THE MYSTERIOUS BALKANS – August 2009

THE MYSTERIOUS BALKANS

By Terry Hogan

 

BalkansTrieste, just the name is evocative of intrigue and adventure. Trieste is in a little known corner of Italy that has a great literary history. The café culture is conducive to long conversations in beautiful old outdoor cafes. The harbor comes right into the middle of town and makes one feel like traveling somewhere. One can visualize spies passing information, and lovers making the little hotels places of assignation.

One of my favorite places along the coast is the double-walled city of Dubrovnik. The city was founded in 376, and the double-walled part was built in the Dark Ages. During the communist years Tito let this be a very liberal place allowing the sale of western books, and there was pretty much freedom of speech. During the Serbian ethnic cleansing the city was shelled; fortunately the damage was mostly repairable. I think the Serbians are a bunch of philistines and have the sensibility and intelligence of dead clams for shelling this historic treasure. I don’t believe in ethnic cleansing but in the case of the Serbs themselves, I’d make an exception.

I discovered during the trip that my ticket allowed me to get off the ship at Corfu. I had read Lawrence and Gerald Durrell and knew they had lived here many years past and wrote lovingly enough to peak my curiosity. Corfu has the most flora and fauna of any of the Greek islands and is a very beautiful island. I rented a small cottage remembering what Gerald Durrell had suggested, that sleeping with my mouth closed would protect me from the waste product of the geckos that lived on the ceiling and lived off insect larvae and mosquito eggs. I spent the week exploring the island and reading Greek history and mythology.

Then I sailed for Piraeus. We traveled close enough to land to see some of the country side. I could imagine Agamemnon leading his men to fight the Trojan War. Later I would visit Turkey and the ruins of Troy. When we speak of history with respect to Greece we can go back in time in thousand year jumps with plenty to fill the time in between.

In Athens it was easy to walk or take a cab. In 1950 the population was 50,000 and by 1975 the population was 3 million and growing. Today, the population is 10.9 million. Later when I lived in the Greek Islands, I would meet the children of the islanders who had moved to Athens to earn the spoils and discovered that their parents looked younger than their children did. Maybe there is something to the old and simpler ways of life.

Ojo Del Lago
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