The blinking adverts lining the escalator in London baffle me. They offer things to my door, at a time I choose with a click. Something shiny and decadent. And worthy. A signal wrapped into a monthly package of clothes ‘hand-picked’ and ‘curated’ in my size. A balanced selection of recipe ingredients grant organic wellness wrapped in the shape of breezy convenience. Hand-picked hotels -whose hand picked them anything that bland can be human choice, but assume they must already know. Cookies and algorithms have given my preferences away like drifting thoughts.
Access to cars by the hour, vans by the day, offices by the week. Unrivaled ease of medical tests, private doctors appointments, slick credit cards and contract free flat lettings shout ‘move-in now!’ ‘NO DEPOSIT’. The litany of pedal bikes lying abandoned on streets as if their riders have evaporated into flat white mists and ramen noodle fogs. E-Bikes and E-scooters have joined the racks of Baffoon-Bikes; the former Mayor proudly launched onto the streets during his reign. Oh how we laughed then. Now he reigns over something bigger making the world feel smaller. Claustrophobic – all the phobics racked into this never ending election coverage will drown us. Impale us against the edge.
This isn’t a country I know. It’s a place I am a tourist gawping at the rush and standing still. It smells of packaged food deliveries from a thousand restaurants in the city – the bike-boys swerve as we pool in pulsing crowds around doorways in the rain. The choice is dizzying yet grotesque. In a hypertrophy intersection where tech and money and work are curated to be as womb-like as a home, the signs offer tastes of beer and food to keep the clever children working. An Uber driver speeds up mounting a curve with a pop crack as the tyre bursts making my heart leap like there is a war on. I think there is a war on. A war with noise in a city filled with fumes.
Climate crisis is used over and over like a phrase that is standing in for a sad ‘sorry’. Sorry is the thing I know I shouldn’t say when I have taken up too much in the world. I breathe in and apologise for my space, my time, my words.
I have stopped listening to music on the tube, instead discovered the joy of the smooth hush space packed with bodies but entirely devoid of noise. There is no greater thrill than a silent tube carriage absorbed into a hunger of uncertainty. Do I even want any of these things that are on offer? Who are we if we need to be guided? Told, offered, coaxed out of ourselves and into what?
Kierkegaard was right – Anxiety is the dizzying sensation of freedom. Now slap bang in the centre of opportunity, options worn thick here like fur coats and contoured make up. A mask for living.
Here and there.
Two worlds to choose.
I closed each little window of distraction down and thought about that trip to Ikaria. Even now I’m letting it all sink in although I’m far away in another land of high rise and low skies.
Ikaria is an island with wide vistas and mythic hills, waterfalls and other worldliness, a mythic place of the Blue Zone study – where populations are long-lived in regards to lifestyle and aging. Whether true or not, much has been written about the unique longevity of island residents. Some disproved, some improved and then marketed like all good commodities. But when we visited Ikaria in August, seemingly in good company with Athenian 18-25 year olds descending there for free-camping, folksy, alternative vibes and festivals. Luckily Ikaria is a big island, two large towns on either side of the mountain range that splits across the centre. We headed for Agios Kyriakos, walking by day and hiding out at night on the hills watching the stars dance around the milky way. It was bliss.
One day we walked to Therma, a sleepy kind of half-town, framed by a narrow bay, a sliver of white gritty beach and tumbling houses. It’s named after the thermal baths that attracted early 20th Century tourists with promises of health and perhaps also that eternal life. What remains is a rather well organised spa pool in the cave and a bath house. Old people wander from houses to the beach to bathe, wearing dressing gowns as if auditioning as extras in a remake of 1980s OAP film Cocoon. I have spent some time going through summer photos recently and what struck me was the sheer contrast. In Ikaria, like many Greek Islands your eyes are drawn to the stunning natural scenes, bluest seas, wild hills with snaking paths and sheer edges of sharp rocks. As if its a warning a reminder of how small we as humans are in the world – don’t ruin it, we are watching the ancient Gods try to warn. Then we keep getting caught by the dichotomy of respect for the natural world against our human desire to control and build, making statues of ourselves over and over as if we have again forgotten we are mortal. We have forgotten that life is short and creating anything takes time as we try trick our own egos by pretense alone. The world is ancient and we are easily obsolete. Often when I see the decaying bones of a house that is when the fragility of this presents itself. No tricks, no secrets to a long lasting shelf of life on this earth – everything we build falls apart eventually.
Ikaria has plenty of these reminders scattering the hills and towns. Therma has an old tumbling ruin of a hotel flags one side of the seafront, I wandered around its shuttered windows and flaking paint, blocky 60s style architecture. Warning signs hang on intricate ironwork rusting on neat balconies and lights swinging from their last coil of wire. The beach goers seemed to ignore its dominance of the seemingly pretty place and instead faced their gaze outwards to sea. The crumbling concrete had series of pipes jutting up from underground which could have been where the spa water was pumped from the natural springs, redirected to pools and swimming places next to the bathing platform. Not even a sign remains to indicate what it was called, I couldn’t find any clues. I was fascinated
I wander in Greece being a different kind of lost – absorbed into streets that curve into whitewashed villages and high skied places that maps are at a loss to explain. Where trees have grown over the ridge land leaving the stones alone to mark out boundaries of such things that long ceased to matter, long since existed. Obsolete as if that were a freedom.