"How were your holidays?"
In Greece, this is the burning question on friends and colleagues' lips upon your return from summer leave. And they always ask with such longing that shortly after arriving at the office earlier today I wondered if the quality of people's lives really did depend on how great a time I had with my family on my recent trip to Zakynthos (Zante).
Being a decent sort of person - as most returning holiday makers are - I decided to omit the lousy bits (
I kept the myth of "perfect vacations" alive by putting on a blissful smile as I regaled them with travel anecdotes before concluding with an aching sigh and sweeping statement:
"Zakynthos is p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e.
No wonder the Venetians referred to it as fior di levante (flower of the East)! I can understand why Edgar Allan Poe wrote a poem about it. Is it any wonder why so many of our national poets and composers were born on this island?
It is simply beautiful!"
I didn't need to exaggerate too much, either. Here are some photographs so that you can judge for yourself.
Laganas beach is where we stayed and THIS is the view I encountered every morning. As I said - "p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e"!
As you can see, this year I have decided to refrain from debunking the summer holiday myth. After all, we need to believe in the magic of escape as times are tough living in a country on the verge of bankruptcy with the IMF deconstructing the Greek "system" and licking away at workers' hard-earned vested rights.
Next year? Who knows? Will our summer holidays be as carefree or is this the last glimpse of hedonistic life?
There seems to be a growing stinginess in vacations and an increasing tendency to save pennies for rainy days rather than squander them under the sun. Will our children believe that there was a time when life in Greece was one year-long summer holiday? People are already blaming this lifestyle for our current economic woes while pointing to Aesop's fable "The Grasshopper and the Ants"...managing to forget the offshore companies and powerful thieves that ruined what was perhaps the best social security/pension system in the world.
But come what may, I guess we'll always have our holiday memories, a few faded snapshots and of course a tide of inspiration that comes from having sipped some of life's splendour...
SONNET TO ZANTE
by Edgar Allan Poe (1837)
Fair isle, that from the fairest of all flowers,
Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!
How many memories of what radiant hours
At sight of thee and thine at once awake!
How many scenes of what departed bliss!
How many thoughts of what entombed hopes!
How many visions of a maiden that is
No more - no more upon thy verdant slopes!
No more! alas, that magical sad sound
Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more -
Thy memory no more! Accursed ground
Henceforth I hold thy flower - enameled shore,
O hyacinthine island! O purple Zante!
"Isola d'oro! Fior di Levante!"
Ironically enough, just as we left the island on August 15, parts of Zakynthos were licked by flames, burning away our still vivid memories.
All the pictures apart from the last one were taken by me.