Greenwich Village Stories – A Collection of Memories

May 18, 2020

“I was part of the cocky Hermès-tie invasion of the West Village. At the peak of the dot-com craze, I moved to New York and leased a loft on Leroy Street at the Printing House, which was practically a frat house for Wall Streeters. My annual rent could buy a small condo in Texas, but the place was spacious. My first night, I gave my bike a spin around the living room—I had arrived.”

I am honored to be included in Greenwich Village Stories, a collection of memories and love letters, an upholding effort by a group of remarkable artists, even though my arriving to the neighborhood was part of a new breed and inflation: “West Village harbored a mishmash of different species and formed a battleground of sorts for MBAs like me and subletting artists,” I argue in my essay. Yet there is always hope. The more stories I read, the more my feelings about my contribution, to the book and my hood, evolve: From new-kid-on-the-block shame to confused and potentially creative curiosity–“Out of frustration, one day I yelled “Get a life!” at the tour guide helping tourists take pictures of where Sex and the City was shot. That act of West Village disobedience made me start writing.”

Back Flip Pier Bank St Shelley Seccombe 1979

“What was so special about this “West Village”?” Malcolm Gladwell asked, when all he knew about New York was “from Martin Scorsese movies.” He is one of the authors along with John Guare, Thomas Meehan, Lou Reed, Wynton Marsalis, Patricia Clarkson, and many more (matched by photographs by Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Burckhardt, Berenice Abbott). The anthology of personal writings reveals how the Village stimulated and changed these creative animals. But the neighborhood changed, too. With West Village one-bedrooms pushing $5,000, how many young artists can afford to live here now? Suddenly preservation of recent cultural history is important. With Greenwich Village Stories, GVSHP and Rizzoli are doing that.

I will not share Amazon’s link to Greenwich Village Stories…New Yorkers, how about a walk to the Three Lives Bookstore on West Tenth Street? Buy the book and cross the street for a drink at Julius. There, enjoy a couple of essays under stills from Boys in the BandNext Stop: Greenwich Village, and Love is Strange—all with scenes in the bar. That includes you too, Goldman boys; you know who you are…

GreenwichVillageStories_cover copy

Photo by Shelley Seccombe (Back Flip Pier Bank Street 1979)

Greenwich Village Stories

EDITED BY JUDITH STONEHILL
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE GREENWICH VILLAGE SOCIETY FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION

A love letter to Greenwich Village, written by artists, writers, musicians, restaurateurs, and other neighborhood habitués who each share a favorite memory of this beloved place.

The sixty stories in this collection of Village memories are exuberant, poignant, original, and vivid—perfectly capturing the essence of the Village. Every corner of the Village is represented in the book: recollections of jazz clubs and existentialism on Bleecker Street, rock music at St. Mark’s Place, folk singers in Washington Square Park. There are stories of Hans Hofmann teaching modern art on 8th Street and Lotte Lenya performing in The Threepenny Opera on Christopher Street. Decades later, Brooke Shields muses on renovating a brownstone and finding history behind its walls; and Mario Batali lyrically describes a Sunday morning walk through the food markets of Bleecker Street.

The stories are complemented by a wide range of photographs by iconic figures such as Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Burckhardt, Berenice Abbott, Saul Leiter, Ruth Orkin, and Weegee. Paintings depict elegant red-brick facades and raffish Hudson River piers, now restored; theater posters spotlight Karen Finley and John Leguizamo. This is a book for those who are already beguiled by the Village as well as those just discovering this fabled place.

The sixty writers include Jonathan Adler, Mario Batali, Graydon Carter, John Guare, Donna Karan, Ed Koch, Fran Lebowitz, John Leguizamo, Wynton Marsalis, Isaac Mizrahi, Lou Reed, Mimi Sheraton, Brooke Shields, and Calvin Trillin, among others.

Judith Stonehill is the author of New York’s Unique and Unexpected Places, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn. She was the co-owner of the New York Bound bookshop.

