Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The reason for the downfall of great cities: the wild and the tamed by Hatto Fischer

The themes of this year's Phaistos discussion, in combination with the 'Myth of the City' conference has two distinct strands of thoughts: ancient sites revisited beg always for an answer to the deeply perturbing question, why the great achievements of past civilizations, in this case the Minion, could be destroyed and never recover afterwards (de Volney / Stefan Zweig); and, on the other hand, the criticism of modern city life turns attention to the fact that urban environments have lost any contact with the wild, the untamed, while everything else is the result of planned interventions by man's own hands (Paula Meehan).

The loss of great empires, or rather the crumbling of entire civilizations which seemed to last forever until this doomsday proved the contrary, has always impressed me. In particular I was taken by De Volney who pursues that same question in his book with the appropriate title: "Ruins or Looking at former Empires" (F.a.M., 1977). He had been instructed by the National Assembly of France immediately after the French Revolution to contribute towards re-writing the constitution. The instructions were that he should study the reasons for war and destruction, in order to come up with some suggestions as to what the new constitution should entail to prevent in future war. It was furthermore suggested to him to come up with some practical advice as to how complex societies can avoid making the same or similar mistakes as committed by empires of the past and which led to their downfall. De Volney had a practical way to fulfil this task. He started his scientific endeavour by re-visiting ancient sites and talking to the spirits which housed in those ruins of former empires. He asked them the reason for the downfall of great cities and former empires. His research took on a unique character. He went on a pilgrim to visit ancient ruins and did so in the intention to listen to whatever evidence was presented to him as to what caused these former proud and strong civilizations to suddenly crumble to dust. While sitting in silence on left over rocks of former temples, he touched upon the archaeological evidence as to what greatness existed back then. Thus he imagined something very unique. It was as if a great spirit housed in those ruins and aroused by his sincere interests came forth to speak with him. De Volney asked that spirit directly what happened to all those beautiful, rich houses which were no longer standing despite all of them having had a very strong foundation. What has happened to the people who lived in them, he wanted to know in addition.

Indeed, there are disasters of many kinds: war, earthquake (it is believed this was the case with Phaistos), floods, volcano eruption (as the case of Pompeii and Herculaneum near Naples) or famine (as in Ireland). Cities of the Middle Ages were ravaged by the pest while others crumbled under negligence and vanity (Nero in Rom). One needs to think only about the fate and suffrage of people who live in Sarajevo (about which shall speak Nikos Stavrolakis when the conference moves on to Chania) to be reminded that quite often the most beautiful cities filled with diverse life have always been object of violence as if cities with multi-cultures should not exist but rather only mono cultures which clothe themselves predominantly in state and nationhood. There is the fall of Troy and what consequences that had especially for the women. The latter has become a literary theme (see Christa Wolf: Cassandra / Brendan Kennelly: The Trojan Women). These cities were plundered and hit by all sorts of forces to make them go literally into their knees as a sign of submission and as indication that they give up any resistance. Since war against one city permeated by different groups, crusaders, merchants and military oppressors entering violent conflicts without any recognition of each other, most telling was a saying in the Renaissance about peace reigning in a city only when there is peace between cities as it will bring as well peace to the countryside, there where the farmers reside and who supply the cities with the much needed food. Since Ancient Greece that story about senseless destruction underlines several important lessons, one of them being the ability to listen to the voice of reason while another one was about the need to check the quest of the already powerful to become even more powerful before it is too late. Unfortunately that did not prevent Athens from entering the war with Sparta even though some voices had warned that no one will emerge out of that battle victorious. And indeed with this war started the decline of Ancient Greece which still surprises today by what was achieved back then during those few years of amazing development towards a democracy based on a vital urban culture. It seems that ruin and destruction comes with not recognizing greatness but instead becoming over jealous and zealous in efforts of imitation which never succeeds. Instead impatience takes a hold and military might exerted to destroy what was not so easily found, but which can be easily lost.

Revisiting ancient sights is always a useful reminder for us about the course of history. Michel Foucault calls it in his 'Archaeology of Knowledge' a way of setting free human reflections, in order to regard civilization once more from an innocent, equally respectful distance. Certainly the town of Herculaneum, next to Pompeii cannot but amaze the visitor entering the confines of that ancient city. Life came there suddenly to a standstill. Evidence show that boys were about to bring a sacrifice to the altar. A couch still shows today stains of the fire which swept the city; everything was buried underneath a massive lava flow. Life ceased immediately. That makes this place and others like it so unique, for life seems to stand only still and ready to carry on if given only the chance to leave that position taken up once everything froze to death in the heat of the lava flow. It is a place where the imagination finds new energy. It is possible to fall asleep in such places and to dream as if awakening to the tune of flutes or else to water spouting once more out of the fountain. This is because the place stirs the imagination so much that it is possible to see the people then still talking, washing, eating and singing all before it happened. These vivid images are more than just mere projections. For life in relation to ancient civilizations is really a story about unearthing the story of mankind, with all the hopes and wishes to outdistance and to outlive death. These images enter one's memories and touches upon what many philosophers, including Jürgen Habermas would claim to be impossible, namely to re-construct the past. But it is not so much about reconstructing but feeling the pulses of life as being linked as ever to a search for a true love, for a glimpse of such wisdom that a bird's song tells one as much as the flowers which grow in the garden. There is precious hope of life when a boy holds in his hands a small bird which has just dropped out of its nest. Sanctuary life needs and finds everywhere and fore mostly we seem to forget that the best ones are our dreams. When walking through the houses and corridors of Herculaneum, all that becomes vivid by sensing a human touch everywhere: in the colouring of the wall, the choice of furniture, even in the way the streets were constructed, says something. They had little sidewalks for the pedestrians while in the middle deeper rims existed where the chariots could pass by. Then there are the careful arrangements of the bathrooms separated for the men and the women as if this kind of segregation of the genders was done out of a careful consideration of that wonderful tension between the sexes and which would keep an entire civilization afloat for centuries, always renewing itself with new loves sprouting everywhere when the youth comes running in from the fields and discovers suddenly that the girl next door has changed into a beautiful woman. This change in what could not be noticed before is like unfolding a painting of life. All this and more can be experienced when visiting Herculaneum.

Thus de Volney is an important author for posing this question why these ancient civilizations suddenly collapsed. I will not deal here with the answers he came up with except mention that he came to believe great civilizations are destroyed by war resulting out of a prevailing hierarchy upheld by a belief the own religion is the only true one, but wish to emphasize one crucial aspect. The ancient wisdom which resides in these ruins, their archaeological evidences outdistance by far any mark of modern civilization as they seem to have no link to the past and therefore to the future. Such illusionary constructs of an eternal present express a new kind of vanity. Take, for instance, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and where the Salomon Brothers have their offices. And I refer to the Twin Towers because some time ago a bomb blast rocked the American society as did the more recent one in Oklahoma. It appears that this attempt was made to question the standard of living so far achieved within such pretence to stay young forever. When compared to what these ancient sites reveal, then doubt becomes stronger as to what progress has been made since then.

