Aegina, Greece

I fell in love with a small island in Greece while reading a book that ended its tale in a small island in Greece. This made the island all the more special for me, as if I was meant to be here at this time. Aegina is a short boat ride away from Athens, it is everything every guide book has ever promised you, or so the rich of Athens will tell you, who come here to get away from the city.

It is easy to forget just how smothered we are in the UK, everything is set out for you and made safe, and yet here, ironically in another island you can breath again, you are free. In Aegina you can drive around tiny cobbled lanes, skirting around the stray white nondescript cats of Aegina and the fish caught that morning, you can park your hired scooter or quad-bike (the choice is yours) any where you like, never worrying about fishing for the last bit of change out of your pocket for parking.

What is there to do but sit back and relax? Explore the island in your own time, driving past giant cactuses and fields of pistachio trees. Visit the majestic Temple of Athena, drive up the long winding mountain to walk around the ancient Greek ruins. Pistachio’s are grown on the island and celebrated every September with the festival of Fistiki (Pistachio). Aegina produces every type of thing you can think of to do with a pistachio, and it is a delight to wonder around the island and find them all! My personal favourite being pistachio butter, very much like peanut butter.

I am looking forward to returning to the island of Aegina, a rare feeling for me as I am usually enthralled but always eager to move on. But, I would also like to see more of Greece. To stay in Athens and Thessaloniki.

 

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And the Mountains Echoed in Greece

“All my life I have lived like an Aquarium fish in the safety of a glass tank, behind a barrier as impenetrable as it has been transparent. I have been free to observe the glimmering world on the other side, to picture myself in it, if I like. But I have always been contained, hemmed in, by the hard, unyielding confines of the existence that Baba has constructed for me, at first knowingly, when I was young, and now guilelessly, now that he is fading day by day. I think I have grown accustomed to the glass and am terrified that when it breaks, when I am alone, I will spill out into the wide open unknown and flop around, helpless, lost, gasping for breath.”

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

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Each of us are weighed down, burdened by our own particular set of responsibilities, a brand unique to ourselves, our situations and our lives. My own responsibilities I have worn as a heavy chain around my neck for too long. This is not to state that I choose to be free of my responsibilities, a choice that is too reckless, too heartless and remote a decision I could ever make. But I do have a choice to live with my burdens. A choice that is not to accept a weight that encumbers our lives, but a choice to accommodate that weight, shift it a little on your back so that the weight is less cumbersome.

This is a new skill I feel I will have to practice to get right, and yet a skill that is essential to not just survive in life, but to be happy. I must learn to enjoy the days when the weight of responsibility grounds me, but make sure I have the days when I am free to move, to explore. If I am careful to plan for those days, it is easier to enjoy the days I am forced to be still.

reading

In Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, the stories move the reader constantly along Afghanistan, France and Greece, through sixty years of relationships, often so close that their lives are a burden to each other, others remote, but all touching and shaping their lives in amazing ways. This is life; inescapable and alluring.

Towards the end of the book is a touching story of the little girl Thalia, who was mauled by a dog at 5 just years old. Her story is set in an island in Greece, and I read this part of the book while staying at Aegina, another island in Greece, thinking about the people who have touched my life, wondering if those people who seemed so remote at the time may have had the biggest influence.

An Honest Man

“He has the most who is most content with the least”

Diogenes

His Point of View:

From the top of the stone steps he can look out at the people below him in the square. He watches the activity of people selling their wares in the market stalls, of the men with their women folk in tow with babies balanced on hips. He takes a deep breath reassured by his place in life and their place below. This is the way things were meant to be. He sees a dirty woman hunched over in faded rags, her face hidden beneath her dirty robe, carrying a lit lantern.

          “Why is that woman carrying a lit lantern in the middle of the day?” He asks his favourite advisor beside him. The advisor’s name is lost to the man for the moment. The advisor turns to him a look of puzzlement briefly mars his beautiful young features. He waves in her general direction irritated that his wish was not understood immediately. His advisor calls out to her to halt what she is doing and demands that she comes towards me. The woman saunters over until she is standing before him at the bottom of the steps. The smell of unwashed skin floats unpleasantly from her direction. He feels frustrated as her face is still covered and he cannot see who she is. 

