Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Two weeks to go

In a fortnight's time I will be sitting on a plane, on my way to Athens.

I've planned my route and booked almost all my accommodation, and I've sorted out a lot of information on things like bus routes and ferry schedules.  I've treated myself to a better camera than the toy one I've been using for the last couple of years, and a new sketchbook.  I'm a bit nervous, now the time is getting close.  I'm also very excited.

I am at something of a crossroads in my life.  I’ve been made redundant, I’ve recently been diagnosed with a life-long and serious medical condition; things I'd been certain of have changed irrevocably.  Suddenly my life has been reshaped, and perforce also seems shorter and more prescribed (and indeed proscribed, too) than I ever imagined it would be.  On top of that, in December of this year I will turn fifty.   

I may never have another opportunity as good as this to set aside the demands of regular wage-earning, and the expected cautious behaviour of the middle-aged, and risk doing something that excites me and me alone.  And with my age and my altered health in mind, the idea of travelling alone, trying to fulfil a challenging project, becomes a kind of mid-life rite-of-passage.  

Can I still do something like this at all?  Am I going to be okay, setting off on this daft month of travelling as if I were still 23?

And then that question prompts a deeper one in me, of whether I'll be able to face the next stage in my life with a spirit of hope and adventure, or have to accept lowered hopes and narrowed horizons from now on. 

I want to find out again who I am and what makes my life feel worthwhile.  I want to prove to myself that I can still meet a challenge, instead of running away from it and hiding.

The chances are that I am now getting on for 2/3 of the way through my time on this earth.  I do not want my remaining years to be lived with the shutters drawn. 

Since the Greek government has now quit and called elections for mid-September, I'm going to be travelling during the last stage of the election campaign, and into its aftermath.  The BBC are suggesting that polling day will be the 20th, when I'm expecting to be staying on Poros, one of the islands of the Saronic Gulf.  So that will be an interesting additional thing going on.

So, I’m going on a pilgrimage, at a time of flux in my life, to visit a country also in flux.  I first visited Greece 26 years ago, and so much has changed here in that time.  The country had just joined the EU when I first went there, and has now come close to leaving it again.  When I travelled across Greece in 1989, the drachma was still the currency, and the years of dictatorship weren't much more than a decade in the past.  And it was quite an old-school place in someways.  One could get on a local bus and still find someone in the next seat carrying a pair of live chickens tied together at the feet.  It was still quite common to see elderly people wearing elements of traditional regional costume as their daily wear.  I remember it as an extraordinary shift in atmosphere and pace, after the very deliberate and self-conscious style of Italy.

A lot has changed since then.  Now my beloved Hellas is again in a time of transition, struggling with enormous problems, facing frustration and loss.  It would be crass for me to pretend that I, as an outsider, have any useful insight to offer on the situation of a people struggling to survive and a country rendered desperately poor by a huge complex mess of problems.  All I can speak of is my own experience, as a philhellene, trying to come to terms with my own personal problems and looking around me at larger problems, and at lives affected more drastically, and with less hope of rescue or safety.  I hope so much for things to begin to straighten out for them.

Well, when I get there, I'll see what I find.  For now, I have the remainder of my planning to do, and there are just two weeks left to do it in.  Much of which is already committed to other things (seeing friends, visiting my Mum, doctor's appointments and so on).  So I really do need to get on now.

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