As a matter of fact all civilizations can be differentiated in cultural terms as to what is being demanded of everyone to live in such a given environment and how everyone manages to live up to such demands. In that case some civilizations may seem very strong, but they carry within them already a great vulnerability due to being over developed systems, technically speaking, and therefore exhaust life before having been truly lived.  This is because life is wasted in attempts to achieve ever more sophisticated means. It can include an ever more complex irrigation system, but which breaks down because the streams that fed it dry up. The same goes for homes with an amazing array of bathrooms and a cooling system making it necessary to shut the outside world out. As always once things become too sophisticated, equally over complicated, they break down quite easily. Such failures or break-downs may be regarded as human failure, but more clearly the fault line is drawn by the wish to gain thereby superiority over others. Adorno called 'clever superiority' as the real cause of break-downs. It favours a system based on tricks and appearance of power rather than aiming to achieve equality. Thus relationships remain at best a fake and are not substantiated by real efforts to attain human freedom from false dependencies. Rather such systems are designed to sustain only power and hence fake superiority.

Breakdowns occur quite often once such fake systems are either fully exposed or else the human weakness (i.e. of not speaking up the truth within) becomes the sole factor deciding what course to take. But a system by itself is unable to sustain itself; there is needed at all times human clarity and true energy, equally as well an intelligence which recognizes the greatness in others (and does not deny that as would the clever superiority). Everywhere people are dependent upon others to give them true recognition. Once that dependency upon the human factor is ignored, then an inherent tendency of such systems to fail shall manifest itself sooner or later. As this is not a mere matter of destiny or human fallacy which has brought about all these destructions, some questioning of the myths sustaining false systems is needed. After all humanity has managed as well to survive somehow until today, and amazingly continues to do so despite wars and violent conflicts. Therefore, the real question is what lessons are to be drawn alone out of the story told by Stefan Zweig about the fall of Constantinople and therefore of Byzantine? For in the end he suggests that at the beginning of all defeats, there is a certain kind of self-defeat. It means giving up all efforts to survive within own terms of self respect no matter how strong the odds against one.

The wonder that humanity has managed to survive until today and this despite many disasters, wars, catastrophes, all leading on to collapses of entire empires, that brings us already closer to an attempt to formulate a hypothesis about the reasons for the downfall of great cities and empires. Maybe an outstanding example is the often cited fall of Babel. Here the moral lesson seems to be almost straight forward, that is, the moment man no longer knows any limits and goes too far, and then things will collapse like the tower of Babel. But I have a feeling this ontological image suits another purpose and does not reveal the real story so easily. I would, therefore, caution to over-use it as an example. Still, there is the matter of sophistication being strived for first of all by some ingenious inventiveness, but then some go further for reasons of just wishing to gain prestige over others. That is then no longer a simple matter. But how can be gained recognition from the others when attempting to be superior over them? Quite often vanity plays a huge role in such efforts to outsmart the others that this has led to inescapable show-downs and instead of being able to back down and step away from direct confrontation, pride and prestige hinder fore mostly avoidance of going straight forward into war.

There is, of course, the interesting case of Troy. The German writer Christa Wolf cites in her novel 'Cassandra' the Greek advisor to the city of Troy. He claims that if the Trojans wish to defeat the Greeks, they must become more like them: treacherous, unforgiving, devious, and even murderous and avoid above all doing one thing, namely mixing with the slaves as if equals. Cassandra was reportedly appalled by such advice, had she not grown up thanks to the caring hands of slaves who she would visit every day? She was also astonished by this advice for another reason. It is reflected in her question to the advisor, "but what does he think why we are fighting for our way of life, if not to become like the Greeks?" She meant an honest character who mixes with the slaves and who knows when to seek counsel of the others. Naturally there was a paradox inherent in the reply of Cassandra as proven by subsequent events, for how to maintain one's own character if it means defeat and if only one stands a chance to survive by changing one's character of which one had been proud of till now? A more serious question follows this paradox: what if good characters never survive in history and therefore mankind has to take a different route if to survive at all, and this especially as someone unable to recognize himself after all this changes as a 'free man'.

It becomes apparent that there are many more paradoxes at the root of ultimate failures, certainly a change of character and hence loss of face as others would call it a special kind of defeat. But Troy was finally brought down by a trick: the Greeks pretended to depart but left behind as a gift a wooden horse in which they hid troops in the calculation that the Trojans would open up the gate of their city and pull the horse inside without knowing that death awaited for them inside. The total destruction of Troy was signified by the Greeks literally 'filing' down the walls. The walls have always been a symbol of strength of a city, a strength which would protect those behind these walls against any attacks from outside. This fortification principle was a form of self protection. That became most important in the case of Byzantine since Constantinople was surrounded from its very beginning by hostile forces and many more enemies.

As there is always a popular legend surrounding the downfall of great cities, one of the most persistent ones is that defeat has always some connection to a beautiful woman as the case with beautiful Helene of Troy. Most of the time it is about a love story transformed into something fateful, for failure through love is often linked to betrayal and treason. That marks the departure point in the novel by Fuentes in his novel 'A change of skin'. It begins with Cortez being warned ahead of time by a woman who has fallen in love with him that the priests await him at the high altar but not to receive but instead to sacrifice him. Cortez goes to the ceremony but has weapons hidden underneath his clothes like all his soldiers. By murdering the high priests, the slaughter of the native inhabitants can begin in earnest.

However, in the case of Constantinople, Stefan Zweig's story shows how the fate of that city was decided not by a love story, but by having left open a small side door through which Turkish troops could wander into the city and thereby convince everyone else that the city had been taken despite no one been able to penetrate its wall till then. But here one crucial explanation must precede everything else for self defeat preceded the overall defeat. It underlines that there is hubris to this story of Constantinople. For many years treaties were made with the Roman Catholic Church with the promise to help protect each other in case of attacks and to observe the religious requests of the other, but that was never kept or observed once these accords were signed. Those in Constantinople continued in a reckless way to ignore these accords with the Roman Catholic Church. Thus when the Sultan decided to attack Constantinople in earnest, a delegation was sent to Rom to plea for assistance and help. However, this time the delegation failed to convince that Constantinople was under serious threat. Too often they had heard similar stories which turned out not to be true in the end. The Roman Catholic Church decided for some token gesture and did send but a small troop for support. It demonstrated clearly that the Roman Catholic Church did not believe that Constantinople was threatened in earnest.  No doubt to be left alone in a serious, indeed life threatening situation is not the wisest of all situations in which someone would like to end up in. It put Constantinople altogether at the outset of the battles to follow in an overall weaker position with regards to a determined Sultan. Defence started inside the city in knowing there was no one else to rely upon except for oneself. That may explain why the sudden appearance of Turkish troops, even though only a handful and which could have been easily beaten back in order to close then the Kerkaporta, was such a psychological blow. Alone the shout which rang through the city immediately that the Turks have taken the city that was in essence a self defeat. Everyone threw down his weapons and just fled, but in vain for most of them were slain and Constantinople fell completely into the hands of the Sultan.

Vicious storms can be unleashed and innocent people victimized, especially if a city is taken by a ruthless conqueror. That leaves in most cases no other option but to flee rather than to stay on in the city. Certainly those who have experienced bombardments of cities like London, Manchester, and later on Munich, Cologne and Dresden during Second World War know how fateful the air over a city can become once filled with bombers and airplanes equipped with machine guns aimed at those fleeing the bombed houses. That was already a tactic used when Guernica was bombed. The planes came in three waves. The first ones dropped the heavy bombs, the second ones were airplanes with guns to shot at anyone attempting to flee the bombed houses and the third dropped incendiary bombs to set in flames all the houses still standing and into which the people fled once they realized the streets were also not safe. That was a deliberate strategy to cause mass destruction by technological means from the air. Technological development since then meant the missiles by which Hitler struck London. By the time desert storm began and Baghdad was bombarded, missiles and bombs rained down on Baghdad. The aim of the military deploying first of all air power is to reduce the fighting spirit of the people so much that ground troops could easily move in afterwards and take the city without much resistance. Any military includes these psychological strategies in its tactics when wishing to take control of certain areas. There are stories of people who have been bombed three times and every time a bit more of their personal belongings lost, till nothing remained of their personal belongings, including a library containing a precious collection of books. Sometimes this occurred on the last day of war. A fateful moment. Painful. Not really understandable. The randomness of injustice. Life takes a long time to develop, but everything can be extinguished within a fateful second. In view of what has happened to man throughout history, such life is not comprehensible.

Indeed it is much easier to destroy life. Yet there are only few who can do it and still have no regrets. As if they live for an imaginative future they tend to connect the motives for their actions with the belief that they are about to make history. Achilles entered the war against Troy after he was convinced even if he will die, his name shall never be forgotten. As a matter of fact these heroes of war and destruction delude themselves into believing others will remember them for their deeds. In reality it is a powerful death drive which has captured their imagination. Thus they think to overcome the inner fear created by this death drive by exerting every possible pressure and hence destructive power upon the outside world. That has all the making of a false hero since in real terms of humanity there is no need for such heroes, but more so a need to deal in a sober way with that inner fear. Unfortunately the false assumption that heroes are needed, it finds support in the entertainment industry. There appears a constant search for a great leader or hero, may it be a movie about Ben Hur or even about Jesus. All this is mixed in with throngs of voices of those who are made into the masses and who have to bear witness as the deeds of these often self proclaimed leaders already caught in their own destructive drive as if everything is just a matter of sheer will power. A close up of such a leader on a horse about to charge and just scratching with its hooves the surface of the earth before the storm breaks loose, that is a real moment of true despair. That image can evoke certain associations for it seems as if quest for fateful power has to do with both natural and supernatural matters. Always the leader on a horse appears in a similar setting as if the outcome of the battle ahead has to be perceived when hallucination sets free dreams about peace to last, and never that belief in peace takes a hold before it is too late. As if a delirium of the mind lets everything spin out of control, forgotten seems what Michel Foucault attested to, namely recognition of the other not as a threat or challenge and therefore human language, that is the speaking with the other is taken up only when 'no victory is necessary'. It is sad to realize when the battle is about to begin that no landscape can then be compared to optimistic and peaceful scenes as depicted by the painter Claude Lorain. Instead the predicament and anticipation of things about to happen comes that much closer to Goya's depiction of reason devouring people.

Most of the time just before the storm sets in, a strange stillness prevails, indeed a frightening silence. Nothing seems to move. The moment before the battle begins seems to take the breath away from every man who is gripped by inner fear but senses that an outer force holds together the army. That moment entails a strong disbelief. It is a disbelief in knowing what is about to begin will end tragically and yet there is no one around to halt this rush into insanity. Such disbelief can be described in another way. Take a person from Northern Europe getting out for the first time in his life at the train station in Venice and then descends down to the canal. He cannot believe it for it seems the tracks terminate in the water. That transition from something solid to something fluid is so abrupt that disbelief creates within him unique forms of perception. They make appear edifices of the unbelievable. A similar, but more dramatic tension is entailed in those peaceful landscapes until they are shattered by war as the case in former Yugoslavia. Farms and villages offer at first sight to any viewer a peaceful scene, only to be shattered suddenly by a rocket setting off a huge blast to be followed by endless rounds of shots. There are shouts, some run across the field, if only to be hit and to fall. More blasts go off. Houses burst out in flames. Trees come crushing down when hit by mortar fire. There are no other forms of destruction than those which bring with them as well self-destruction. If anything, every new battle demonstrates that the beauty of a place cannot remain untouched. War bringing destruction seems bent to demonstrate that civilization has not learned out of mistakes of the past and that it cannot take beauty and cultural diversity existing in one and the same place. Thus everyone stumbles over and again into war by perpetuating these forms of self destruction. Rightly so James Joyce has called these mistakes the "lost causes of history".

Thus to turn to the Phaistos discussions in 1995, they entail three important aspects to be reflected upon. After having started the discussion about 'culture and technology' in Iraklion and just experienced the previous evening the poetry reading up in the village of Kamilari, this coming to Phaistos to hear three major papers before continuing on to Chania and Milia for still further debates, all that is a part of an unusual 'voyage of the mind' through Crete. It is made possible by this year's 'Myth of the City' conference but it is important to note that this stop over at Phaistos means picking up as well the thread of previous discussions which took place here already one year ago. The three papers to be presented are the following ones:


- the wild and the tamed: Paula Meehan

- from stone to cement: Pedro Mateo

- the problems of traditional settlements in modern society: Michalis Spyridakis


As said there took place already in the previous year an interesting discussion here in Phaistos. For instance, Emer Ronan-Assimikopoulo pointed out then some of the mythical elements in Irish literature. Hence it is most appropriate that Paula Meehan shall continue that strand of reflection, while connecting Ireland to Greece. Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that Phaistos is connected to the village of Kamilari. Hence what future projects can be envisioned, so as to bring about human forms of settlements and therefore a development which respects all these archaeological artefacts, it may be a matter of discovering what makes this region so unique in an effort to find out how best to preserve its character rather than being defeated by modern times. The latter entails destructive elements of a different kind. As always the Phaistos discussions can be linked to an incredible archaeological site, landscape and immense hospitality of the people of Kamilari who run the canteen at Phaistos. Unforgettable are impressions of the light which brushes the plain at the foot of Phaistos as no other painter could do so. Since much more can be said by seeing eyes rather than be expressed by words, it suffices to underline the fact that these discussions are connected to an unforgettable setting with poets and planners discussing the reasons for the downfall of great cities. The very fact of standing on ruins of a once amazing settlement adds to that wish to connect that past with an ongoing present in search for a life which promises some solutions to all these pertinent questions.