Post Parthenon, Βefore Mykonos: The Museum of Cycladic Art

May 15, 2020

The Museum of Cycladic Art has been an Athens touchstone for more than 30 years, but only recently has it become the kind of spot that art world insiders make a point of visiting—and, more often than not, Instagramming. The resurgence began in the spring of 2017, when the contemporary art fair Documenta, which usually takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany, was held in Athens for the first time. It was a game changer for the city, which is taking baby steps back into global markets. (Athens is newly accessible from New York City via a nonstop flight on Emirates.) The move helped push cultural institutions like the Onassis Foundation and the Acropolis Museum into the international spotlight.

In 1986 the Museum of Cycladic Art was founded by art collector Dolly Goulandris, who had amassed a world class assemblage of pre-classical works from Greek and international sources. Goulandris had an eye for form, and through her friendship with the art historian Dietrich von Bothmer, the world’s leading specialist in ancient Greek vases, she realized that so many collectors focused on the classic period that works from earlier eras were often overlooked. She saw a gap at the Early Cycladic Age (about 3200 to 2000 BC)

Excerpt from Town & Country June / July 2018

Andy Warhol: Η Διαρκής Επιστροφή

May 12, 2020

Λίγο μετά το μακελειό στη Νεα Ζηλανδια, όπoυ ένας ακροδεξιός οπλισμένος με δύο ημιαυτόματα σκότωσε 50 πιστούς σε δυο τεμένη, και η πρωθυπουργός τής χώρας αρνήθηκε ακόμα και να προφέρει το όνομά του, στη Νέα Υόρκη, σε μια από τις κεντρικότερες αίθουσες της τελευταίας έκθεσης για τον Άντι Γουόρχολ (1928 – 1987) στο μουσείο Whitney, η «τοιχογραφία» “Most Wanted Men” (1964) προκαλούσε δυσφορία στους επισκέπτες καθώς αντίκριζαν τα μεγεθυμένα πορτρέτα των πιο επικίνδυνων καταζητούμενων εκείνης της εποχής στην Αμερική. 

BOOK PRESSΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ–WHITNEY MUSEUM. Εάν στις εικαστικές τέχνες τον προηγούμενο αιώνα ο Πάμπλο Πικάσο έφτασε μέχρι την κοιλιά του θηρίου, ο Άντι Γουόρχολ ηταν το σιωπηλό θηρίο. Ένας “american psycho” που με την εκτύπωση φωτογραφίας κατευθείαν επάνω στον καμβά, –το περίφημο “screen printing photographic imagery”–, «διέφθειρε» τόσο τη μοναδικότητα του έργου τέχνης οσο και την έννοια της ζωγραφικής στα δομικά της στοιχεία. Στις μέρες μας, που η κοινωνική και πολιτική ευαισθησία «περισσεύουν», οι επιλογές του Γουόρχολ τόσο ως προς τα θέματά του όσο και ως προς τις ιδιότυπες μεθόδους που ακολουθούσε για την ολοκλήρωση πολλών έργων του, προκαλούν τα όρια των politicaly correct θέσεων κριτικών και κοινού και επιβάλλουν έμεσα, αν όχι μια εντελώς «φρέσκια» κριτική, τουλαχιστον μια επανεξεταση αρκετών αντιλήψεων για τον Άντι Γουόρχολ. Άραγε η αρχή ενός δυστοπικού κατήφορου μπέρδεψε τη γέννηση με την κλωνοποίηση και εκθείασε το ευτελές, αναγάγωντάς το σε προϊόν μαζικής αναγνωρισημότητας; Και προεκτείνοντας την ιδέα αυτού του συλλογισμού, μήπως ανακαλύπτουμε κάποιες από τις αιτίες του σημερινού παγκόσμιου λαϊκισμού; Ή μήπως είναι ο Γουόρχολ η Κασσάνδρα που μας προειδοποίησε για το τι έρχεται στο μέλλον;

Διαβάστε ολόκληρο το άρθρο στο BookPress. bookpress.gr/politismos/eikastika-mousiki/andy-warhol-whitney-pappos

Συζήτηση με τον André Aciman: Ομορφαίνω ό,τι δεν Μπορώ να Ανεχθώ

Το «Ονομά σου» ξεχωρίζει για τον τρόπο που προσεγγίζει το θέμα της απώλειας.

ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗΣΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ. «Στο “Enigma Variations” υπάρχει μια σκηνή σε δημόσιο ουρητήριο που έχει κάτι όμορφο αλλά και βρώμικο μαζί. Δεν ξέρω από πού μου βγήκε. Αλλά ξέρω ότι έχει κάτι αληθινό, άρα θέλω να το γράψω. Και δεν με νοιάζει πόσο όμορφα θα το πω, απλώς θέλω να το πω. Και νιώθω υπερηφάνεια και ντροπή ταυτόχρονα. Αλλά ξέρεις, μπορεί να μην είναι η κατάσταση που περιγράφω κάτι που θέλει να ζήσει ο ίδιος ο αναγνώστης, όμως πάντοτε θα θέλει κάτι αντίστοιχο, ανάλογο, ένα υποκατάστατο αυτού. Και εδώ είναι το σημείο όπου νιώθω υπερηφάνεια διότι, πρώτον, δεν λέω τίποτα που δεν έχει περάσει απ’ το μυαλό του άλλου και, δεύτερον, αν είσαι “καλύτερος” πέταξέ μου το βιβλίο στα μούτρα».

Ολόκληρο το άρθρο στην Καθημερινή της Κυριακής: kathimerini.gr/975976/gallery/proswpa/proskhnio/antre-atsiman-omorfainw-oti-den-mporo-na-anex8w

Richard Avedon, James Baldwin: ‘Nothing Personal’ – Οι Εικόνες που Πλήγωσαν το Προφίλ της Αμερικής

Ουίλιαμ Κάσμπι, ο τελευταίος μαύρος που είχε γεννηθεί σκλάβος.

ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗΣ–ΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ–PACE/MACGILL GALLERY. Εάν είσαι στο Μανχάταν αυτές τις ημέρες και αποφασίσεις να πας σε μια γκαλερί, το πιο πιθανό είναι ότι θα καταλήξεις στην Pace/MacGill, όπου το Richard Avedon Foundation παρουσιάζει την έκθεση φωτογραφίας και αρχείου από τη συνεργασία του Ρίτσαρντ Αβεντον (Richard Avedon, 1923-2004) –ενός από τους πλέον φημισμένους φωτογράφους του προηγούμενου αιώνα– με τον επίσης μεγάλο Αμερικανό συγγραφέα Τζέιμς Μπόλντουιν (James Baldwin, 1924-1987) στο βιβλίο τους «Nothing Personal» (Τίποτα Προσωπικό) που εκδόθηκε το 1964. Παράλληλα με την έκθεση, σήμερα, ο εκδοτικός οίκος Taschen επανεκδίδει το «Nothing Personal», με εισαγωγή από τον βραβευμένο με Πούλιτζερ κριτικό Χίλτον Αλς (Hilton Als).

Οι Αβεντον και Μπόλντουιν γνωρίστηκαν στο γυμνάσιο DeWitt Clinton του Μπρονξ της Νέας Υόρκης, όπου εργάζονταν στη σχολική εφημερίδα. Το 1963, στο απόγειο της καριέρας τους, ξανασυναντιούνται και αποφασίζουν να δημιουργήσουν από κοινού ένα βιβλίο για τη ζωή στην Αμερική. Ταξιδεύουν επί δύο χρόνια, έτσι ώστε τόσο το κείμενο (Μπόλντουιν) όσο και οι φωτογραφίες (Αβεντον) να αποτυπώσουν την κοινωνική αναταραχή των αρχών της δεκαετίας του 1960, με το αντιρατσιστικό κίνημα, τις αλλαγές φρουράς στον χώρο των μίντια και της διασκέδασης, και τη διαρκώς εξελισσόμενη ιδέα της ευρύτερης ψυχικής υγείας στην Αμερική. Διαβάστε ολόκληρο το άρθρο στην Καθημερινή. kathimerini.gr/940320/gallery/politismos/eikastika/oi-eikones-poy-plhgwsan-to-profil-ths-amerikhs

