Anyone with a TV, at least in Europe, should by now be aware that Greece is fighting to renegotiate it’s mandatory payment to its bailout creditors – the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission by 30 June…or else. Intense negotiations in Brussels for the past week or so have reached no mutually satisfying compromise. The Greeks are trying to avert the imposition of tax and pensionable age increases, which will further kneel it’s poverty descending people. The creditors want guarantees before choking up more money…? The latest is that an agreement needs to be reached by Monday, as Germany is fearful of the effect any further delay may have on the unstable, bouncing Euro. Here in Greece and all over Europe there’s talk of Grexit, the possible EU departure of Greece, a return to the drachma, nationalising banks…pandemonium. The Greeks are fearful for their future but fed-up with Europe and crave a return to a more autonomous democracy. Europe is fed-up with Greece the unreliable borrower. Who’s right? Probably both. Who gets the blame? Both should. The Greeks don’t want to raise the pension age citing the 25% unemployment rate and general near poverty of it’s pensioners. But it is workers paying for the national pension funds, so, common sense entails, longer working lives would mean greater (though later) pensions. EU do not see the argument, Greeks do not grasp deferred rewards as a functioning system…. I’m no politician or international fund manager but how could anyone hope that Greece and Germany would ever see the world the same way to begin with? The EU utopians had been so utterly oblivious to differences in perception, ethos, way of life and priorities among the peoples of Europe. How could they be so blind? The North take life as seriously as a megalithic construction, rise early, work hard, save money, live a structured, mostly rational existence by the clock they invented and manufacture so faultlessly….The South live on a different temporal scale… A proverb present in slightly different versions all around the Mediterranean basin speaks to the mañana symptom ever present here, and says something like ‘don’t do today what you can do tomorrow’. Southerners want relatively little out of life because they are driven mostly by the appreciation of pause and sentiment: life is to be tasted not rushed through, a simple existence shared with friends and family is more precious than success and material possessions. Of course this is a huge overgeneralization, and not all Greeks are Zorbas just as not all Germans are Merkels. But there are evident trends and fundamental differences between Northern and Southern European people just as there are differences in the landscape, fauna, weather, shade of the blue of the sky and variety of birds who bother to sing in the morning across this continent. It’s not a natural expectation to think all people share the same view of life and are happy with the same thing. So what is really the surprise about Greece vs German run EU at the moment? Could it ever have been any other way? If Greece exits, next it will be Spain, Portugal, possibly Italy. Then there will probably be a Northern EU and a Southern EU, and maybe this is how it should have been all along. Yet are we all so different? Ever-since I have arrived in Greece the predominant language around is German….more German-speaking tourists can be encountered sipping the Greek drinks, soaking in the Greek sunshine, enjoying the food, the sights and the sea than any other EU nation. And they enjoy it all with the same gusto as the locals do. In the beginning of the season German newspapers ran stories around a possible Greek backlash against German tourists…”spit in the ouzo”, they called it, disgusting, I know, but a legitimate fear in a way. Yet no such thing is happening. Greek people are wise enough to know it’s governments, representatives of national assets and average societal views, rather than individual people, that are responsible for the current ideology clash. They’re nice and hospitable to the German-speaking tourists just as they are welcoming to all tourists. For in the end, in those moments when we choose to enjoy life, we all appreciate the same simple things.
As a travel destination Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, provides the opportunity of a balanced experience of both culture and nature. Naxos town (Known as Chora) is a postcard worthy classic Cycladic town with a twist: the Castle on the hill as well as the labyrinth design of its old town, reminiscent of it’s Venetian alleyways, make it feel a bit Italian.
Coming in from the port, the one striking image is that of the Palatia islet, home to the Portara, symbol of Naxos, a lonely freestanding marble door. This 2500 year old structure is the only surviving portion of an attempted Temple of Apollo, ancient structure that never got completed and, over the years, got dismantled so the marble can be used in the building of the town. Impressive in it’s size and precision of the stone cut, the Portara is the favourite place to watch the sunset from, the evening pilgrimage of every good tourist.
As for Chora, the most interesting part, as mentioned, is the old town, clustered atop the hill above the harbor. To understand the town one must first understand the history. After the 1204 sacking of Constantinople, Venetians siezedmany of the Aegean islands. Marco Sanudo captured Naxos in 1207 and united these under the Duchy of Naxos. Eager for independence from the Doge in Venice he eventually broke away from the Republic and allied himself with the Latin Emperor, thus becoming the Duke of the Archipelago. His allies and descendants ruled directly for 300 years.
The old Venetian nobility devised a class system which is still apparent in the layout of the town itself. There are two distinct neighbourhoods: the lower Bouros, with narrow lanes and modest size dwellings, where the native Greeks lived, and the higher up Kastro, more palatial in appearance, as it was once occupied by the Venetian noblemen and their families. The Castle and Catholic Cathedral were founded by Marco Sanudo himself, and Venetian-style houses in the Kastro still bear the old families’ coats-of-arms.
In an old tower of the Castle one finds the Venetian museum, which I visited. It’s filled with antiques and quite well provided for, considering it is a private museum, founded by a direct descendant of the most notable of the old families, Barozzi – della Rocca.
The waterfront is more typically Greek, happy and carefree and filled with cafes and restaurants. The food is fresh and of outstanding flavour….and the Greek salad comes with a sheep worth of feta, so don’t try and loose weight here 🙂