The first theme: the language of the wild compared to the language of the tamed

The first aspect about the 'wild and the tamed' came immediately to my mind once I had read the letter by Paula Meehan. After having introduced herself, she shows in anticipation of the conference 'Myth of the City' what connects her already to a place like Crete. The letter contains by itself so many good ideas and describes at the same time so well what life in a city entails, including the 'imaginative maps' used by individuals to orientate themselves, that I would like to quote the letter in full as it could have been easily addressed to everyone of us:

"I'm very much looking forward to the conference in Hania next September. I'm a regular visitor over the years to Crete and a great admirer of, insofar as it can be reconstructed from the evidence, Minoan culture, especially the sites, layout and craftiness of the habitations. So Crete as location should help us hold in mind a span from the Bronze Age to the post industrial. And the story of Daedalus as finding a way through the Labyrinth and in defeating the Beast with the help of female energy (the thread) is a story I've been long nourished by as a working poet.

The psychic terrain of citizens of the city is what interests me. As a Dubliner, I live in a city that has been extensively mapped by myth makers. Joyce, Beckett, O'Casey would be recognized internationally. They provide imaginative maps usually more reliable than statistical or sociological maps. Boundaries, planes, topographies must be redrawn to allow this female energy free passage, or, as happens in Euripides The Bacchae, the kind (surely emblematic of the State) will be forever condemned to have his head ripped off by his Mother. I mean female energy not as an exclusive attribute to those born into female bodies but as that part of the psyche which is still closest in touch with the mysteries of birth and death, which acknowledges and embraces the animal part of being human, and still stays itself within the natural world. Indeed I would argue that unless we take on board our wildness as a species then we will so endanger our great mother (Crete gave us Gaia) by seeing ourselves as separate to the rest of nature, that we will have neither cities, nor towns, nor even sustaining ecosystems within which to locate the human  adventure.

I am told by researchers that if I live to be eighty, I'll see an end of the planet's accessible oil reserves. That is only forty years away. Do I see any evidence in my city that planners are taking this fact on board? I do not! Eco-warriors are still largely treated as cranks, and there is legislation being enacted throughout Europe that severely limits our own and our children's freedom to contribute to the democratic process. (The Criminal Justice Bill in Britain has been used extensively to prevent people protesting at the turning of that island into one large motorway complex.) The real problems are ecological. Who owns the earth? How do we accommodate our own wild nature in city space and encourage other specifics of flora and fauna to share the space with us? How do we as members of communities challenge the presumptions of those who made decisions in our name? Especially if the communities we are part of or have affinity with are those with the least financial clout? How do we summon the collective will to demand ecologically safe and hospitable environments? How do we construct and reconstruct city space that is based on human and natural life cycles, rather than on the profit motive?

It seems to me that nothing less than a radical shift in consciousness can avert the end of human life on the planet. Which is probably where poets come in? Our work, if it can be defined at all, is to remind our communities that we are human, that we are wild, and that we have responsibility to each other and to other life forms. Poetry is part of the oral transmission of wisdom - (it predates books, and will survive the end of the book) - poets are the makers of sustaining myths and part of our work is to be critical of all that is anti-human and life denying, to give heart and comfort to our communities in their struggles and especially to nurture what is wild in us, that part of us which knows it is linked to the great natural cycle."

Letter by Paula Meehan, Dublin, June 4th, 1995


That is a beautiful, indeed thoughtful letter with a clear thematic outline. It poses some of the most pertinent questions and addresses this conference 'Myth of the City' in a way that can encourage listening to what the poets have to say.

It seems that the main point, namely 'who owns the earth?', wishes to problematize not merely ownership as such, but also what kind of activities mankind has been unfolding around the globe. Indeed, ecological problems are immense but how to resolve them in terms of responsibilities that are a great challenge. Certainly the entire earth cannot be owned by anyone and yet private as well as public law delineates properties according to various types of ownership, methods of use and valorisation models, all designed to make a profit of earth. The ever greater hunger for profit has prompted breaches of open or public spaces, and more so led to expansions across even international borders in the wish to claim more land. If opposed, then it turned to violence in the wake of more natural and cultural landscapes were destroyed by subsequent wars. Since 1945 most of the expansions and damages have been incurred by means of technological improvements. Ivan Illich goes so far as to say Capitalism knows to export but one thing: transportation.

There has come a point on this earth where nothing, no land remains untouched by man's hand and thus there exist hardly anymore 'wild' or 'untamed' places. It has increased confusion as to what nature still entails. Equally the public value of land accessible to all has rapidly diminished while ever more efforts are made to secure still more and greater private spheres of existence. James Clifford in 'Predicament of Culture' describes how Indians fail in court to prove that their collective decision making process on how to use the land should have a higher priority than private owners who want to be left alone on their land with the task of the community being merely to provide some necessary functions like water, electricity and waste collection. The Indians fail to make their case because the court does not recognize them as distinct people, insofar as they have no proof of their own identity. As it turns out in the court proceedings, they do not keep any written record of their own identity. That confusion of what is viable proof and therefore a fact on the basis of which a case can be made, may have come after the collapse of major ideological challenges to the Capitalist system resting on private ownership. Still, what is recognized as proof or fact needs to be explained in terms of damages created when in fact profits made silences everything else. The sole preference for the latter as a way to prove success indicates also how decisions are made within such a system which is solely designed to sustain private ownership.

In practical terms such a system has led to sub-urban sprawls with everyone wishing to live in his or her own house. It has transformed settlements into monotonous repetition of similar constructions made out of cement. And altogether this urban expansion has tightened the grip over land. To counter this trend, the Council of Europe has even started a campaign aiming to save the rural countryside and came up with a scheme by which farmers are paid in order that they do not sell off their land but alter their function from farming to ensuring the ecological balance of nature against urban sprawl and related activities such as the building of second homes is being upheld by them taking care of the land.

As a matter of fact 'use of land' has become a symptom of those who wish to compensate themselves and their children at least for a short period every year for the fact what they have given up by living for the rest of the year in the city. They do suffer from the fact that in the cities they live in that there is absolutely no contact with nature. That model of wishing to have both, a life in the city to earn money and an existence outside to compensate whatever may be negative about living and working in the city, has become quite a dominant feature in the lives of many people. Alone around Easter or during the summer holiday season a city like Athens with 4 million people empties nearly to less than half of the population proves that point. It has led to the widespread use of second homes.

Architecturally speaking, buildings alongside many roads show not merely an expansion of the city, but equally a monotonous repetition. It seems everywhere much of the same occurs. This kind of ugliness predominates especially in areas where a lack of choice leads to cheap forms of development. Once entire new settlements can be build without any prior history while the next beautiful piece of land is measured up to be exploited in near future by the developers, there shall be alteration in this kind of development. Once no time is given to take into consideration aesthetical principles as to how not individual buildings, but the entire constructed world is to appear, then nothing is set in tune with nature and with the human life cycle as described by Paula Meehan. Most of the times people resign to live in what has been build not by them but by a construction company using engineers and other experts to design and to construct the buildings. The lay-out will have but a minimum of public functions, the main emphasis being on a road system to allow for accessibility. As such this indicates an alteration in the time things take to be constructed. Now it is no longer a Cathedral which goes up and which lasts over more than three generations before being completed. Instead a suburban area can be built up within less than two years. It means the combination of 'cement and steel' (Jürgen Eckhardt) as the only language sets a 'fait accompli' before anyone wishing to preserve that natural space or even a different design has a chance to say 'no'. All this happens by silencing that part of society which would like to see a different kind of development. No wonder when even the best building regulations and planning laws cannot off-set this negative trend towards an exploitative land use policy. To this has to be added the truism for any politician or mayor that a striving local construction boom is the best motor for the local economy and beyond.

