Heraklion, Crete — Sometimes you can unlock the secrets of the universe in a chewing gum wrapper. This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in Greece.
Greece is the only country I know where you can walk up to a newsstand and buy commercial chewing gum made from mastic, the same stuff that was freshening the breath of Aristotle in 360 B.C.
Normal — after all, the great Zeus himself was born in some cave deep in the heart of this long island, ancient home not only to Greek gods and goddesses but to the Minoans, the most advanced early Mediterranean civilization.
We know little about the Minoans but their art gives clues to their cultural brilliance. They knew how to grab a bull by the horns.
The influence of Minoan civilization on the Mediterranean basin cannot be overstated. The Minoans helped make much of the Mediterranean into a marvelous melting pot — modern-day Gaza, for example was once known as Minoa…even in points west, in islands near Sicily, the Minoan culture left its mark.
Today’s modern Cretans are among the most hospitable people you’ll find in the Mediterranean world. It is not surprising when you consider how much of a cultural fulcrum their home was in the ancient world.
It is almost tragic that today when the Greek economy is in crisis that so much pressure should come from its bullying neighbor to the north, Germany, which once invaded it. No matter how much money Germany gave back to Greece, it can never be enough.
As for the Greek nation, it has been battered by heathens since time immemorial: yesterday’s Persians who are today’s Iranians antagonized ancient Athens just for the cruel pleasure of doing so. Turkey was not much better, and in many ways worse. (“Turkish rule in Crete 1669-1913. 264 years, 7 months and 7 days of Tribulation,” reads a plaque in Chania.)
You could argue (and I do) that a lot of what passes for civilization in and around the Mediterranean today has regressed since the Golden Age of Athens and the feisty but enlightened Hellenism of Alexander the Great.
You could argue that the Greeks owe some people some debt. But the Western world owes an eternal debt to the Greek nation, fiscally unfit but intellectually unsurpassed, and without which it would be nothing. Certainly, there would be no democracy, not so much as a drop. Without Greece, the world would be an unspeakably bleak place.
Our do-nothing President Obama should launch a campaign to erase all of Greece’s debt, and perhaps send the bill to brooding Germany. But that won’t happen, because for Obama action of any kind other than the self-promoting variety is tantamount to sin.
So in the meantime, Israelis and Americans should take matters into their own hands by vacationing in Greece. Here the landscapes beguile and the spirit of the gods never left. You can taste antiquity and chew what Pericles chewed, which is maybe even cooler than debt relief.