Taking in the summer

Greeks are awaiting the uncertain and menacing autumn period and an even darker winter after that with bated breath. They are trying to remain calm, summon courage and build up their strength. They are hoping to go swimming a couple of times, spend a few days at friends’ summer homes or in their villages, send their children off to their grandparents for safekeeping, or simply to enjoy a few beers on a hill while listening to the cicadas and watching the moon come up.

Nature, which had been so overlooked by so many Greeks in the past, when it was taken for granted and often blatantly disregarded, is now coming to their rescue. The Greek summer is no longer the stuff of poets; it has become a part of our souls, comforting yet painful at the same time. It has come into sharp focus. A writer friend of mine recently told me of his thoughts while wandering in the tobacco fields of his ancestral village: “In theory, if I could, I would never return to this place. But I have spoken so badly of the place where I was born, I argued against its virtues so much over the years, that in the end my words were spent, I was almost mute. Now I go back only on the occasional summer, and it is more like a pilgrimage than a holiday.”

This changed the way I had been looking at life around me and made me see it as a pilgrimage. I saw the Acropolis bathed in light, the Temple of Hephestus, the Athens Observatory, the bell towers of churches, the Ancient Cemetery of Kerameikos shrouded in darkness, the Agora and, in the distance, the slopes and peaks of Mount Hymettus.

And everywhere there were people.

Summer is but a season, it is not a constant, and it has a material manifestation as well as a metaphysical one. It brings comfort as well as knowledge. It makes us rethink the country we live in, the people we live with, Greece’s disparate landscapes and its contradictions; it makes us think petty thoughts and discover latent treasures. The summer gives us the understanding that the wealth we thought was lost continues to be right there in front of us and will come back in a different form with hard work and foresight, with truth and with compassion, first and foremost for ourselves.

Quietly, without the usual ingratitude and with a remarkable sense of fortitude, most Greeks will travel the country for a few days, cleanse their souls in crystal-clear seas and spend an evening under plane trees and vines, with wine, olive oil and vegetables plucked from the land. They are waiting for the peak of the summer, the big holiday that marks the end of the season, and they are taking courage.

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