An unexpected joy in Edmond About’s otherwise vicious (but hugely entertaining) “Contemporary Greece” awaits the reader at the end.
After having had his fill of mocking the Greeks and their young kingdom with abundant Gallic wit during his stay in Athens in 1852-4, the French journalist finds himself in a mountainous part of the Peloponnese. There he is impressed by the kindness, “the pure and noble soul,” the generosity of some of the people – virtues noticeably lacking in the other Greeks that he describes.
But he notices something else, as well: “There will always be something inexplicable and unshakable in the love of the mountain people for the soil that refuses to nourish them. The people of Greece’s mountains refuse to emigrate, and when they do finally decide to, they want to return to their rocks.”
Greece has changed much since then – the mass migrations within its borders and abroad, great economic development and its merging with Europe (to the extent that it has) have brought gains and losses.
What remains unchanged is the love of the Greeks for the place from which they are descended, whether this is the mountains, cities or shores of their lovely and cruel land. This is evident in the sincere and timeless desire of Greeks all over the world to give something back to the country from which they or their parents left.
What is the thread that links us to an ideal Greece when we or the country are in our labyrinths? Is it the “rocks” that call us back? Is it collective memory and rituals which unite us, through religion, language, music, history?
For the younger generations, aside from their appreciation of the country’s beauty and its ancient glories, does their love of Greece perhaps stem from the nostalgia voiced by beloved parents and grandparents?
Common to every initiative to help (such as that expressed today by Node: Global Hellenic Networks) is the sense that Greece can do better, that the effort is worthwhile, that together we can raise the country a little higher.
The “inexplicable and unshakable” thing about this love is the pursuit of an ideal society which, either behind or before us, is always desired.