Η Μέριλιν τη στιγμή που μελαγχολεί έπειτα από μια φωτογράφιση που κράτησε μια ολόκληρη μέρα. Αυτή τη φωτογραφία ξεχώρισε ο Αβεντον.

David Bowie: Ο Αντι Γουόρχολ της Mουσικής

May 10, 2020

ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗΣΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ–BROOKLYN MUSEUM. Δεν είναι εύκολο να περιγράψεις τον Μπόουι σε μια πρόταση. Ισως ήταν ο καλλιτέχνης που μας έμαθε να βλέπουμε μουσική. Αυτός που κατάφερε να συνδυάσει το αβανγκάρντ με το μέινστριμ. Χαμαιλέων, ανοιχτός σε όλα, ιδιοφυΐα… Μπορείς να περάσεις το υπόλοιπο της ζωής σου διαβάζοντας για τον Μπόουι. Ομως, το πρώτο πράγμα που ακούς τον ίδιο να λέει στην έκθεση «O Ντέιβιντ Μπόουι είναι» («David Bowie is») στο μουσείο του Μπρούκλιν, είναι η ικανότητά του να δανείζεται κουλτούρες, να τις δουλεύει, και να τις κάνει δικές του: «Πάντα εκμεταλλευόμουν ό,τι μπορούσα περισσότερο»

Η συνέπεια του Μπόουι φαίνεται στους πλασματικούς του χαρακτήρες (Major Tom, Alladin Sane, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke, The Minotaur) που συνεχίζουν να προκαλούν το στάτους κβο. Πόση από αυτή την πορεία είναι οργανική και πόση δανεισμένη (ακόμη και εάν υπάρχει φόρος τιμής) είναι υπό συζήτηση. «Τα πρώτα χρόνια ήταν εξόφθαλμα “Κουρδιστό Πορτοκάλι”», λέει ο Τόνι Ζανέτα, μάνατζερ των περιοδειών του Μπόουι από το 1972 έως το 1975.

Πηγή: Η Καθημερινή της Κυριακής.

Διαβάστε ολόκληρο το άρθρο: https://www.kathimerini.gr/964803/article/politismos/moysikh/o-anti-goyorxol-ths-moysikhs

Eπιστολή Αγάπης προς τη θεία Τζόαν

May 1, 2020

ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗΣ–ΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ.

Σε δύο από τις πιο ενδιαφέρουσες φωτογραφίες της οικογένειας, η μία στο σαλόνι τους και η άλλη στο αίθριο, στο Μαλιμπού της Καλιφόρνιας, μπορεί κανείς να διακρίνει, ως προς τη γλώσσα των σωμάτων, δύο αντίθετους πόλους: η Ντίντιον, από τη μία, ο Τζον και η Κουιντάνα, από την άλλη.

Ολόκληρο το άρθρο, και η συζήτηση με τον Griffin Dunne, στην Καθημερινή της Κυριακής:

https://www.kathimerini.gr/935949/article/politismos/vivlio/erwtikh-epistolh-pros-th-8eia-tzoan

Η Τζόαν Ντίντιον με τον σύζυγό της Τζον Νταν και την κόρη τους Κουιντάνα, φωτογραφημένοι στο σαλόνι του σπιτιού τους στο Μαλιμπού της Καλιφόρνιας. Ο Τζον Νταν πέθανε από καρδιακή προσβολή τον Δεκέμβριο του 2003, ενώ τον Αύγουστο του 2005, η Ντίντιον έχασε και την κόρη της. Ηταν 39 ετών.

A Look Inside Greece’s Aegean Film Festival

April 23, 2020

Is this the World’s Most Glamorous Place to Watch Movies?

Much like Patmos, the festival (founded in 2010) is full of juxtapositions. “We are at the Aegean,” film critic Alin Tasciyan says. “On the one hand, the program needs to reflect the openness of the sea. On the other hand, the festival’s outdoor screenings need to respect the community’s ancestry.” 

Read the full article:

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a22089029/aegean-film-festival-patmos/

My Proud Bankrupt Greek Soul

March 20, 2020

We were already on our third beer, looking at tourists sailing on the Aegean, when Nikos leaned over the table: “You’re not straight enough ’til you fuck a guy up the ass,” he said. It was 1991, and that was my last summer at my father’s village in Greece.

“My Proud Bankrupt Greek Soul” is a piece that the awarded director Ira Sachs prompted me to write for the community-building blog around his film “Keep The Lights On.”:”True stories submitted by our readers as well as interviews, videos and other media that illuminate the details and complexities of our lives. An inclusive global platform for personal recollections of the thrilling, boring, sexy, sad, joyous and life-changing moments that make each life unique.”–Ira Sachs

My Proud Bankrupt Greek Soul

We were already on our third beer, looking at tourists sailing on the Aegean, when Nikos leaned over the table: “You’re not straight enough ’til you fuck a guy up the ass,” he said. It was 1991, and that was my last summer at my father’s village in Greece.

That fall, I left my country repressed and hungry, and lived around the world collecting Masters and working smart jobs, consuming liquor and drugs, fucking and getting fucked up the ass. But I never forgot Nikos’ paradox. I never got over that phallic pride and anal shame that ruled sexuality and gender roles in rural Greece. Straight or gay, masculine or feminine, fucking vs. getting fucked was the qualifier during my beginnings.

“Is this a Greek Orthodox cross you’re wearing?” My VP from work asked me, narrowing his eyes, during lunch in New York in the late ’90s.

“Yes,” I replied, apologetically, resisting the temptation to slip the cross under my shirt.

My VP pushed aside his potted shrimp, glanced at the investment bankers sitting at the table next to us, and undid the top button of his fine baby blue shirt. As he gave my gold chain an involuntary once-over, I thought of Nikos and how Greekness and pride—unprocessed masculinity, really—sells.

Our check arrived and I went for it. I paid for both of us in cash, though I didn’t have to, wasn’t even supposed to—I was a first-year Associate. My VP smiled like a schoolmaster who had just summoned his favorite rowdy student. “You’re an odd but proud fucker,” he finally said with a laugh, and a connection between being unrehearsed and being a man clicked for me.

I was good at amalgamation, at spinning—I had to, I was in management consulting—so I worked it to be the “peasant” Associate. I was spontaneous. I played up my Greek accent, worked-out without a Walkman, and used cabs instead of our car service. I talked to clients confidently, using grammatically wrong words like “optionality.” I saw a polished, feminine side in the white-collar man and I pounded it. Isn’t that what Nikos would have done?

“Strategic engineering,” I interrupted a colleague who rambled on about our firm’s “decision analysis-backed hybrid strategic alternatives” at a client-packed conference room.

“How mannish,” the client-lead said, playing with her necklace.

“We take risks ’cause that’s what men do,” I added, and eyebrows around the room rose.

“Pick up backgammon to learn how to deal with strategy and risk!” I talked back to my VP when he threatened me with sensitivity training. Whatever; a week later, he still asked me to pitch to the highest-yield client. I began having fun with phallic capitalism. I dealt with privilege like a man, as if luxury was an accident. A by-the-way. I lived in hotels—”to be next to the clients”—and slept around, sometimes with people I’d present to a few hours later. “In-the-know eunuchs,” I called Wallpaper-subscribing colleagues, only to share tequila and substances with them after hours. “It’s a guy thing,” I’d say with a shrug and step out for more supplies or sex. And that’s when I met Ira Sachs.

Photo: Brian Reeder

We were crossing Manhattan’s West Side Highway in opposite directions when we caught sight of each other and nodded. Ira was with a friend. Still, we shook hands and exchanged phone numbers. I never called, of course; I was already an addict—instant gratification was my only gratification.

But addicts somehow manage to find each other. Three, four years later we met again, this time online, either on Gay.com or Craigslist—neither one of us is sure. Astonishingly, we both remembered our highway encounter. We hooked up immediately and jumped into a brief, dysfunctional, and yet somehow caring affair. And when it ended, we were family. Became family. In that New York sense of the word. Ira opened his Greenwich Village flat and circle of friends to me. He accepted me as is: Ambien and otherwise dependent. “It’s OK to be an addict” was the motto at One Fifth, Ira’s apartment and salon for coming-out enthusiasts. “It’s what you do about it. Oh, and please don’t use that bathroom. There’s Xanax in there.”

Ira was an awarded film director, and I was in the business world. We didn’t have much in common and at the same time we did. We were both addicts managing millions in R&D or movie budgets. But that was 2006; everyone was a functional addict then. We got promoted and fired, only to land even better jobs and projects. We hid behind gung-ho Belstaff luxury and expensive bespoke pregnancies. Everything seemed possible, effortless, and connected. I even heard from Nikos, someone I’d lost touch with after leaving Greece. Actually, the email came from his daughter.

“My father is not comfortable with the computer,” she explained. She asked if I lived in New York. Had I been back to Greece for the Olympic games? Had I followed Greece’s run to the European Champions title or watched them win the Eurovision song contest? I read the pride behind her words. She wanted to study fashion in New York, “either at Pratt or FIT,” and wondered if I lived near the Meatpacking District, an area she knew off from Gawker.com. Spirits flew high on both sides of the Atlantic.

Three years later, in the midst of the financial who’s-next meltdown, One Fifth was still a court for gays, lesbians, and addicts. Ira did the math for you to help you change or sustain your life. He emailed “Monday first thing,” to find “the right writing class for you, now that you don’t work in Wall Street anymore.” He threw a bash for the friend who was moving back to Austin, or found a place for you to crash after you subletted your loft. “Come along to my support group at The Center,” he said with his soft-spoken, non-threatening voice. In a way, Ira became more important. “My life’s saturated with writers and agents,” he said when I told him that I had started working on a novel. “You’re one of us now,” he whispered.

In 2010, I decided to spend some time writing in Greece. I had open accounts to settle back home—family, friends, closets. What I hadn’t planned, though, was how hard it is to settle with the already-bankrupt. I landed in a suicidal country, itself deeply in the closet—financially, morally, and even sexually. With debt levels that Greece couldn’t support, the perfect drama was already unfolding. I saw Xenophobia in Xenios Zeus’ land. Anger, apathy, and the mundane escalated to a national level. The most beautiful starlet turned to porn and the country too, in a way. I’d gone back to find a bigger mess than myself. I left Athens for my father’s sleepy village, looking forward to spending some time with him, writing my novel, and recovering the safety net of my birthright’s dignity.

Goes without saying, I wanted to see Nikos too.

He’d gone fat and quirky. He looked pushed and pulled, his hands abused by the odd jobs he’d worked over the past twenty years. His daughter never left Greece, though she did move to Athens to work in a mall. A few beers in, I reminded Nikos what he told me in 1991.

“Really?” He laughed.

“Really.”

He stopped laughing. “These days you’re not Greek enough ’til you fuck a tourist up the ass.”

“But there are no tourists around anymore,” I said.

