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Tricky territory, looking for the authentic. I think it’s a quiet current running through my Roman/Greek tour. An impossible quest. We know how difficult this is — what can “original” even mean today? Wandering around mountain villages with my father, we talked about the food, architecture and rituals that seemed authentically of the place. How long have you done this? Who cooked this? Where was this made?

Questions like these lead to complicated answers — like “the beads of this komboloi are made in China, but assembled in Greece.” At least she was honest.

When I came back from Mount Athos it occurred to me that maybe I had come closer to authenticity. Authentic to what? This recently-aired 60 Minutes feature relentlessly quotes the monks who claim an authentic life closer to Christ but fails to mention their spectacular real estate deals and connection to the financial crisis. I think we know why the monks let CBS in.

Perhaps I meant unchanged. Not the same, but still slippery. As powerful as it was, looking back on my experience there I think it was about as “10th century” as Disneyland.

I guess if you give up the idea of “the original” there can be some kind of satisfaction in finding originality. Maybe the hand-lettering and metalwork that I’ve encountered in some of the villages is related to this: direct evidence of human skill and craftsmanship. That alone seems remarkable these days, if you can recognize it. I think we sometimes forget if it’s even such a worthy cause. I know that I’ve totally lost touch with craftsmanship back home, online and in my life in general.

Handwork doesn’t have to mean crafty, rustic or archaic. Even if it is all of those things. But it can mean imperfection, variation, creativity. Vernacular. Human.

A key in a door in the village of Arachova, the twisted reigns of a horseless chariot driver in Delphi, hand-painted lettering in the sea town of Galixidi, and the black bird folded-metal scarecrows on the rooftops of Arachova.

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2 Comments

  1. you, paul, continue to make me ponder how to wake up to the (@ times inauthentic, unoriginal) world in which we live … and i thank you for that.

  2. When I travel, I look for the exotic–the thing that makes me realize that these people think/act/live differently from the way I do. And it is rarer these days then an aunthentic artifact.

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