When we were just now in Kamilari, we saw such a case of a house being built for a German dentist with the help of a German architect who has worked by now for three years in the greater Kamilari area. By having the necessary money, it was possible to hire twenty workers and complete the building within six months. Practically there was no time for the authorities to react in time. But now the house stands at the edge of the open plain stretching all the way to Phaistos. It is like a fist in the eye or an eye sore when compared to the previous free glance one had from atop of the hill of Kamilari towards Phaistos. UNESCO has long declared the principle of a free vision to be an inherent component of a cultural heritage site, if it wants to be recognized as such world wide. The principle of preserving cultural heritage by keeping the view free has been violated and was destroyed by this house with regards to Phaistos. Now that this pink house stands there, the illusion of looking at an archaeological site still untouched by time is gone. Unfortunately the people of the village say nothing as either they felt it was impossible to prevent it or they were one of the twenty workers hired to do this special job. And to make things worse, it was a German woman who came to Kamilari under the pretext to wish to understand the local culture. Consequently she was taken in by the community of Kamilar and joined subsequently the Cultural Committee of the village. With the women she did home cooking and helped in many kinds of festivities. Through that she gained inside knowledge as to who was ready to sell off land in order to escape growing signs of poverty when compared to how others were able to make a good living. In the end, she revealed herself of being a real estate agent in disguise. The people were shocked and passed a resolution to no longer allow a foreigner to join their organization but by that time it was too late and using the information she got through the Cultural Committee, she managed the land deal the dentist needed to construct his house at that particular, equally most sensitive spot with regards to looking from Kamilari towards Phaistos.

The crucial question is how to limit these building sprees especially on land in need to be preserved? Land speculation has become nowadays a big business. Powerful organisations with huge funds buy up large stretches of land and wait till the political moment is ripe to exploit the acquired land for the sole purpose to make a profit by building and selling houses which have been constructed in no time on this land. As this takes place especially in the midst of historical and natural landscapes, these modern signs of civilization show that all other principles of how to deal with and treat the Earth have been abandoned. As said elsewhere such a development would not be possible without the existence of the car. It makes everything accessible, even the most remote places on earth. The problem of urban plans, regional planning policy and administration especially in a country like Greece, and this at both local and regional/national level is that there is no clear notion of village in which to contain building activities while leaving the surrounding land untouched, that is free of any building. Instead the existing urban law permits construction everywhere with the sole distinction within the urban zone a different, denser land and building size ratio prevails, while outside the urban plan it is still possible to construct something but under the prerequisite of having a larger plot of land surrounding the building. This has lead to a building expansion throughout Greece and as participants of the Myth of the City remarked when visiting in Iraklion the premises of Forthnet constructed outside the urban plan, in the midst of former agricultural fields, that this has all the makings of a 'rur-urb' land, that is land which is neither urban, but also no longer rural. The loss of a rural countryside is an indication that land speculation devastates the entirety of Greece.

Since economic forces drive everyone to a maximum exploitation of land, there seem no counter forces existing to minimize at least the negative impact of this kind of development. Both Anna Arvanitaki working at the Greek Ministry of Public Works and Environment and Pavlos Delladetsimas, Professor for Geography with specialization in planning, can surely add some remarks to enlighten us as to what kind of solutions are envisioned in the case of Greece, if any at all exist. In particular, the problem seems grave as city planning and legal procedures are often late, inefficient and weak, while illegal building activities set really both the tone and the pace. All that can be reflected on hand of the rhetoric’s used when discussing problems related to building activities and planning. Vested interests create powerful coalitions against which nothing can be done apparently; they prove over and again to be successful lobbies when it comes to persuade politicians to by-pass existing planning law and even to recognize illegal constructions in retrospect that is after having been elected. Sue Tilden would add here that nothing can be really resolved unless one starts already with the 'values' which are taught at school and which are promoted throughout society. In other words, the key question of Paula Meehan is what will make people respect right from the beginning of their lives and unfolding activities 'wild nature'? Indeed, people need to be reminded all the time about their own wild and untamed nature, and this as part of a life on earth in need to be respected. The best way to do that is, of course, by them staying in touch with wild, untamed nature.

When it comes to relate to the Earth, to nature, this has always been a controversial point in philosophy for should it be man's effort to subjugate nature or should he attempt to live 'with' nature. That difference was made autarchic by Heidegger who claimed living 'with' nature amounts to a lie. As to subjugation of nature, Hegel maintained violence enemies from things. Since that includes anything nature has to offer, he incorporated this thought as part of the industrial drive to enhance the wealth of the nation and more precisely of the state by conquering and exploiting nature, including human nature. Two distinct examples can illustrate what difference it makes to abide by the one or the other principle:

a)  Indians demonstrated what it means to live with and even in nature. They avoided building fences around the territories where they hunted. On the contrary, as soon as the white man came to the West, land claims were made around which fences were constructed. It ended up in this threat 'get off my property or else I shoot!'

b) Subjugation of nature can be viewed as consequence of a drive towards a better life. It was legitimized by the science bringing about such knowledge which    allowed the exploitation of natural resources to an even greater extent than ever imagined before. In the wish to upgrade standards of living, technology became the most powerful factor and through this all previous man-nature relationships were outdistanced or else left behind.


When all this is brought in relation to man and the city, then there appears to be at work an underlying motive for man to dissociate himself from nature in order to become independent thereof. Nikos Stavrolakis identified living with or in nature with a hard way of survival. He equated it with the existence of the cave. On the other hand, he considered people who end up living in cities as gaining in leisure which they hopefully use to mature as human beings. Thus he views the city as a way to go away and beyond the laws of nature. That needs to be put into a proper context. Presumably the best explanation for this negative development path which mankind took stems from a 'fear of nature'. Whether the farmer walking home at night through a pitch black forest wonders if a crack amongst the silent trees means a huge animal was about to step forth or a fisherman knows how a sudden wave could take with it even the best swimmer, in either case a rich imagination and real experiences combined to make man fear nature. It induced in him an eagerness not to strike up a devout relationship to nature, but to control it, if not to put nature entirely behind him. That was possible once abstraction let him construct the city while not merely claiming, but also cultivating land to serve his purpose. Consequently he constructed his own world and strived to gain more and more independence from nature. That marked as well the transition from hunting to an agricultural society and from there to the first real urban centres after the start of the industrial revolution. Already Ancient Greece was founded on urban centres. In modern times it meant less and less people lived off the land and instead steadily more people moved to live in the city. Once that became official policy in the belief less people in agriculture would make the latter more efficient, an alienated relationship to nature prevailed once everyone thought the city was the only place to make a living for him and for a possible family.

