In this book, the reader is privileged to take a leisurely and thoroughly enjoyable trip through the Greece of the mid-twentieth century, led by a poet-narrator who is a comfortable and engaging guide and complemented by the artwork of John Guerin.
Frederic Will recounts his odyssey: from Austria through Yugoslavia, across the northern Greek border, from Salonika to Athens and the Aegean Sea, to the site of remnants of Old Greece in Smyrna, Pergamum, and Ephesus, and finally to the monasteries on Mount Athos.
The author not only presents vivid descriptions of the towns and people in contemporary Greece but also conveys the still-present aura of the ancient Greek deities, in both the ruins and the modern cities. Witness the following passage written at Salonika, in Northern Greece, Will’s first stop of importance:
The sense-binding, sense-shaping ocean is omnipresent there. It is visible from nearly any point in the city. You only need to go up to your second story—if you have one. There is that pure, rhythmic, bounded but boundless element, spread somewhere at the bottom of the street. The same vision glimmers or stirs at the end of nearly every east-west-running street. Many townsmen spend much of their time promenading along the harbor. They seem to be subliminally magnetized to the sea.
I spent several weeks there. During that time I would often go up to the crowning Venetian walls, and look down onto Salonika and its harbor. From there Salonika’s deep dependence on the ocean became a fact proved by eyesight. The city is built on the half-moon-shaped plain of the Axios River. Two images came to me repeatedly: that Salonika is an amphitheater facing the ocean; or that she is a lover, reaching to embrace the ocean. Here are the hot, white (or cream-colored) buildings of the city; there is the element they thirst for.
Will gives a great deal of fascinating information but gives it gracefully and without excess. Above all, the narrative is suffused with the atmosphere, the emotions, and the beauty of Greece. The author has said he intends for this work to dramatize, not to instruct. Actually, it does both.
By Frederic Will
Frederic Will has taught literature at numerous universities in the United States and around the world and has written many works of poetry and fiction.
John Guerin (1920–2006) was Professor of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. He made the drawings for this book in Greece in 1966.