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Monday, 14 January 2013

Light in the darkness

While I was on a sports group visit in Athens over the weekend, I shared a hotel room with another mother whose son was competing in the games. Like me, she has travelled to a number of European countries, and she is also a great reader, devouring any books she can get hold of. She had brought with her the third of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, a story I was fascinated by, even though I found it very difficult to read because it was packed with violence. I asked her what she thought of the book, and she said much the same thing: a very gripping story that has extremely off-putting scenes, but it is so well-written that you can't put it down until you get to the end, which makes you willing to bear the pain of the heroine which you can't prevent.
One thing we talked about concerning this aspect of the book was how Stieg Larsson was able to write such a 'dark' story. At the very end of the trilogy, I remember reading about a girl near the clutches of death, saved by the bell, so to speak. Even when she is saved by her journalist friend who is obvsiously in love with her, there is only what seems like a glimmer of hope in the lightless world of the girl with the dragon tattoo. The ending is not bright and the light we see, when it finally comes on, is very dim. 
"How can these people write such dark stories?" my friend asked me. 
"Well, you've seen the countries they come from," I replied, reminding her of her travels in Northern Europe. "They come from very dark cultures, and light is often missing in their life. In the winter, they get up in the dark, children go to school in the dark, sometimes they leave school when darkness is about to set, and their parents don't even see the light of day when they leave work. In Greece, there is a lot of light everywhere. We are rarely enveloped in darkness. When darkness is your constant companion, your thoughts are often filled with dark images, and I suppose it's easier to conjure up dark images in your mind."

It's the same with sorcery and magic. Such worlds are led by people wearing black Gothic attire and the atmosphere is often dark and bleak. When Greeks see a black-garbed man, they will most probably put it in their mind that he is a priest, as our priests dress in a similar way to a magician. Priests are looked up to and trusted, not feared. So we can't write stories like those about harry Potter. Nor can we write something like Fifty Shades of Grey. To buy your magazine or newspaper, you will probably pass the pornography section of a newsstand; so will your kids when they want to buy some chewing gum. And this will all happen on a bright sunny day at a kiosk on a busy central street. Sex is not treated as a dark sport in Greece.
"But Greeks are living in darkness too," she said. "The financial crisis is a period of darkness for us now." 
She is right: Greece is now living through a period of darkness, just like in the ancient Hellenic world which saw one deathly battle fought after another. But even in our darker moments, all we need to do is to draw the curtains, or open the shutters, and our homes are flooded with light. Our minds may be completely clouded, but our climate, the colours of our atmosphere, the early sunrise and later sunset, they all help to dampen the murkiness. The light of day is never too far away in a Greek day. 
While in Athens, my spirit was quashed as I came face to face with certain sights that I had, up until then, before my visit, seen only on television: vandalism, homelessness, desolation and despair. But in such moments, I remind myself of things tourists have said when walking around the Acropolis: "Greece is in the coffee cups, the sun that blinds us, the blue and white flag that waves to us on the balconies. You live Greece with all your senses.  And I recall something Dimitris Mytaras (famous Greek artist) once said about our country: "Greece is a very hot country... The people here are very warm... If Greece were a painting, she would be an ancient (white) statue, standing in front of a deep (dark) background. We have an enormous, vast culture backing us and a terrifying past." 
Some worlds are full of darkness, but that doesn't apply to Greece at all. Despite the despair, the Greek world leads with a radiance of its own, quite unmatched and never able to copied anywhere else by anyone. 

All photos taken at OAKA, the site of the 2004 Olympic Games this past weekend.

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