Hence it is interesting to follow through history the various stages of development, in order to trace how man's consciousness of nature changed and made him able to control nature, irrigation of fields, dams, roads and airports just a few examples. More and more he obtained methods by which he could take control but also to loose touch with his untamed nature. One result of that was a shift in his consciousness. The outcomes of that are well known. From colonization to plundering foreign lands, the expansion of man over the entire globe continued to gain in speed and scope. With this expansion drive something else happened. For everything of value was seized upon, exploited or else made to work for a different purpose e.g. the slave taking of African blacks who were sent to America to help produce cotton which was needed by the growing industrial nation of Great Britain to manufacture new clothing. Consequently over time many things were over exploited, but then limitations were confronted in the most brutal manner once these natural resources were completely depleted. With the forest gone due to having cut down all trees to build ships, the barren hills were subject to soil erosion. There followed the floods which destroyed in turn the settlements close by. With such kind of destructions man had to learn to cope. Even then he made more and more negative experiences, insofar as water ended up being spoiled or else the entire river dried up to leave the settlements along its embankment completely stranded. After a while they ceased to exist. Today we speak about a recklessness, best illustrated by over fishing due to fishermen using huge nets which they drag along the ocean floor and which take everything with them, whether now eatable and useful or not. The same applies to the use of the bulldozer to make way for a new house. Trees topple, rocks are removed and a sort of clean slate created on the ground to allow for a construction having nothing to do with the immediate environment. All this and more is an indication of not only estrangement of mankind from nature, but also underscores the point that with technology man becomes less and less differentiated in the use and treatment of nature. An example of that is the speed by which he moves. The faster the movement, fewer or rather no obstacles can remain on the road. A super highway is an endless stretch of the same urban space since cars at high speed need just a straight road ahead and that without any obstruction whatsoever. Resistance is ruled out. Thus what stands in the way is immediately removed as if a threat to the smooth functioning of the traffic system.

Therefore, it is important that Paula Meehan brings into the discussion the question the role poetry and poets can play when it comes to matters of development. She speaks about an urgent, indeed radical shift in consciousness being needed if the responses to the ecological crisis are to be substantial. Above all, she wishes that 'untouched lands' are not lost. This is to say the victims of change have to be identified. Here the term 'protection' needs further clarification, especially when it comes to wild animals, fauna and flora. Clearly wild, untamed places are not enough as specified terms; rather she prefers to speak about integration of wild things in the same space in which man lives, so that emphasis is put upon sharing of space rather than one or the other dominating or else the other in need of being preserved. In her reflections are included as well words of wisdom and oral tradition which existed long before the book was invented and which she is sure will survive even if the book has vanished in importance in the digital age. The oral tradition, the female energy which goes with it and words of wisdom are to her mind marks of a living culture. Thus it has serious implications for her when poets begin to talk about communities not to be explored without the imaginative maps which only they, the poets, can provide and which are more accurate than those of the experts. On the basis of that, it can be assumed citizens, once familiar with these kinds of maps, will view city planning quite differently. They will want places with specific meanings be safeguarded rather than be torn down and replaced by ugly parking spaces or modern buildings. Naturally the forces of life which shape a city are many and not all of them easy to be comprehended nor do they necessarily follow the logic of human reasoning, but are more often an expression of loss of orientation and yet at the same time possible victims of a dangerous pattern in which the human being can easily get lost. Bruno Kartheuser has made that link between the failed city and the concentration camp with its guard being those who live already beforehand in the city as they are teachers, carpenters etc. that is ordinary citizens. That gives a stark warning not to be too naive in assumptions about human nature. Paula Meehan includes also in her poems the prospect of a woman after having been raped and killed to end up being dumped in some back alley. It is a stark reminder that a more systematic killing can be any time possible. It should be considered like a constant danger lurking around the corner. Life is even in the city most precariousness and especially at risk once things go badly wrong. Then the city can no longer offer any protection against the worst kind of violence, that of man's own doing. This makes the city into a challenge in need to be dealt with in adequate terms. Paula Meehan believes one thing which can safe everything is to allow free passage to the 'female energy' as it is the only one connected to the myth of life and therefore to the natural cycle beginning with birth and ending with death.

There is still another approach to the wild and the tame as a theme. Crete is known by the story about King Minos meeting the bull, the outcome of which was Minotauros, who he took as his son but who was equally an off spring of the bull. He was born with horns (see here the story by Ernst Schnabbel, 'I and the kings'). This half man, half bull symbolizes the beautiful struggle of strength with intelligence and vice versa. To which can be added certainly it takes a lot of strength to keep peace alive. But it must be strength of a special kind; more often to this can be added the word courage when it comes to speaking the truth and to listen really to the wisdom uttered by especially common people.

There exists still another variation of that theme 'the wild (untamed) and the tamed'. I am referring to verses of Homer. When Odysseus finally reaches land in Book V, he reflects upon all the perils he has managed to avoid so far. The verses shows by what he allowed himself to be governed by. Call it the voice of reason or more distinctively the voices giving some advice. Since there are many he had to choose himself which one was the wisest. At this point of reaching land Odysseus was near the point of total exhaustion after having been in the water too long. He could hardly move anymore but had to weigh two options: stay on the beach and risk freezing to death due to him being completely wet and soaked or else seek shelter in the forest but risk there being eaten by the wild animals. Of great interest which of the two options he chooses and by doing so discovers unexpectedly an even better solution he could never have thought of before.


"O hear me, lord of the stream:

how sorely I depend upon your mercy!

derelict as I am by the sea's anger.

Is he not sacred, even to the gods,

the wandering man who comes, as I have come,

in weariness before your knees, your waters?

Here is your servant; lord, have mercy on me.


Now even as he prayed the tide at ebb

had turned, and the river god made quiet water,

drawing him in to safety in the shallows.

His knees buckled, his arms gave way  beneath him,

all vital force now conquered by the sea;

Swollen from head to foot he was, and seawater

gushed from his mouth and nostrils. There he lay,

scarce drawing breath, unstirring, deathly spent.

In time, as air came back into his lungs

and warmth around his heart, he loosed the veil

letting it drift away on the estuary

downstream to where a white wave took it under

and Ino's hands received it. Then the man

crawled to the river bank among the reeds

where, face down, he could kiss the soil of earth;

in his exhaustion murmuring to himself.


'What more can this hulk suffer? What comes now?

In vigil through the night here by the river

how can I not succumb, being weak and sick

to the night's damp and hoarfrost of the morning?

The air comes cold from rivers before dawn.

But if I climb the slope and fall asleep

in the dark forest's undergrowth - supposing

cold and fatigue will go, and sweet sleep come -

I fear I make the wild beasts easy prey.'


But this seemed best to him, as he thought it over.

He made his way to a grove above the water

on open ground, and crept under twin bushes

grown from the same spot - olive and wild olive -

a thicket proof against the stinging wind

or Sun's blaze, fine so ever the needling sunlight;

nor could a downpour wet it through, so dense

those plants were interwoven. Here Odysseus

tunnelled, and raked together with his hands

a wide bed - for a fall of leaves was there,

enough to save two men or maybe three

on a winter night, a night of bitter cold.

Odysseus' heart laughed when he saw his leaf-bed,

and down he lay, heaving more leaves above him.


