the European Union it is pushing to grow up--a remarkable feat for a nation that's been napping and partying for two millennia. It has actively invited in major manufacturing, paved its roads, struggled to improve its education and social benefits, modernized its fishing, shipping and its olive-based agricultural systems. And it has plugged in to the new age with computers and television. It's still struggling with an antiquated telephone system and an ageless phobia about its neighbors, but Greece is growing up.

We did discover the "old" Greece too, in the everyday sparkle and friendship of the people, and mainly in the back streets of Rethymno and the mountain villages of Crete. It's in those places where we found the "Zorba passion," the unshakable understanding that life is a circle dance of friends and enemies, work and play--an understanding that is far older than the many piles of stone ruins we mistakenly call our western legacy.

In a similar way, entering Egypt forced us to find that relationships are the bedrock of our world--not our rubble. Like the Greeks, the modern day Egyptians are proud of their heritage. They profit from it in many ways. But also like the Greeks they know those stone edifices are merely things--in no way as vital and important as sitting in the afternoon sun sipping chai with a friend, or downing raki and bellowing at the moon and dancing with a new visitor to the village.

We entered the ancient lands ready to learn, to see the great wonders, to feel the power of the pyramids and the grace of the Parthenon. Yet what we found was far deeper and more meaningful. We found friends. Special friends. Too many to name here. We went to discover the roots of our civilization, and we succeeded.

But we also rediscovered a zest for living and a pace that allows true living.

"A land, Crete, lying in a wine-dark sea
Lavishly fruitful, sea-girt, radiant."
From Homer's "The Odyssey"

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