Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

"To love one another may require a leap of faith. The outcome though constitutes an act of birth for humanity. It also signifies the inevitable transition from the instinct of survival to morality.” Zygmunt Bauman (sociologist)

Last week I wrote about my impressions of Greece. I’ve now been here for two weeks and I’m surprised at how the contrasts I’ve witnessed in those early days have further cemented themselves in my views so that all I see is contradiction. My cousins reassure me there are no inconsistencies. Greece has always been this way.

“A country on the surface may appear civilized,” one cousin says, “but at its core it is as out of control as it has always been.”

“But Greece is the center of civilization,” I say. “It has shaped most of the modern political, economical, social, and cultural systems of the world today.”

My cousins shake their heads. Collectively. They refute every opinion I have of this place. I tell them that I feel safe here. “Greece is one of the safest places in the world.” They tell me there are now whole neighbourhoods in Athens that have been taken over by criminals. The police have apparently given up on these areas.

I say I don’t see as much homelessness and poverty as I do in North American cities. “There are many on the street,” they say. “Just look.”

And yes, I do see a few. But also I witness acts of incredible generosity: someone tucks a coin in another’s hand.

“Anarchy reins supreme here,” I’m warned.

Yes, I do witness double-parking the likes of which I have never seen in Canada. People argue in the street, ride their horns and a few days ago, I saw someone throw a lemon at a passing motorist. I’m not exactly sure what the motorist did to deserve this, but I take things as they come, trying to remain heavy on observation, and light on judgement. After all, I love this country.

I notice employed foreigners in Greek businesses and Indian and Asian restaurants have sprung up in Athens since the last time I was here. This is something that used to be rare in Greece. The country has always been homogeneous and proud of it.

This change makes me feel hopeful for the object of my love. I’m buoyed. There is a future for Greece. I’m sure of it.

I saw an exhibit last week at the Benaki Museum, entitled Depression Era. Through photography, text, and film the project chronicles the impact of the economic crisis on Greece from 2008 to 2011. Some of the images are difficult to look at, the text heart rendering. Of their work, the artists note, “our first objective is clarity, in the historical, political and social blur of the present.”

That is my goal too. I want to see Greece clearly: its strengths, its weaknesses, and everything in between. My eyes have been pried open. I have taken a leap of faith beyond infatuation to reality. I cannot turn away.


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