In the middle of the second millennium B.C., a dark cloud of noxious falling ash and a tsunami wave spread across the Mediterranean. It was enough to leave Minoan civilization—that of the Minotaur, of the bare-breasted snake goddess, of the palace at Knossos—in ruins. Some say the event might also have had some connection with the ten plagues Pharaoh endured in the book of Exodus. It now seems pretty clear that the epicenter of this cataclysm was none other than the Greek island of Santorini—the land mass of which, as I learned this past week during a sojourn there, looks like and is the rim of the crater around a gigantic sunken volcano.
The excuse for my trip was the Caldera (=“crater”) Arts & Literature Festival hosted by Atlantis Books, one of the best bookshops in the world. (Atlantis’s name refers to the rather dubious theory that Santorini is also the legendary island nation mentioned by Plato. The size of Libya and Asia combined? Beyond the Strait of Gibraltar? Yeah, right.) The couple dozen of us in attendance enjoyed readings, musical improvisations, a lesson in taking non-sappy photos on a picturesque Greek island, and hors d’oeuvres prepared before our eyes by Vefa Alexiadou, the kinder and more law-abiding Martha Stewart of Greece. The festival’s climax was the launch of another magnificent issue of Five Dials magazine. Five Dials editor Craig Taylor (who meanwhile released a new book of his own) wrote to his readers about all this private revelry at the little bookshop collective the only way he could: “I know; I’m sorry.”
A short flight up and over the crater brought me back to Athens, the epicenter of another great Greek volcano of sorts, which I write about in a new post at Waging Nonviolence:
From a glance at a recent front page of The New York Times, you might guess that a political meeting in Athens this week would be full of talk about the resigning prime minister, bailout deals, and the Euro. The land that gave birth to European civilization now seems on the brink of sinking the whole continent’s economy. But, among those gathered on Monday in a basement in the neighborhood of Exarcheia—a kind of Haight-Ashbury for Greek anarchists—the agenda was completely different. They talked instead about parks, public kitchens, and barter bazaars. They even seemed pretty hopeful.
The lack of concern for political figureheads, in retrospect, was to be expected. Greek anarchists see no more reason to care about whether George Papandreou goes or stays than those at Occupy Wall Street are agonizing over Herman Cain’s sexual foibles. They have another kind of politics in mind.
The artistic collectivity of Atlantis Books turned, for me, into the political collectivity of Exarcheia. Despite all the signs past and present that the end is near, that week in Greece made it seem like everything is going to be fine.