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Thoughts at Sea: Vatera Beach, Lesvos

Haircut in LesvosNo, I did not die at the hands of Yannis the Barber. In fact it was quite a pleasant experience and I am now clean-shaven and my hair is as short as hair can be without being totally shaved like Telly Savalas. At the moment I am sitting at the Hotel Aphrodite Cafe on the beach in Vatera. I am the only one here, all the other guests are still sleeping and the only other person I have seen this morning is Yiannis the owner's mother, who was swimming down the beach from me, a routine I am guessing she has every morning since she lives in an apartment at the back of the hotel, which is right on the beach and if I lived right on the beach that is what I would be doing every day. Village life has its merits but there is something nice about waking up at sunrise and going for a swim and watching all the thoughts that enter my brain about relationships, and needs and desires and whether love is something that really exists or whether it is just another word for needs and desires and maybe we go through life looking for someone to fill the hole in us that was created when we didn't get enough love in the past and we won't be happy til we find it and even when we find it we feel that something is missing.

Vatera Beach, LesvosSometimes I feel like I have put myself into a big black hefty garbage bag and am trying to think my way out of it and in the end I just give up and try to take every moment as it comes and accept that as far as the meaning of life goes, I really don't have a clear idea of what is going on so I might as well just let things play out and maybe in the process the truth will be revealed if I am nice to everyone and don't expect much in return. I don't know what other people think about when they wake up at 7am and are the only person in the sea on a seven kilometer beach. Maybe they have thoughts like "My it is lovely here. The sea is so blue. The sound of the waves is like a melody. I wonder what time they serve breakfast?" But I do my little dog paddle (a breast stroke is too much like exercise) and go along the shore, close enough so that if I have a cramp or a heart attack and drown I will be washed ashore and found instead of out to sea and eaten by fish and sea-slugs like Osama Bin Ladin. Not that I care what happens to my body, since I won't need it when I am gone and probably nobody else will either, but I would like my family and friends to know what happened to me, so there is no doubt that I died and am not living in South America and that maybe one day I will come back and we will all be happy again. I want people to know that I am dead and gone and their happiness is in their own hands, not in the hopes that I will one day magically reappear with a great tan.

Vatera beach, Lesvos, GreeceI have a friend, well if I am honest with myself I will say I had a friend and she killed herself, or at least that is what I was told by her mother. She never seemed like the type who would kill herself and she was far enough away so that I did not have to go to the funeral. Actually she had been dead for a couple months before I even heard about it so the whole thing was kind of unreal. I am sure there are lots of people who kill themselves and their friends can't believe it because they did not seem like the kind of person who would kill themselves. But in this case not only was she not the suicidal type, but she was someone who could benefit from planning and faking her own death to get out from under a college loan that she could not have paid off unless she became a lawyer or the head of a major corporation, either of which she could have done with her degree. But she wanted to be an artist. We were romantically involved, not when she died but years before, and had been friends ever since and the last I heard from her was when someone called me as a reference for a job that it seemed she was going to get. And then I heard she had taken her own life and that was the end. But there is a part of me that does not believe it. I think she may be somewhere with a new name, maybe in some small village on a Greek island, doing her art, and no longer worried about the anvil of debt that had been hanging over her. Think about it. What would you do? OK, if you have a family and responsibilities and people who depend upon you, then it is more difficult, one reason being you can't count on everyone keeping a secret and so instead of the anvil of debt hanging over you, you have the stress of wondering if someone you love is going to blow your cover. But what if you could just go? Just leave all the crap behind and loose your identity and go pick olives or oranges or go to some city and wash dishes or wait tables and not pay your student loan, and the payments on the stuff that you never really wanted in the first place?

Vatera beach, lesvos, GreeceI have a friend who did this. He went to some remote island in South America and burned his passport and lived naked like the natives for ten years. Then he came back to America, became a shrink for a sorority and married the most beautiful woman in the world. Is he happier now or then? I don't know. But after ten years outside of our society it appears that he knew what he wanted when he came back. (Women, preferably blond). We exist in our society and we don't even know what we really want. Some people toil away at a job they dislike, surrounded by people they believe have nothing in common with them, waiting for the two week holiday they have in Greece, returning renewed but determined to change their lives so they can come back to Greece whenever they want or stay here forever. Of course they have been doing this for twenty years and their holiday in Greece has become something of a sacred cow, almost a religion. But Greece has not changed them enough so that they would throw away all the comforts that go with the debts and the chains in our society. There are plenty of women who come and settle for the slow death of a relationship with a Greek man instead of their nine-to-five job in America or the UK but this is just exchanging one kind of servitude for another. Many women see themselves as Shirley Valentine just as many men see themselves as Zorba the Greek but there are very few Zorbas and Valentines in the world. Most of the men never learn to dance the syrtaki and most of the women just end up sleeping with the waiter at the nearest cafe and going back home to start the routine all over again.

Hotel Aphrodite, Vatera Beach, Lesvos, GreeceThe truth is that no matter how much we think we want to throw away the boring lives we lead and move to a Greek island or the coast of Brazil or San Francisco or Paris, there is a part of us that is so identified with what we do, that it is almost impossible. Sure your job sucks but then one morning you are driving to it and you have had the right amount of coffee and the right song comes on the radio and you feel great and you realize that if you were on a Greek island, you would miss this. You might be sitting on the front steps of your house watching the neighbors walk by and realize this is really pleasant and if you were picking olives on Lesvos you might find myself pining for this just as you now pine for your beloved Greek island. You might be sitting at your favorite Mexican restaurant, sipping a margaritta with a friend, eating chips and salsa and guacamole and queso and nachos and realize that if you lived in Greece you would probably be doing nothing but eating Greek food (which is OK if you are Greek and don't know any other kind of food, or are only there for a couple weeks and everything tastes great because it is a lot better than the Greek food in your local Greek restaurants in America, but even after a couple months Greek food gets boring). The truth is that you only think you want to throw it all away and move to Greece because you are not taking the time to appreciate the things around you that you would absolutely miss if you did throw it all way and move to Greece. You can only really love Greece if you are happy, just as you can only love your boyfriend or husband or girlfriend or wife if you are happy, with yourself. And if you are happy with yourself then it does not matter if you are in Greece or Nebraska.

Matt in Vatera, LesvosI can wake up in the morning at the Hotel Aphrodite and walk fifty steps to the sea and feel fulfilled and happy just paddling around thinking my thoughts. But is this my salvation? Am I going to be happy doing this for a month or a year or ten years? Would I throw away all I have in the USA, the good and the bad, so I can do this every day? Probably not, unless like my friend who may or may not have killed herself, there was no other way but to default on my creditors by disappearing. It is true that life is what you make it but when you throw away the baby with the bathwater you just begin the process again of collecting babies and more bathwater. My friend who disappeared for ten years in South America: was it worth it or did he just waste ten years running around with natives eating fish and being terrified of bugs and poisonous frogs? I have no idea. But he came back to society and fell right back in step as if he had never left. 

If you want to change your life you start with where you are. You look at what you like about your life and want to keep and what you don't like and want to change, and you realize at the center of it is something that you think of as yourself, and that none of the things around you really matter if you are not in touch with that self, and will matter even less when you are. And if you bring that self that you are not happy with to Greece then sooner or later Greece may not have the power to make you happy anymore.

And that's the kind of stuff I think about when I am swimming early in the morning in Vatera.

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