Postcard 53 from Robina: Athens, April 6, 2015

Apr 6, 2015

I arrived in Athens from London Monday March 30. Again, I’d been invited by Tao’s Center, on Paros, an island in the Aegian, one of the group called the Cyclades. My friend Panos picked me up and took me to our friend Angeliki’s, in Byronas. She lives in the apartment that was her mother’s; she looked after her for several years until she died not long ago.

When I was first in Greece, in 1992, when I was sent to help the FPMT center on Paros – no longer existing – I also spent part of my time in Athens. In fact, as I discuss in Postcard 28, that was part of the job: Lama Zopa Rinpoche said I should go there and try to start a center. Rinpoche had written a postcard to some student there and asked her to set up a teaching, which she did. I remember that two of the people at the teaching who became part of the group that we started were called Sophia (Wisdom) and Hara (Joy) – a good sign, I thought.

Our group during a retreat in Paros, 1992. We were based in Athens but came to Paros to do retreat (the FPMT Paros retreat center no longer exists). With me were: bottom row, from left: Nacita, Angeliki, Hara, Kevin; top row, from left: Panos, Giorgos, unknown, Giselda, Giannis. Photo Panos

Also in the group from that beginning were Angeliki and Panos, and another man called Giannis. Of all of them, they became devoted to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. There is a group in Athens still, in theory but not much in practice.

On Thursday April 2 Giannis drove me and Panos to the port of Piraeus to catch the boat to Paros, a five-hour journey. The ferries are so elegant these days, I was surprised! When I was here in ’92 they were pretty basic – and everyone smoked! This time we sat in the nice lounge upstairs in the front, which was virtually empty. We got to Tao’s place in the afternoon.

Giannis drove me and Panos to the ferry in Piraeus.

These Greek islands: they’ve got such a romantic reputation. I remember when I was to go to Paros 23 years ago, people were jealous. “Wow! A Greek island!” But I wasn’t so impressed. I’m a city girl, remember! I’d rather have smelly old Athens any day.

And when I got there, my mind didn’t change. Paros was dry, windy, rocky, and the beaches were not so special. I kept looking around for what it is that people get so excited about, and I couldn’t find it. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, as our mothers told us. Which proves emptiness, of course: the mind makes it up and then believes in it.

Which also shows that all I had to do was change my mind and decide to see Paros as beautiful. I haven’t done so yet!

Rania, one of the women on the course, took some photos conveying what people love about the islands.

I’ve got a soft spot for the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. He’s only 40 or so, and it seems to me he has such integrity, such courage. The people seem to continue to support him, even though his promises to not go with the demands of the euro zone during the current financial crisis were broken. I think people are so happy to have an honest politician that they’re prepared to a go with him.

Australians also seem to like his former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who taught economics at the University of Sydney for 11 years. Mr. Tripras asked him to resign in July: he’s too radical, it seems, for most people. He says that his thinking has always been influenced by Karl Marx but that he doesn’t talk about it in “polite society.”

During my last day in Greece Panos took me around Athens.

It seems that the Greeks have a soft spot for Australians! I’d just have to announce that I’m from Melbourne and I’d be greeted like family. Apparently there are some 400,000 Greeks in Australia, certainly the highest number percentage-wise in the world: there are three times that number in the USA but the population of Australia is around 24 million and in the US it’s 320 million.

After Athens, it was on to Amsterdam, Monday April 6.

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