Saturday, 9 May 2009

Porto Heli - the place

Porto Heli – being here

Today (Friday) I spent a lot of time alone, though I am not sure why. I saw others in groups going and doing their thing in the time before the conference starts, but somehow I didn't find the courage to join them, so after breakfast and admin (posting yesterday's account online) I set off to walk to the village.

It's a lovely place, untouched by the worst aspects of modern so-called development and I was told that select millionaires have houses here for that reason. Sean Connery has a house + helipad just up the hill, and the man who invented Bic biros owns an estate on one of the headlands protecting the bay.

One of the first things I saw on my walk was a signboard for tourists showing where the restaurants are etc, and I was very struck by how circular the bay is. I wonder, I wonder, is this a drowned volcanic crater, or perhaps like one of the huge circular depressions such as we saw yesterday? No information is immediately available but I would love to know.

While I stood and looked at the aerial view on the noticeboard, I was approached by a group of three people, who turned out to be an old Greek lady, very pretty and in sunglasses, and a man and a woman - slightly frazzled looking Norwegians. They were Jehovah's Witnesses on the prowl. They offered me the Watchtower which I declined, and told me about their mission. She took out a bible all in Norwegian and asked if she could read some to me... I agreed, wondering which text they would employ. I expected something from the book of Revelation, but it turned out to be the beginning of Timothy 3, an account of the Last Days. As she read it, people would be obsessed by money and outward things, terrible problems would be seemingly insoluble. No-one would be grateful for anything and children would refuse to obey their parents. This struck me all as very funny – a blatant attempt to make me feel worried and guilty. I wondered how to respond, whether to ask if they thought all this insousiance and wickedness was discernible in me, or whether I was supposed to feel that all this was directly relevant to me in any other way. I said, it seemed to me that people must have read these words and recognised the problem every year since they were written two thousand years ago, and would continue to do so for the next 2000 years. Anyway, I thanked them and walked on, leaving them looking even more despondent than they had been at the beginning. Maybe they thought when I agreed to chat at the beginning that they had a possible convert here. Wrong.

I saw some ants running about on the pavement and thought how much these missionaries and I myself were like these ants, programmed to do what we have to do, and not really able to deviate much, once we have a belief we choose to hold onto. Deep, eh? I walked on.

Boats line the quay in a haphazard way, with huge gin-palaces moored next to ancient fishing boats. There is a lovely replica galleon ready for tourist trips, and many small yachts and motor-sailors, and boats for hire. I saw some fish, though not many and mostly very small, in the slightly murky waters. It takes a while to work out that you can actually see quite a long way down into the water, as it is not crystal clear... but I think I would swim in it.

I walked along the wide boulevard behind the quay, with cafes and various shops of not much interest to me, up to the little orthodox church out near the edge of the houses, then on along a path round to the next bay. How peaceful and lovely it all is. I sat on a rather tall bench swinging my feet like a child, and contemplating a lot of things. For a while I felt quite sad but cheered myself up with the recollection of my good fortune to be here, and then sat there for a while reading. What is my book? Well, in this centenary year, I have been reading 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin. I find it quite hard going, because it is (to modern tastes) quite heavily punctuated, though he does relax a bit once he gets going. It is like being in the company of a very wise old uncle, a retired professor perhaps, someone so completely at home in his subject that he can take great detours round an idea and expect you to keep up, no matter how long the sentences. But, my goodness what a read! It is fascinating, exhilarating, informative, challenging and exasperating in turns, and also funny and rather transparent. He did not know, of course, about DNA, but time and again he approaches it, pointing out the facts and oddities of inheritance. And he is almost literally in love with the wonders of the animal and plant worlds, the perfection of the eye, the magic of fishes' tails, the huge list of adaptation which the swim-bladders of fish have undergone, the probable beginnings of seals' flippers, the paradox of upland geese still having webbed feet, how some kinds of ants enslave other kinds, and more. All the time he is on the lookout for what (we now call) creationists would say, and why their arguments are insufficient. No wonder this book took the world by the scruff of the neck and the world is still reeling in shock.

I read a little, turned back, fought off awareness of a blister maybe starting inside my sandal, thought about lunch. It seemed a good idea to head back to the hotel as the day grew hotter. On the way I rang my bank to find out why I was unable to use my card. I must say, once they had checked out that I really was me, they did do the biz and after about eight or nine minutes of talking and also waiting for the next person to come back to me, they did switch my card back on. The wonders of modern technology.

I went into a supermarket which was a rather calmer version of our own dear Tesco at home with almost exactly the same brands in the same arrangement of shelves, but with my gourmande eye open I quickly found some local honey to bring home, and a jar of olive pate, so Andrew is is luck. Back at the hotel I ate a delicious Greek salad bythe pool (the chef being one Steve from Northampton), and then went inside for the first meetings of our conference.

Now it's bedtime. I could stay downstairs and talk with some of the others who have gathered here from all over Europe, but I could do with some quiet time. Here in my room the only English-language TV is BBC World News which does its best to fulfill Jehovah's Witness prophecies, being full of disaster and doom in a maddening torrent of truncated stories, all jingles and bluster, and nary a smile or a moment of cheerfulness along the way. What a bloody waste of time and effort. The BBC used to be THE BEST and now it's reduced to jamboree of dread, pain, violence, corruption, humiliation, snippetery, and confusion. Oh woe! (Didn't I say 'Eheu' yesterday?)

Ooh, I forgot to say, I bought a lovely sarong thing – raspberry pink and white, and wore it this evening and everyone said how nice. Now I am going to bed with Charles. We have just finished a very good chapter called 'Difficulties on Theory' and will be starting the next chapter which is called 'Instinct'.

No comments: