There’s a reason they call heat oppressive. Heading out at night in Santorini to meet up with some friends, I am called over on the street by a table of men. Their approach is quite unique, hilarious and full bodied so I stop. They invite me to sit down and offer some wine and pizza.
One is the owner of the largest winery on the island of Santorini (the delicious wine we are drinking), one a hotel, and the last owns the shop we are sitting in front of. They are from Santorini, appear to be in their 30s or 40s and have been friends since elementary school. The shop owner also forges and makes bells. He heads inside and brings out strings of bells that he drapes over my shoulders. We start discussing frequencies and how he chooses tone.
About three glasses in we begin discussing Isis. The hotel owner makes blanket statements about Islam being a religion of violence. He is Greek Orthodox and believes Christianity to be immune to extremism. I am taken aback and bring up the crusades and the KKK in the United States. This goes back and forth for a while until we are at some sort of a stand still. Like salvation, an older man walks by and all three men at the table immediately act as if they are in the presence of a celebrity. The man is gentle, bearded in white with kind eyes. He is a painter and has done all of the frescos on the island and many in Athens. They speak singsong in Greek and he makes his goodbyes. We are left restored like recipients of a light wave of sweet, cleansing rain.
The conversation returns reluctantly back to extremism. I am not knowledgeable enough about religion so I point out the general danger of writing off an entire group of people based on their beliefs and we head, as this does, into politics and economic inequality.
The wine maker has an understandably pessimistic view of the trajectory of politics. Greece is in economic turmoil. He points out that much like the sub prime lending crisis in the United States, corporations and the rich have lent money to governments freely for some time. Then, all of the sudden, they say they want their money back immediately. Of course the government is unable to pay back and so the state becomes the slave of a corporation or monied interests.
This clicks so many things into place. We can see this enslavement due to power imbalance from congress’ loyalty to monied interests to college graduates trapped by student debt in meaningless jobs to Americans stuck at their jobs to affort healthcare to countries like Greece, heavily in debt with high unemployment and yet a severe chasm between rich and poor. I am immediately reminded of the day the state of New York became controlled by the banks. Every year, the state of New York invited people to come and buy bonds. These bonds funded the city and allowed business to run as usual. Each year the banks would show up and buy heavy amounts of bonds until one year the state held the event as usual but no bank showed up. As time got later and later the realization hit that without this financial source, all of the government projects – roads, libraries etc. – and salaries – policemen, street sweepers, officials, teachers – would be at risk. The state was forced to beg the banks to buy bonds, and with this, the power of the state was shifted to banks.
The winemaker is right.
This perspective leaves me shuddering. My pollyanna nature keeps trying to believe that there is a way out, that we can come together in communities to have power separate from the increasingly oppressive state. My mind is desperately racking through spaces, trying to find an example of how this great oppressive, pervasive power can be fought or avoided.
I am stuttering unable to complete a thought and all that I’ve been researching and trying to establish comes crashing down around me as this very valid reality, new set of facts is introduced. The future is a world bought by money and powered by wage slaves.
This perspective should actually strengthen my thesis that we need to create self sustainable communities and detach from the government before they have made us all slaves with no power. But instead I am neutralized, hit heavy with the realization of how pervasive and powerful oppression has become. Here we are in Greece, one of the greatest empires of the world, where democracy was founded, now deeply in debt and at the whim of those with money.
The shop owner chimes in that all of this started with the introduction of money. That those who actually create and provide goods (like his shop, or farmers) have less power than those with economic means, tourists. This cultural enslavement through money could not be more clear than in Santorini, the most famous tourist island in Greece.
The hotel owner begins to draw parallels with tourism. To support their family and provide employment to the community all three men serve those with money – the tourists. He explains that he designed his hotel to please tourists. They all agree that Santorini has completely changed from when they were growing up.
My friend from Shanghai who invited me to Santorini has told me that the island is very hot in China. Brides-to-be travel here just for the wedding photos. Our entire trip has been photo shoot after photo shoot to show her friends all the posh tourist places she has been. All of the people I have met and made out with here have been tourists or in the tourist industry. Immediately I am reminded of Barcelona and the fight there to oppose tourism.
My friend’s husband is in the shipping industry. Shipping was the backbone of Santorini. The day before I had visited Akrotiri, a Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed in 1627 by a volcanic eruption. The entire city was covered in a thick blanket of ash that preserved the remains. Since the 70s, they have been excavating the site and now open it to the public. So far they have learned that it was a very wealthy, hugely powerful shipping city. All ships that passed through these waters had to stop at Akrotiri. (Also learned their religion praised women and the divinity of creation not violent gods like Zeus but that’s a different topic for another day).
In Athens a few nights before I was invited to a business dinner in order to balance out genders and be used as a small-talk crutch as per usual when the men were done discussing business. I play my role nicely and am gifted with a front row seat to a major international business deal in the making. I notice a severe power imbalance with my friend’s husband in full reigns, while the Greek business partners were trying desperately to please him – offering to pay even for my, a strangers, ticket to and hotel in Santorini. The reason? China is now the leading shipping port. Greece is hoping to make a deal with my friends husband to require a certain percentage of ships to pass through Greece – once the leader in shipping.
Back at the table in Santorini I am stuttering, sweating, stumbling, trying to form some sort of argument that small spaces, ethical communities can be the answer. But I am failing. At this point in my journey I have come to question everything I set out to prove. And now at this table, everything collapses.
I am now 2 hours late to meet my friends, make an awkward goodbye and promise to return. I head out and try to lose myself in dance, shots with friends and the surf instructor that’s following me around like a tame wolf. But the new reality has solidly settled into my mind so I sneak away around 4 and head back to the hotel as my friends order another round.
Every time I bring up politics with my friend from Shanghai and start to take ownership of the actions of my militant, oppressive government, she reminds me that it is not the people that are bad, it is the government. She says the same is true in China, the world over. But how can this be that our governments are so different from the people? Is money really the only reason? And if so, what is the mentality of those seeking to conquer the world through financial means? Who will be our future masters as we enter a world of increasing economic inequality? Are we dealing with plunderes? Vikings? Or more sadistic empire builders like Rockefeller, Kissinger, Ghengis or Atilla?
All of me wants to give up my search and instead follow the footsteps of the painter, out of the heat of politics into the soft, cool rain.