“You’re not Greek anymore. What’s in it for you?”

“A boss of mine called me a proud fucker once. At the time, I thought of you,” I said. “But now it looks like you’re just a hate-fucker.”

“What the hell does that even mean?”

“Nikos, fucking or not, there’s no pride left here,” I said.

Nikos looked out at the Aegean.

“You do know that I’m gay,” I said. “Right?”

Silence.

“Did you hear what I just said?” I pressed.

“Do you have a villa in Mykonos?” Nikos asked.

“No.”

“Do you own a yacht or something?”

“No…”

“Then you’re not gay. You’re just a faggot.”

 

Travel to Greece to Live History

September 14, 2015

Pelio1

Growing up in Greece, I was obsessed with tales of the South Seas–Fletcher Christian’s romantic odyssey, standing up for the underdogs at the Bounty, his journey as far as possible from homeland. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and in the summer of 1995 everything came into place. I had a job in London that allowed me to take a vacation to French Polynesia. I was preparing for my trip–studying, picking my atolls carefully–when my boss summoned me to her office. She reminded me that the French government was working towards testing nuclear weapons in the region. She was a mother, she said. She was concerned for me. I knew about the upcoming nuke tests; of course, it was everywhere. But her puzzlement only made my curiosity stronger. I would come back and tell. I could bond with the underdogs of the South Seas against Jacques Chirac, the Captain Bligh of the day. And that is what I did. The knowing faces of the locals I met, the frowns, the stoic bewilderment, the draining proudness–these memories will last me a lifetime. I was living history.

Today, I am baffled by the lack of curiosity I see from people who cancel their vacations to Greece. “We really wanted to go,” they share on social media, “but we had rented a boat, and we are not sure…with banks and fuel…It’s just not safe.” These are 30-year-old globe-trotters. Some of them have posted pictures of heli-skiing, or jumped off planes during their bachelor parties. “With my coach,” they correct me when I challenge them. “Tandem to the instructor.” How about switching to a sailing boat, then? No petrol, no diesel… “You are Greek, you are biased. You don’t understand the real meaning of the term safe!”

They have a point. I can’t keep up with today’s fragmenting and expanding shades of safety and adventure. You can swim “safely” among man-eating animals, but you may not feel “safe” at a party while an ex is seated at the other end of the room. Safety seems a prerequisite to all expressions of life: dating, working, and, of course, traveling. Safe adventures are an exploding industry. With “safety experts” accompanying you, you can go on a volcano safari, or gawk at silverback gorillas in eastern Congo. But over-reliance on safety wasn’t always the way. It used to be that while on the road, when all plans went south you had an adventure. And if you were lucky, in hindsight, you’d fall in love with the experience, and jump on the opportunity again.

Greece was never truly for everybody. A combination of romanticism–i.e., fighting for a cause–adventure, and escape drew traveling writers there, and they helped define modern Greece to the rest of the world. Lord Byron, our Mediterranean Fletcher Christian, fought in the Greek war of independence and died while at it. Famous travelers stopped traveling when they got to Greece, running away from something or looking for clarity and answers. The lack of passion in Western Europe brought Henry Miller to Greece. He fell in love with his Homeric interpretation of Greeks, and depicted a bromance with George Katsimbalis in one of the best books he ever wrote: The Colossus of Maroussi. The Cretan resistance in World War II put Greece under Patrick Leigh Fermor’s skin. An infatuation with nomadic life, a self-distracting internal conflict, constantly digging for the undiscovered or preserved, led Bruce Chatwin to Patmos and Mount Athos. They all fell in love with the curiosity of the Greeks, with their naive perplexity about Western ideals and the American dream.