A man in a distant field, no hearth fires near,

will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers

to keep a spark alive for the next day;

so in the leaves Odysseus hid himself

while over him Athena showered sleep

that his distress should end, and soon, soon

In quiet sleep she sealed his cherished eyes."

Homer, Odysseus, transl. by Fritzgerald, 1990, pp. 94 - 95


It is interesting that Homer describes a scene with much prophetic wisdom, for only the two combined, the wild and the tamed, would save man from certain death. This is an important message by Homer, but his poems need to be read carefully, if this practical wisdom is to be perceived as mapping the future course of mankind. The poems contain experiences while they are retold by stories revealing pain and struggle to survive. Many hardships need to be overcome. There are equally fears and apparently often no alternative since, as in this case, certain death awaits Odysseus if he stays at the beach or else seeks refuge in the forest. Translated into contemporary terms, this is all of a sudden not an ancient dream, but presents a form by which to see problems and weigh options while seeking advice as to what should be done to safeguard life. The clear message of Homer is that man's civilization needs nature. There cannot be a separated man and nature. Man needs clearly both, says Homer, the wild and the tamed. Thus what is a piece of property when it reflects the one sided addiction to a wish to tame everything? This is especially the case with those artificial gardens as if being cultivated stands in the sign of having left behind wildness and nature completely. That is a mistaken view of what it means to be civilized, especially if that would mean excluding completely the wild side of nature and man. Hence any future path of development must heed the need of keeping the two together. Such a synthesis can only be found through man's reconciliation with nature.


Second theme: the language of original building materials

That leads to the second theme of this year's Phaistos discussion, namely what materials man uses to build his shelter, may it be a simple home or else a palace like the one which existed here in Phaistos. Phaistos was destroyed by an earthquake and this despite of having been constructed in anticipation of such forces that an earthquake can release. Only the foundation was made out of stone while the rest was a wooden construction. They thought a wooden construction was more elastic and hence more capable of withstanding shocks released by an earthquake. Michalis Spyridakis explained that much wisdom governed the construction of Phaistos. For instance, the entrance hall was built at the side where the cooling winds would come from. They had put up such pillars in the entrance hall, that they created a more effective cooling system than perhaps the mechanical air conditioning systems of our age. The wind whirled around the pillars while the entrance had an elbow like angle to let the stream of air enter the palace like a boomerang swirling through the air. There were some other interesting features which governed the construction of the palace. For example, the angle of the roofs was such as to collect rain water. This was greatly needed, given the great dependency upon scarce water. They had installed as well a unique sanitary system. And the entire palace faced the plain of Phaistos where the light plays a major role in setting the tune for thoughts travelling over the plain and beyond the mountain range. A majestic grace fills the atmosphere of Phaistos. There exists a different light from the one the Impressionists saw and painted. Other painters will still have to discover the warmth of this light and what colouring effect it has on the pigments. It gives every human face a suspense and indeed not sure if an angel or just a plain human creature ready to plough the earth with an earnest face? It is brought about by being close to the Earth. There prevails an affinity not adequately to be described by just the law of gravity. Phaistos was brought about by the Minion culture which had a unique technique of doing things and still remained accountable to an economy based on an understanding of its underlying culture. The wisdom prevailed that this culture was not set apart from nature but had been made into an integral part of life.

With Michalis Spyridakis we have discussed already something happening in his village of Kamilari. People no longer use natural stones when building their houses and they even abandon them for the sake of those build out of cement. That transition has brought about much destruction even to the point of leaving many unfinished skeletons of buildings disgracing the landscape. The steel rafters sticking into the sky of a potential second or third floor of these square buildings reminds of the vain attempt to build Babel, but to no avail. For these kinds of constructions cannot be complete even when incomplete as Michelangelo had thought. For there is no natural material left to speak to itself and to show that it is more perfect than anything man's hands can do or produce. Unfortunately the Greek landscape is filled with such houses left for years like semi ruins. Consequently they are never really lived in but just used as if a temporary solution, but one which has become a permanent dwelling even if unfinished. They create a new kind of desert, but one made out of cement. The unfinished steel pillars stick out like dead trees. These types of buildings are unable to add some grace or beauty to the rest of the landscape but are just a disgrace. In their coldness they reflect a particular broken particularity and therefore underline a loss of meaning of life. One reason given why people wish to escape houses build out of stone is that the latter have become symbols of poverty while the new cement buildings taken to mean progress and modernization are in reality a new sign of poverty but of a very different kind. These cement buildings do no justice to the nature of Crete.

The language of the new houses is determined by this new building material: cement and steel. It entails a highly worrying element in terms of what is disposable finally to architects. Tafuri claims that a modern architect has to realize that the materials made available to him that they are without any meaning. If they construct things with it, then so it seems solely on the basis of Nietzsche's nihilistic attitude. For it forces them to resort to 'nothingness' as an answer to everything.

The building industry has been revolutionized through such industrial techniques as use of cement and steel to allow for construction of houses even on a massive scale. For the first time it was possible to imitate what only the Ancient Greeks were capable of when building their temples, namely the construction of free standing spaces with no pillars or walls in-between to support the now freely suspended ceiling or roof. Cement and steel makes such free vaults possible. Whether we refer now to skyscrapers or to proto-type of houses constructed according to a certain schemata and therefore looking as if they have come off a factory belt like cars, the question of individuality and aesthetics had to be reformulated. In this context it is important what Juergen Eckhardt points out in his reply to the nine questions given to the planners who participate in this conference 'Myth of the City'. He says that the greatest architects of the twentieth century never tried to answer the social question of human settlements on a massive scale; they did not anticipate or wanted to follow up urban expansion on such massive scale. Rather they stuck to single housing projects upon which they could stamp their identity and use materials according to their wish to invoke innovative ideas in construction and design e.g. Bauhaus. There was always according to Jürgen Eckhardt a contradiction between builder and engineer, architect and user.

However, Michaels Spyridakis points out that Phaistos was built by using sand, asbestos and grass (instead of steel grids) to construct such walls which are still standing today. The people who constructed Phaistos possessed as Paula Meehan mentions in her letter such far reaching wisdom that they constructed buildings which would grace the surrounding landscape rather than be a contradiction to the natural environment. The palace of Phaistos shows a respect for light, air and water while anticipating the potential dangers of earthquakes. Although finally destroyed by an earthquake, Phaistos shows even today as an archaeological site that it was constructed free of false pretensions. Thus there is a need to discover more its inherent wisdom. Much can be learned from it especially with regards to our troubled times and overuse of cement.