          “Why do you carry a lit lantern in the middle of the day?” He asks her.

          “I am looking for an honest man” the woman answers in a decidedly gruff unfeminine voice.

          The advisors laugh at the old woman, but he ignores them. He must know why she carries a lit lantern in daylight.

          “I am Alexander the Great and I am an honest man” He proclaims proudly. He is aware of the reaction that the mere mention of his name has caused by the people close by at the market square but pretends not to notice. 

          “Ah but Alexander the Great is not an honest man. You must give up your money, fame and power, and only then will you live a virtuous life and be an honest man.” The woman explains. The man is shocked by the audacity of this woman.

          “How dare you proclaim Alexander the Great is not an honest man. Show yourself beggar woman.” He demands.

          The woman throws off her robe.

          “I am Diogenes the cynic.”

          People begin to gather around the spectacle unfolding before them. The man feels angry that this woman, or man, tricked him into this show and feels that he must make him look like a fool or he would have turned him into the fool.

          “I am happy with my power and fame. How can you be happy living like a dog in a tub in the market Diogenes, with no fine clothes on your back?” He asks him. Diogenes responds immediately as if expecting his response.

           “I have enough to eat till my hunger is stayed, to drink till my thirst is sated; to clothe myself as well; and out of doors not even you with all your riches, is safer than I from shivering; and when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting do I need than my bare walls?”

          “You are but a mere dog Diogenes.”

But Diogenes simply laughs and replies.

          “Other dogs bite their enemies; I bite my friends to save them.”

 

Her Point of View:

From Diogenes’ advantage point within the large ceramic jar he can watch the activity of the people at the market. He breathes in deeply and feels privileged to be a witness to the true virtues of life. He pulls on his old robe over his shoulders and head and picks up his trusty old lantern. There is more excitement in the market today than usual as there is talk that Alexander the Great will be coming to the market today. I must get ready, I must see if today I can finally find an honest man, he thinks to himself.

As Diogenes walks along the market stalls stepping around the crowded streets he spots Alexander the Great at the top of the market steps. He is easy to distinguish as he is inflated with his own self worth. Diogenes pulls the robe over his head and hunches his shoulders, holding up the lit lantern above his head. The people ignore him; they are used to the site of the beloved philosopher’s dirty robes and eccentric experiments, calling out for an honest man. But Alexander the Great is different from the people here. He will be unaccustomed to the unusual sight of Diogenes, and Diogenes is relying on his curiosity to prove his point and win the argument.  

          A man calls out to Diogenes, calling him ‘woman’ demanding his presence. He purposely walks slowly over to where Alexander the Great is standing.

“Why do you carry a lit lantern in the middle of the day” He asks him. Diogenes keeps his head covered and shoulders hunched; he does not want him to see who he really is before he is ready to reveal himself. 

          “I am looking for an honest man” Diogenes replies. There is a chorus of laughter and people begin to stare. He hides his smile.  

          “I am Alexander the Great and I am an honest man” He proudly proclaims. This man’s conceit irritates Diogenes; he feels that he must show him the error of his ways and how to live a truly virtuous life. 

          “Ah but Alexander the Great is not an honest man. You must give up your money, fame and power, and only then will you live a virtuous life and be an honest man.”

          “How dare you proclaim Alexander the Great is not an honest man. Show yourself beggar woman.” He suddenly demands.

          Now is the time for Diogenes to reveal himself. Feeling excited he discards his robe and proclaims, “I am Diogenes the cynic.”

          But Alexander the Great would never go down without an argument and this is exactly what Diogenes is relying on.

                   “I am happy with my power and fame. How can you be happy living like a dog in a tub in the market Diogenes, with no fine clothes on your back?” He asks him.

          Diogenes is irritated that this man believes, like so many, that fine food and clothes are the things that will make a man happy.  

           “I have enough to eat till my hunger is stayed, to drink till my thirst is sated; to clothe myself as well; and out of doors not even you with all your riches, is safer than I from shivering; and when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting do I need than my bare walls?” Diogenes tells him.

          “You are but a mere dog Diogenes.” He says.

          Diogenes feels sad that he cannot make Alexander the Great understand how to truly live a virtuous life and be happy. 

          “Other dogs bite their enemies; I bite my friends to save them.”