Letter from Thessaloniki

A friend who dreams of a world without waste, without poisons, a make-believe world in which all materials are constantly recycled, wrote the other day, «Waste is becoming the national symbol of Greece.» Well, not unless we can export it. Earlier this month, and I quote from a Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) dispatch from Athens: «Greece announced Thursday it was considering measures to transport thousands of tons of partially treated human waste to Germany that it has been unable to dump in Greece.» But this is not due to happen until next year when we will, hopefully, have our own appropriate facilities for waste processing. As public concern about the environment grows all over the world, and since there was a time not too long ago when the European Union ruled that Greece had to pay about 20,000 euros a day until its authorities clean up Kouroupitos, a toxic waste dump in a waterless ravine not far from Hania, Crete, there is an increasing acceptance in ministerial suites that industrial reform can be good for the environment as well the tourism industry. Waste management is becoming one of the key problems of the modern world, an international issue that is intensified by the volume and complexity of the waste discarded by urban and industrial hubs. Yet the question, at least for Greece, is how to handle the problem. Where can we acquire the know-how we need so badly? Well, surely from those who know better than us. Certainly one does not necessarily need to brush up on one’s Bertolt Brecht to learn that he who elicits the wisdom of a teacher is no less worthy than he who pronounces it. All the same, I cannot restrain from elaborating here on the theme of a beautiful and most instructive poem by Brecht, «The Legend of the Origin of the Book Taoteking.» And it goes as follows: Old, infirm and downhearted over the presence of so much evil in his country, Lao-Tse, the poet-philosopher, undertakes a last journey, accompanied by a young boy. All he possesses is his learning. With this he confronts the toll collector at one border. He is asked whether he has any valuables. «He is a teacher,» the boy says. «And has he any profit from that?» Yes, is the answer. He has learned that in due time gentle waters in motion wear down even the hardest rock. Hard things always give in. «Write it down for me,» says the toll keeper, who was poor, worn and, as the poem puts it, «surely not of the race of conquerors.» «Let us praise not only the wise,» says Brecht, concluding: «Let us also praise him who has the cunning to draw wisdom from the sage.» Next June, the International Conference on Waste Management and the Environment in Malta will be convened for the third time following events in Cadiz, Spain, and on Rhodes. It is expected that the participating Greek functionaries, certainly not of the race of conquerors, will gain, like the good old toll keeper from the Chinese fable, some badly needed scientific information in this rapidly growing area of research and applications. And if this does not happen in Malta, some other German-inspired wisdom could be eventually drawn directly from Berlin. In the past decade, Herman Scheer, a legendary member of the German Parliament and a member of the Social Democratic Party, transformed Germany’s energy landscape by pushing through laws that have turned the country into the world’s biggest wind-power user. That is remarkable for a country that is not particularly windy, nor sunny, as compared to Greece. Yet, clean energy sure has a long way to go in this country, which is still so dependent on shamefully expensive oil. Now, speaking of German lessons, there is currently a commendable production of Brecht’s comedic morality play: «The Good Person of Szechwan,» running at the Sfendoni Theater (4 Makri St, Makriyianni). It is inspired by an ancient Chinese folk tale. The story follows three Chinese gods who descend to a city to reward the most virtuous person in a devastated community. One asks, «How does one attain goodness in a world that continually rewards under-handed and selfish acts?» And then one can conclude that this play speaks today’s Greek political dialogue quite fluently. By pondering how a human being living in a world like ours can ever fulfill all prescriptions for the good life, «The Good Person of Szechwan» comes to the conclusion that there is something very wrong and awfully false about this world. Anna Kokkinou admirably plays the central characters Shen Te and Shui Ta, a pair of alter egos who represent the polarity of human intelligence and inhuman accomplishment respectively. «Should we acknowledge that all we have to bequeath to future generations is trash smashed on ancient monuments?» my aforementioned eco-minded friend ponders, deploring the state of present day Elefsina Bay. Hating prescriptions for the future, Brecht once again turns the problem over to the audience. At the end, an actor steps forward with an epilogue: «Honored public: Find the conclusion yourself. There must be a good one around. There must, must, must!»