What Zorba Taught Me about Greece

 

Zorba dancing

Place: Crete, Greece

Book: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis (1946)

Movie: Zorba the Greek with Alan Bates and Anthony Quinn(1964) and subsequent musical, Zorba

 

Several years ago, during our travels in Greece, Ken and I had a marvelous 10 days of driving back and forth across the mountains of Crete and exploring its rough-edged beauty. I was particularly happy to learn that we could stroll on the very beach that Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates danced across to the unforgettable (and in Greece, at least, inescapable) theme song of the move, Zorba The Greek.

The Greek director, Michael Cacoyannis, shot the film on Akrotiri peninsula of northern Crete in Chania . The famous Zorba dance took place on the beach of the small town of Stavros, and these many years later, the town’s tavernas still make a buck off of the honor.

Zorba continued to haunt our travels in Crete, not just because you cannot get through an evening without hearing the song and watching somebody try to do his best Zorba imitation on the dance floor. But also because his spirit so reflects Greece. And why not, Kazanzatkis, the creator of Zorba in the novel also namedZorba the Greek , himself born in Crete, still ranks as one of the most evocative writers about Greece, its religion and thought.

During our journey, we stopped at a small mountainside village hoping for a cup of tea, but the makeshift cafe on the front porch of an old couple had only cafes (The powdered Nescafe foisted off as coffee on Americans.) When she saw I was disappointed, the woman came out with a big bag of gray-ish dried weeds.  By gestures, she told me that she had collected them herself in the mountains above her house, they grew only in Crete, and they cured many things, particularly women’s complaints and colds. (I am always amazed by the depth of conversations carried out with complete lack of the other person’s language.) I recognized it as a sage plant, perhaps a variety that grows only there. Someone told me it was probably dittany, but she used the leaves, not the blossoms, so I still think it was sage. Years later when I opened my paperback version of Zorba the Greek, I was amazed to see it opens with Zorba having a cup of sage tea.

When we sat on the old couples’ porch, we could see the characters in Kazantzakis’ novel and the movie passing by on the street, or peering suspiciously at us from the more populated cafe across the street. The exuberance and love of life of Zorba were all around us.

I remember many images from the movie, but the strongest, most disturbing scene convinced the young scholar (Alan Bates) to leave the hedonistic life of Zorba and return to his studies.The villagers gather at the home of a dying woman like so many vultures, and the moment she is pronounced dead they swoop in and strip her house. The scene disturbs and opens the traveler’s eyes to a darker  side of the carefree-seeming image created by Zorba with his ready smile and willingness to ignore convention.

I truly believe that Zorba and his creator Kazantzakis provide the best guide to the Greek traveler. Despite all his novels about Greek Orthodox religion, Kazantzakis turned to Buddhism, and I have a t-shirt with a quote from him, in Greek: “I hope for nothing, I fear no one, I am free.” Perhaps that is the secret to the exuberant love of life experienced in Greece. If you hope for nothing, you are free of yearning.

The author also said: “Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.”  Let’s hear your reaction to Kazantzakis’ quotes. Please join the discussion.

For other posts about Greece and Crete, see the By Country page.

Note: I have included a link to Amazon where you can buy the paperback of Zorba the Greek. I am an Amazon Affiliate, so make a few cents when you purchase things through my links, but it costs you no more. Thanks for your support.

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler’s Library, recreating her family’s past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “What Zorba Taught Me about Greece

  1. We traveled for three weeks last October (2009) in Crete. My two travel goals for the island were what I called my ‘novel destinations’ that I had written about in our travel blog (www.travelnwrite.com)prior to our trip. Neither let me down.

    First destination was Zorba’s beach where we were transported back to the days of filming the movie as we dined at ‘Mama’s Place’ — where cast and crew had eaten during the filming. Petros, Mama’s son who was 16 then showed photos and entertained us with stories of the filming.

    Our second stop was Spinalonga at the opposite end of the island, once home to ‘the living dead’ — a leper colony. We’d learned of it through Victoria Hislop’s “The Island”.

    Without the two books we would have missed both places. Of course we discovered many wonderful places in addition to those and also found a great book as result of discovering a place. I would highly recommend “In Sfakia” by Peter Trudgill (Lycabettus Press, 2008) as an entertaining and informative read on one of our favorite ‘finds’ on the island’s southern coast.
    .-= Jackie Smith hopes you will read blog ..Just west of Las Vegas we hit the Jackpot! =-.

  2. What a lovely piece of thoughtful and evocative writing about a great book, and it brought back a lot of memories for me of Crete, the book, and the movie. Kazantzakis has of course written many more fine books, and I particularly like The Passion of Christ, set at the time of the Turkish presence and vividly recreating village life at that time, built around the production of a Passion Play.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mike. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I read Passion of Christ long ago and loved it. Anything Kazantzakis writes is okay by me.

Comments are closed.