26 de agosto de 2007

On the inheritance of Thomas Cook

The first time I knew of Sir David Attenborough I was about eight or nine years old. It was love at first sight! And all I wanted was to be like him when I grew up (of course that then comes time and things get a bit twisted!). He was the reason why I wanted to learn English because I wanted to read his books without the interference of translation and because I wished one day I could talk to him (well, I actually still have that wish). I even phantasised with him the way girls phatasise with pop stars (I also had a dream going on with George Michael but with David Attenborough I would go to the far reaches of the Earth and it was so much more exciting).
Well, by 1987, if memory doesn't fail me, there was this wonderful BBC series «The First Eden. The Mediterranean World and Man». Just the title is enough to leave you dreaming - The First Eden... From then on, from attentively watching Sir David showing the world the wonders of the Mediterranean, I have loved this part of our planet. It's the great history, the heat, the sound of cicadas, the intense pale yellowish light, and the deep blue sky, the smell of thyme and oregano and pine, the shrubs and bushes of hard and dark green leaves. And it's also the great ancient civilizations, the cradle of Western thought and religion... it's us in the end.
The fascination is such that the first time I went to the Aegean I brought home a bottle with water and sand from a beach in Turkey. Now I have just returned from Athens and a trip to Crete and I still don't know how to describe my feelings. I knew that I wasn't going to find a mythical Athens, just as I didn't find a mythical Egypt or Carthage, but deep within me I still had the naïve thought that Athens would, could, be different from the grim reality I came across.
The Acropolis, the Agora are devastated, desecrated places. Everything that was holy has fled somewhere else, to another dimension maybe. Just the outer shell remains. It's as if these places had been remorselessly violated. Well, they truly have been remorselessly violated, over and over again, not by the ravages of time, but by us.

Mass tourism was a great achievement no doubt. The democratisation (can we say this?) of travel. I am also one of the heirs of Thomas Cook. I too have benefited from mass tourism. Without it I would probably still be left gazing at the pictures of my precious book by David Attenborough and imagining what a First Eden really was. But mass tourism kills places. Athens is a corpse, a white-washed and dry corpse lying in the scorching sun.
I don't want to mention how dirty the city is, how unpleasant to the sight, how tourist unfriendly it is with hardly a sign indicating where the places of interest are and how to get there. That's modern Athens, just a capital like Tunes or Beirut, it doesn't resemble a European Union capital, not in the least. But come to think of it, in the nineteenth century Greece was somehow considered a part of Asia. The problem is that ancient Athens has faded into nothingness. The monuments are still there. But they are a lifeless wreck.
I was overwhelmed when I got to the top of the Acropolis. Beyond the disappointment I was thrilled that I could be in such a place. I was where Socrates walked and where people first voted. I inhaled the place. But there was no privacy for such an intimate thought as this. I wanted to catch a feeling, as if the faintest breeze was coming from the past, but it was so hard. All I could think was that people were only there for the photos, kids were there against their will, what was there to see in those stones?, the mp3 was so much better!. There was not the slightest indication that people were going through experiences the like of mine. I felt so sad. So sad that people were not appreciating it and so sad that the place itself no longer could provide those intimate and sacred feelings. The place was void and it was its private revenge for having been so offended, so neglected and so taken for granted.
I am ashamed for ancient Athens to have lived to endure this ordeal. I am ashamed for me and for the millions of tourists whose sandals and Birckenstock are unworthy to walk on such a sacred place.
The Acropolis is alone.

Sem comentários: