© Copyright 2016 Robert A McCabe
My first visit to Greece was exactly 50 years ago, in June 1954. It started with a deliciously leisurely trip through the Ionian Islands on the Achilles from Venice to Piraeus via the Corinth Canal. It was an enchanting time for anyone lucky enough to be traveling in Greece. The civil war had ended. Visitors were few, and they were treated with a kindness and warm hospitality that made deep and unforgettable impressions.
The hospitality was all the more remarkable in view of the profound poverty. Unemployment was perhaps 30%, and those fortunate enough to find work were paid less than one dollar a day. There was a tenuous equilibrium between the resources of the land and the sea and the population: emigration and remittances from Greeks living abroad kept the balance.
The landscape was still unspoiled. Villages throughout the country were beautiful not only architecturally, but also for their unique and distinct traditions. These traditions of dress and song and dance and food often had their roots in the distant past, but sometimes in more recent foreign contacts, whether Italian or English or French or Turkish. Stone was the basic building material, with all the discipline on design imposed by that medium.
It is an era and way of life that has vanished, swept away by pounding waves of tourism and development, by huge high speed car ferries, by charter flights and package tours and island villas, by plastic boats replacing meticulously handcrafted wooden ones. The solitude one found at almost every archaeological site has disappeared, and most are today overrun with busloads of tourists. The number of annual visitors has increased from 180,000 in 1954 to 14,000,000 or so today.
Years ago, when you complimented a Greek on the beauty of his country, he would almost inevitably respond. "Yes, it's a beautiful country, but very poor," rubbing his thumb and forefinger together slowly to illustrate the poverty. I haven't heard that response for thirty years or more now. Everyone is indeed better off, but something precious has been lost.
I hope that this book will evoke memories of that era, and that those who were not here will understand better the spell under which we lived each day. But remember that all the images that you will see within these pages were recorded in less than two seconds in the aggregate, each one capturing tiny fragments of events and scenes in the span of 1/10 to 1/500 of a second. It is a very thin slice of the life of tile era.
One can still find magic and tranquility in Greece, and even traditional hospitality, but they are not found easily. Those who are willing to search will be fully rewarded, and will appreciate why we have published this book.
Athens, May 2004