Tradition! of Freedom
At the risk of growing a mustache*, it’s time to talk about what my cabdriver in Athens — and tour directors in Turkey — talked with me about. To a great extent, they touted the freedom they had won from an older, tyrannical, regime.
I have been making notes and visiting significant arts centers for Saturday Art posts, so when I took a taxi to the Archeological Museum in Athens, I got into a conversation with the driver about sites along the way. He divulged that he also serves as a guide, sometimes to the U.S. Later, as he had suggested, I took him up on a tour of the city on the return to my ship. I was delighted that I did.
The great pride that my Greek friend took in the fact that the country had turned out its king in 1969, and tossed off domination by the Ottoman empire in 1821, was quite a backdrop to the demonstrations going on in Egypt. When he drove me through his city, my guide pointed out places like the former king’s palaces, and proudly described how they now housed elected government. Of course, while the tourist sites like the Parthenon were on his list, he really got to them begrudgingly, because his pride was in the freedoms his country had insisted on, and won. . . .
There were great gardens in the center of Athens that formerly belonged to the king. Now they were the People’s Park of the city. He was really pleased when I asked him to stop so I could take a picture. I was taking notes during our trip. Once he directed me “take this down, now” as he stopped in front of the present parliament building. I barely suppressed a giggle. He wanted to tell me about the new flag, following monarchical rule. It has nine lines, from the nine syllables of the revolution’s slogan, “Freedom or Death”.
When he showed me where to go for a best view of the Parthenon, it gave him the chance for a rest stop too. The Acropolis of course is the hilltop, the monuments have other names.
One of my guide Starchos’ heroines is Melina Mercouri, and he made sure I saw the monument to her for her work to get back the Elgin marbles from the London Museum. They still haven’t been returned to the Parthenon they were removed from, but Mercouri did get a museum built in the Plaka area that will house them.
Once again, in Turkey, I was listening to a proud citizen who told about the independence Turkey won in 1923 under Attaturk (no, not our fellow blogger) from the Ottomans. It was part of his tour, though he did stop a few times to ask if anyone was interested in other items of history along the way. On the way to Pergamon, we did hear about the looting of its treasures, and were informed that many were now in Berlin in the museum there.
Many of the historic sites of our ancient history, such as Troy and Spartaka, are proud parts of Turkish heritage. Izmir, where our ship docked, is the Smyrna of biblical history, and much of the travels of the apostles were in the region.
I didn’t visit any country that didn’t have the best olives in the world. I have a jar or package of olives from each, and am waiting my chance to have a sampling with friends who are olive fanciers like me. I will happily declare every one the winner, given the opportunity.
Incidentally, guides in many European countries have to take many courses in history and are tested to determine their proficiency before being licensed to take us through their countries.
What stood out in every guide I was privileged to learn from was their pride in their history and most especially in their winning freedom from domination by abusive governments. What is going on the Middle East is near and dear to the old world. We tend to think we invented freedoms sometimes. It’s an old and proud tradition.
* Tom Friedman, often called the “Mustache of Understanding”, refers to his cabdrivers’ opinions often, as his research into the mind of the common man.