MARATHON, Greece – On the weekend leading to the Greek Lent, I enjoyed several
lunches (which lasted the entire afternoon and evening) with Greek friends of my
dearest friend, Antonis.
All followed the same pattern: We feasted on
fish. The stated reason? The delicacies did not have a trace of blood, which is
absolutely forbidden during Greek-Orthodox Lent.
In all three gatherings
the food was accompanied by Cretan Raki of which one of the hosts, who has a
smallboutique vineyard around his weekend home, told me, “We real Greeks prefer
Raki to Ouzo. Only tourists think that Zorba’s Ouzo is our only
After we chatted about “real Greeks” and being at a weekend
home in Marathon, the gracious patriotic host felt compelled to brief me, the
foreigner, about the significance of the location.
Marathon was the site
of the decisive battle in 490 BCE between the Hellenistic Greeks who saw
themselves as the defenders of the civilized world – the People of Light and the
pinnacle of Good, against the overwhelming power of the Persians who, for them,
were the embodiment of wrong and Evil. Against the odds, the Greeks won the
This is still celebrated in every modern Olympic Games, because a
Greek soldier ran home to Athens, a distance of more than 42 kilometers, and
announced, “We won!” Alas, he immediately collapsed and died.
host asked, “Do you know the actual distance between Good and Evil? It is so
short and almost indiscernible.”
He followed with an explanation using an
explicit example of female anatomy.
I was somewhat surprised by the use
of crude words by this sophisticated, well-mannered fellow.
And he interpreted my question as a need for further
He replied: “You Hebrews are like us the Greeks. You
always prefer highbrow words instead of the simplest ones.”
“What do you
mean by ‘Hebrews?’” I asked. “You – Israelis, Jews, Jewish-Americans, European
Jews. You are all the same. You stick together and you all stick to the words of
your Bible and other words high in the sky.
“Just like us! We are proud
of our history, philosophers and ancient language and we like to use the longest
words possible, but the world moved since then. What was contemporary then is
He continued, “Professor Uriel, the distance between Right and
Wrong is negligible.
It is slippery. You can put your finger in the
slippery middle and it may slide in any direction. You need some control, but do
you always have it?” I told that story to friends at the next luncheon. This led
to talking about differences among cultures and perceptions, but also about
The host, the owner of a chain of pharmacies in his
weekday job, looked at his Raki – which is clear as water, and said, “You know,
Uriel, H2O is the same all over the world, the same everywhere you go, but the
flavor, the taste, is different in every fountain and the well.”
responded: “This is actually a profound truth about globalization and local
He commented: “This is so simple, it is trivial, my
friend. You may philosophize about it from now to eternity, but it is not
The seed of truth is the simplest fact.
let’s drink to the triumph of Good. You taught us that in your language, you
toast with L’Haim – to life. L’Haim, Uriel!” And to life we
drank.The writer is chairman of the WPA Section on Interdisciplinary
Collaboration, chairman of PEMRN and professor and director of BioBehavioral
Research in SUNY-AB. He is currently a Fulbright scholar for MENA regional
studies. The opinions expressed here are his own, and do not reflect and are not
endorsed by the Fulbright Program or any other US agency.
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