Greece has overspent itself to the brink of destruction and angry citizens are showing their contempt for further austerity measures by firebombing downtown Athens. Talk continues of defaults and the downfall of a country and the entire eurozone as well.
But even if the country’s national institutions wobble, Greek culture will survive the current unpleasantness in Athens. Here are some reasons why:
1. The Mediterranean Diet The heart-healthy Greek menu emphasizes fish, olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables and a splash of wine for good measure. According to the Mayo Clinic “most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.” Read the full article about the benefits of eating Greek here.
2. Kiosks There’s a tiny outdoor convenience store every few blocks in Athens where you can buy snacks, newspapers, bus tickets, an emergency bottle of olive oil, etc. The kids can be sent down the street with a few euros to buy an ice cream bar and Dad can stop for a small bottle of whiskey to soothe a bad day at the office. Friends can meet for a quick chat, read the headlines and get a sports drink when the heat roasts marble buildings to a sparkling white and all the fresh oranges and eggplants you bought at the neighborhood laiki open air market start getting heavy on the walk home. Maybe now isn’t the time to open that designer dress shop in Kolonaki but the kiosks will still be a central part of life this time next year, too.
3. The lemonade at the base of the Acropolis You came to see the famous Parthenon, step in Socrates’s footsteps at the Pnyx, imagine the chariot races and salute Hadrian’s arch. But how did democracy thrive in this heat! The antidote is the amazingly crisp, fresh lemonade sold at the ordinary-looking concession stand at the base of the Acropolis. Buy one–at whatever today’s cost–after your trek up to the Parthenon. And be careful on the way down. There aren’t safety rails and Greece probably doesn’t have the money to install them now.
4. Storytellers Writing and storytelling are quintessential aspects of Greek culture. This proud heritage is being carried on by the Aegean Arts Circle. Writer, sculptor and all-around Renaissance woman Amalia Melis runs the Circle which hosts an annual writer’s workshop series on the island of Andros. Workshops are led by notable authors who help both experienced and novice writers polish fiction manuscripts. This summer’s workshop will be led by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler whose “. . . workshop will focus on the fundamentals of the creative process for any fiction writers, beginning or advanced, who aspire to create enduring literature.”
5. The Greek alphabet Fraternities, sororities, astronomers, interior designers, and the electronics industry (Coming Soon! The beta version!) are among the notables who all embrace the timeless quality of the Greek alphabet.
6. This. Is. Sparta. Okay, okay. Yes, it’s an internet meme and King Leonidas kept slipping in an accent that suggested he’d been thrown out of his fair share of pubs, but Hollywood loves Greek history. Think Troy. Alexander the Great. Beautiful scenery, low budget costumes and pre-written plots. And then there is the fabulously genuine Nia Vardarlos who singlehandedly brought Greek traditions of family, food, and loud arguments to the silver screen. And made us laugh.
7. Ohi Day There is a Greek resilience best illustrated by a unique holiday which celebrates the day in 1940 that Greek Prime Minister Metaxas refused to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified “strategic locations.” The ultimatum was delivered by the Italian ambassador on behalf of Germany and urban legend has it that Metaxas answered with just the word “ohi,” or “no” in Greek. The Axis forces invaded shortly thereafter. Forced to the brink of starvation, Greece barely survived the rest of World War II and its chaotic political aftermath, best captured in My Brother Michael by Leon Uris.
So tonight, I’m celebrating with My Life In Ruins, and some feta and olives. I’ll watch the news tomorrow.