How could they not? Modern Greeks are still confused on identity and priorities. Think about it; Greece began peacefully shaping its identity as a nation in the early 1980s. The fragility in the region during the first 75 years of the 20th century (the Balkan wars, the Smyrna ruin, two World Wars, a civil war, two dictatorships) provided lots of subtext when, for the first time, Greeks voted for socialism in 1981. “The world owes us” was in every page of every Penelope Delta book that my generation grew up with–we were the rogue child of the West, we thought, manipulated and sacrificed for foreign stakes or deterrence. And yet this was the moment when Greece found itself welcomed with open arms into the club of its presumed abusers: the European Union. Such turns of fortune can make a nation’s heart skip a beat. Ravenous peasants and olive oil traders were suddenly faced with worldly breaks. What do you do when you finally think that you can have your way with those who misused you? You go overboard. You party. You dress grand and talk scruffy. And then, of course, you crash.

The last seven years have transformed Greece into a surreally bleak and unpredictable soap opera. Never-ending demonstrations, unprecedented illegal immigration and neo-Nazism, reactive voting, unlawful referendums, zigzagging prime ministers incapable of clear decision-making led to social, economic, and political chaos. Greeks–bloodied, wounded and exhausted–keep protesting all the way to the brink.

“Everybody goes the wrong way, everything is confused, chaotic, disorderly. But nobody is ever lost or hurt, nothing is stolen, no blows are exchanged. It is a kind of ferment which is created by reason of the fact that for a Greek, every event, no matter how stale, is always unique. He is always doing the same thing for the first time: he is curious, avidly curious, and experimental.”–Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi 1941

Miller is right for the most part, but he failed to predict the immediacy and speed of the collapse of a global economy that left people hurt, grasping for life, and, not least of all, subject to instant global shaming. Last month, “Greek humiliation” spread like fire thanks to headlines in the most factual papers. And bleeding pride is what one will witness if one travels to Greece today — the same stoic and fearless faces I saw in the people of the Tuamotu Islands in the South Pacific in 1995.

So, if you leave Mykonos to the oligarchs and their champagne-showering offspring–forget inequality for a moment–you can visit real Greece. Travel to Southeast Pelio, a rough mountain that penetrates the sea. A peninsula that lets you be totally exposed to natural elements: water, rock, violent winds, and even fires. When Aeolos releases the “meltemi” at the end of August, wooden windows will break loose and fly out to the Aegean, and sea waves will keep the boats adrift. The summer’s heat will keep building until it turns into fire or rain. And either way, you have to stand it. For centuries escaping there has been the mantra, but escaping from there was always a challenge. The mountain still harbors families descended from scapegoats and outcasts. Isolated villages, like Xourihti and Patrihori, are one with the rocks they are built on; Game of Thrones-like dwellings erupt from the land, half-rock, half-houses, overlooking the islands of Sporades.

Pelio3

Drive up the mountain of Vasilitsa from Grevena. Bring your sweaters for their cool August nights. Listen to wolves howling outside the villages, and wash yourself in the rivers by Lavda and Filippaoi. And if you do rent a boat, rent a sailing boat–the right way to get lost in the Aegean. Find Levitha, if you can, and jump off the boat into the waters of Polyaigos off Kimolos. You may just choose to stay there until someone comes looking for you. Or sail to Patmos and walk up to the Cave of the Apocalypse–a chilling experience. Go to the upcoming film festival on the island and look at the eyes of the locals watching the film on an outdoor big screen as though it was their first time doing so, the Miller way. The island has no theater.

If you stay in Athens, talk to the locals. Ask the freddo-sipping unemployed kids about their favorite graffiti walks in Keramikos or Psiri–just the way out-of-towners ask me about my favorite architectural tours in NYC. Youth has a rough charm. The poor are not afraid of the rich; they’ve got nothing to lose. They’ll give you advice for your government, and they will send you to their hoods. Graffiti follows the fury. Graffiti is not permanent, it is a form of constant rebirth. And, finally, when you run into a demonstration–and you will–let it flow by you. Let yourself be bounced by people shouting opinions in walking distance from Pnyka where the Athenian assembly of democracy took place in the 5th century BC.