Ruin driving

Wednesday morning at Zorba’s Hotel, our lodging for last night. We might be the only ones in this large hotel, yet another sign of the economic doldrums in Greece. These signs were everywhere during our four hours of driving yesterday from the southeast tip of Peloponnese to the Olympic Stadium in the northwest. Above all: the garbage. Apparently it’s not getting picked up. The garbage is overflowing the large central bins, spilling onto the ground where animals have shredded the bags and now the refuse is scattered. We see this everywhere. We also see plastic bags of garbage tied up high on people’s gates, perhaps waiting for a dreamy day of house-to-house pickup. During our drive we passed through a dark, forested area where some type of protest was happening, perhaps a hundred men with signs on sheets, and now in retrospect we wonder if these were the sanitation workers laid off by the new stringent rules coming down from Berlin. The scene frightened us: men spilling onto the street, smoking cigarettes, the blood-red lettering on the sheet, the darkness of a forest, men turned by shame and desperation into a mob.


Two side points:

  1. America doesn’t hit the streets to protest. It just doesn’t. In Bologna, Italy, there are regular protests running down Via Independenza, but in America, even when a small minority of radical Republicans decides in their own lunacy to hold the economy hostage, there is little protest.


  1. Greece is littered with garbage. Pull over to admire the view and at your feet are plastic bags and cigarette butts and water bottles. We stopped at a beach for sunset yesterday and were more overwhelmed by the litter than by the sunset.


I wonder if it’s always been this way, or if it coincides with the last 7 years of economic sorrows. Do people just not care? In the midst of larger forces in Berlin or Belgium putting the screws to Greece (and in the process, shaming them), is tossing a plastic bag out the car window a peculiar form of protest, a dirtying of the landscape to rid the dirty inside. Greece is frayed at the edges, a tattered blue-and-white flag being flapped to shreds by the fierce winds.


In any case, it’s there, and to Americans like us who have the good fortune of living in a litter-free land, it’s startling and unpleasant. Again, I wonder if this is a new phenomenon or something else, maybe even a national trait that has a different relationship with order. Remember in Crete at that street market, at that table of shoes all strewn together into a mound rather than separated into neat pairs like recliners on a beach. This makes me want to see a Greek’s closet. Is it a mess? What about his wallet, or his glove compartment in a car, or his “to-do” list? Are these messes, too—mini forms of graffiti and tattered garbage on a personal level?


Moving on….


I’ll get to yesterday’s two highlights in a minute: 1, our visit to the original Olympic Stadium, and 2, our game of Greek Jeopardy at dinner last night. But first, let me declare that we’re still in search of Greece. We’ve been here for a week—3 days in Crete, 4 days in the Peloponnese Peninsula—and the Greece of our minds is nowhere in sight. You know what I’m talking about: the villages of white-washed stucco with blue roofs that blend in with the blue of the sea.


…. Got interrupted mid-thought. I’ll attach here the entry that Dolora typed while we were driving to the Oracle at Delphi today, a back-and-forth account among the 3 of us:


Quick Blog Peloponnese


Jim: We are in our rental car pulled off on the side of the road because it’s raining so hard. Our search for the Greece of our imaginations continues. Where is the sun? Where is the warmth? Where is the white stucco with blue-domed roofs? Today we go to the Oracle of Delphi for answers. I expect the oracle to answer, “Go to Turkey.”


Liam: We played catch at Zorba’s Hotel. I want to swim, but it’s raining. Waa! We are going to Delphi, where Apollo’s oracle was. Then we are going to Athens for 5 days. This is not Greece, it’s Indonesia. [running gag from when Dolora said—in the middle of the Peloponnese—“This is what I think Indonesia will look like.”]


Dolora: Spent the night at the only hotel/taverna possible along a route from Olympia to Delphi. We were hoping to find a quaint village along the beach, but instead kept running into ramshackle cottages, overflowing garbage dumpsters, and stretches of beach littered with plastic chairs. Ended up at Zorba’s—Sprechein zie Deutsch!—run by 2 brothers and their families. One brother, Lefteros, was very kind; the other one, too prickly to get his name. Lefteros brought us ouzo and a panna cotta dessert for Liam even though we said we were full.


J: Yesterday we visited the ancient Olympic site. It is considered one of the holiest places in Greece, which explains the whistle blowers. These are the young people in ordinary clothing who are like lifeguards, blowing their whistles at the slightest infractions: Liam throwing a stick like a javelin in an open area, Liam standing on a tumbled, crumbling pillar, a man placing a beanie baby on a stone for a picture, a man who took off his shirt in the stadium. During our visit, we kept looking over our shoulders for the whistleblowers. Sure enough, when Dolora prepared herself to throw the discus in the modern form of a Keen sandal, we heard the whistle before it was blown. Still, we managed to hold our own version of a pentathlon in the middle of the ancient stadium.


L: We did a small pentathlon at the ancient Olympic Stadium. First dad and I did the running from the start to finish and back (about a quarter mile). It was a very long run. We started out by jogging easily. When we got to the half-way mark, we started to get a little tired. At the three-quarter mark, I started sprinting. My dad started sprinting too. At about the 10-foot line I started running backward and won. A tour group was cheering us on. Next we did the javelin. We introduced ourselves: my dad was Mr. Digits [a real fighter in Olympic history who was known for breaking the fingers of his opponents], my name was Hlios, my Greek name, and mom was a Spartan woman warrior. Our javelin was a small stick because of our fear of the whistle blower. First went the Spartan warrior. She threw it pretty far. Next went Mr. Digits who claimed that the javelin was not his best sport. Next was me. I threw it farther than anyone, but the Spartan warrior said my foot was over the line, so I had to re-throw. The next throw I did was just as far. The Spartan woman said that I had won. But I said, “I cheated. I threw the javelin rather than vaulting it.” The Spartan let me re-do [the Olympic spirit in action!] The next throw I did made a big difference. It tied with the Spartan woman, but the Spartan woman said that I had won. We did one more confirmation, and I threw it farther.


D: The long jump. My specialty. I am known as a horrible vertical jumper, but I was pretty good at long jump in grammar school. It was always a little embarrassing to swing your arms and bend your knees to prepare for the take-off, but everyone looked silly together. Here we are, at Olympic Stadium, and in front of a German tour bus full of on-lookers I am swinging my arms and undulating, wanting to soar ten feet or so. I think I went 3 feet. I came in 2nd. Hlios from Athens (Liam) came in first, and he didn’t even swing his arms.


J: So far I have been shamed in these Olympic games. I, Mr. Digits, famed across the Pan-Hellenic world for the legal crushing of bones in wrestling, have lost all 3 of the first events in the pentathlon. Two events remain: discus and wrestling. I entered the discus circle with a reputation to uphold. I still aspired to win the olive wreath. I was holding out hope that Zeus would decree that Hlios’ javelin throw was disqualified. I placed the discus [a Keen sandal] in the crook of my wrist, practically tasting the 50-ton vat of olive oil that would by prize. I twirled in the circle, dizzy with the hope of winning the endorsement for Apollo’s Feta Cheese. As the discus left my hand and soared into the overcast Olympian skies, I could hear the roar of the 40,000 onlookers on their feet. It landed far enough that I sat down confident that my dreams would be realized. And indeed they did, as the other contestants throws fell fall short. [Well, contestant due to the Spartan warrior being disqualified by the whistle blower] The final event, wrestling, could determine the winner of the games and the blessings of Zeus himself.


L: The last game we did a form of Greek wrestling. You stand inside a circle and you have to shove the other person out. It was between me and Mr. Digits. First Mr. Digits tried to whack my head, but I ducked. Next, I tried to go through his legs, but I failed and he grabbed me. He broke all my fingers, one by one. It did not feel good, but I kept on going. I punched him in the stomach and then in the mouth. His pride prevented him from spitting out his teeth, so he swallowed them. [A true account from history] I shoved Mr. Digits and he almost went out of the ring, but he got back in. I pulled him in to try to fling him out the other side, but it did not work. He stayed in the ring. He grabbed me and picked me up, thinking he was victorious. I punched him right in the head and he went right out of the ring. I fell to my feet, landing in the ring. I had won!


D: There is an amazing sculpture of Hermes holding his baby brother, Dionysus in the museum at Ancient Olympia. The marble gleams and gives new meaning to alabaster glow. The details of his strapped sandals and toes, the lilt of his head, the curve of his muscles, bring this quicksilver god to life.







1 Comment

  1. shannon

    love the banter and all your blogs. You collectively are a blogspiration.

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