Third theme: the language of cement

The theme 'from marble (or stone) to cement' is also addressed by Pedro Mateo. As it most relevant to comprehend contemporary history even within a tiny village like Kamilari, it marks modern trends. While many people in the village wished to build houses for the purpose of catering to tourism, they all resorted to cement. Only a few made an important exception to the rule. In particular, Manolis constructed apartments made out of natural stone and this in the Cretian style. At the time of construction the other people laughed at him. Stone was not only an over expensive building material, but as Michalis Spyridakis explained, a symbol of poverty, equal of backwardness. There is after all a need to keep up with modern trends, techniques and new symbols. A cement construction was taken to symbolize modernization. No one even in a remote village escapes that kind of social pressure to show what is successful, what not. Today the atmosphere has changed in the village. People see more and more that tourists prefer the apartments Manolis has constructed while avoiding as much as possible cement constructions. They prove to be too hot during the summer and are perceived at the same time as being too functional, i.e. neutral, when much more are preferred buildings preserving and reminding of the Cretan character. Thus it was an interesting development in the village that some youngsters growing up contemplated these two models, the one favoring use of stone, the other cement, and observing the obvious and subtle differences, they started to give more importance to such differences. Hence they did not want to just rush in and construct in the shortest possible time a house made out of cement. The people of the village agree that a slight change in opinion is having an influence upon the kind of houses constructed now. Still, there exists no overall aesthetical principle like on the Cycladic islands to ensure a certain building style in order to retain the character of place. But the random use of just cement is no longer possible; some curtailments and use of other materials are becoming noticeable. Thus something has changed even if only on a modest scale. When entering now the village, there stands a house made out of stone. It involves hard work but the impact is important as it sets a tone for things to come. More important, it gives a voice to those who wish to express themselves through hard work rather than merely following a modern trend and merely pour cement into the ground. The latter is no longer regarded as being obligatory while they realize even these modest changes do not alleviate them from even deeper concerns about the future.

All of this is said in the light of tremendous changes affecting Crete and not only. All of Greece has been swept by building speculations and signs of new wealth. The money from the European Union plays here a substantial role in the transformation of the country and with it of the countryside. That can be observed on hand of developments taking place within villages, small towns and larger cities such as Athens, Patras and Thessalonica, but also in Iraklion and Chania of Crete. Most of the destructive changes make land being no longer accessible during the summer and left to its own during the winter months. Many permanent second homes sprawl now up hills and stretch far into forest areas where no one supposed to build. As if people wish to establish a reckless reputation vis a vis their neighbours, everyone does the same, namely not heed the law. Often it is done out of prestige reasons. That plays a far greater role than any respect for nature. Children experience this in a special, equally brutal manner. What used to be a field of olive trees which they cross to reach the beach for swimming has become since the winter a housing estate. Such village like setting can include its own platia and restaurant located there as if the new local centre. The obligatory monument and a fountain are also included as if to imitate fully in a completely new way the old habits. But what makes forget the feet walking still the summer before over open fields, are the paved roads which covered now everything within an urban like setting of houses located on square plots of land. Symmetry dominates in such a planned execution of living space with each house being nearly identical to the other. Orientation seems to rely on sameness and newness. It is difficult to find any playful variation as a new conformity makes itself be known as the only living style possible. And the access to the bay for swimming is almost gone. A sole, small path in-between high fences leads to the beach. That is the only access left. What has been constructed to gain economic profit for use of mere two months a year cannot be measured anymore in terms of loss of the olive groove which used to exist there. The question 'why' is drowned in the silence of those olive trees now gone forever.

Perhaps all modern societies succumb too easily to impressive schemata’s of newly designed housing estates. There is really no understanding as to how even a part of cultural identity can be preserved in a settlement of only the new. Of interest is that rhetorically speaking, historical claims are made so often as to be linked directly to Ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago. In reality, as Nikos Stavrolakis observes, there is no sign or buildings left of what took place in-between 500 B.C. and the present. In the absence of any continuity he describes a most worrying outcome, namely a new kind of indecision or even an avoidance to see the need to decide on best to safeguard this man-nature relationship while letting stand evidence of a continuity of life throughout man's history. It seems an untouched nature has no value. Although a holy law for everyone, namely to retain an open access to the sea for all, it is more and more violated by hotels, clubs and other private constructions along the sea. Equally a walk through open land to experience nature is becoming nearly impossible. Such freely accessible land is not valued nearly enough or in the same way as when a real estate agent plans for the next phase of exploitation of that plot of land. That means many locations lack increasingly the possibilities to meditate about the meaning of life since the senses are no longer invoked in the same way by nature. That is only the case when man can wander through untouched nature - a rarity. Today Greece no longer offers that quality of life linked to such untouched nature. Even wild spaces are filled with rubbish and every year more expansions of buildings and even whole settlements can be noticed everywhere. Indeed, new buildings have gone up in every possible location whether now near the sea or in forest areas where no one supposed to build.

The use of cement as building material allows that quick construction to establish facts on the ground: a fait accompli. It ignites the logic of those who wish to make money as quickly as possible in order to get rich and if rich already than still richer than before. There are some powerful arguments not merely affecting the mind, but they go further in the way corruption works by first rationalizing the loss and then by overturning modesty in order to pursue instead a most conspicuous consumption. Bataille has touched upon this point that the prize of things, including a house on the real estate market is no longer established by observing the law of scarcity in view of the regulative principle between need (demand) and supply, but by conspicious waste of everything, and fore mostly that of land. The more daring the construction in terms of violation of existing laws, the higher the price.

It may be an ancient dream since Homer to get rich as if a life goal. These dream-like suggestions to be rich within one summer are, however, not founded on clear reason. Rather such dreams are left after giving in to incomplete forms of reasoning about life. The many set-backs in tourism should prompt some critical reflections as to the mistakes made once entering an over dependency upon only one factor to gain an income. A lot depends on lessons learned from the past insofar as certain attitudes seem to prevail in Greece whenever it comes to making decisions. Andreas Papandreou set such a negative model by creating a pink villa for his mistress as if life in luxury is the most desired object. But what purpose has a house with multiple rooms, and more bathrooms than needed?  The insanity of this in-built drive to transform everything into one splendid luxury cannot but contradict the logic of any normal human dwelling. As such it reveals a lack of anticipation as such luxury houses perpetuate much more the dimensions of loneliness and make false dependencies become the reasons for going about one's business. The artificiality of that transforms economic growth into a waste and into a real contradiction to sustainable development. In the light of that there has to be found a measure by which human existence and survival match with the attainable goal of a good life, culturally speaking. Clearly it is not enough to dream about a house of one's own if the whole of society does not know how to survive. Moreover neither buildings nor existences by which a livelihood is earned should be constructed out of indifference as to what happens to others. It never fared well for the master builders or for those who dwell only on their own privileges that they create their own places while the rest of society has to confront the hard, equally unresolved question of how to survive altogether and this without damaging further the Earth upon which all depend.

Before trying to dwell further on what building materials should be used, it might be of some interest to invoke the philosophical position of Ernst Bloch who attempted to reflect upon 'the lessons of matter'. It was his way of circumventing Materialism without loosing sight of the pertinent question as to what lessons use of stone instead of cement entail. Listening carefully to Michalis Spyridakis who is working in Phaistos to restore its walls and who attempts to instigate in his village the use of stone as building material, a lot of what Ernst Bloch had in mind resonates what this stone mason says. In his talk about the "Problemization of traditional settlements in modern Society", he reaches a crucial point in his deliberation when he asks but what kind of investments need to be made? Here he wishes to refer to classical examples of decisions in terms of investments made insofar as he believes there is a 'right' and 'wrong' answer. For instance, many people in Kamilari, a village situated up on a hill, began suddenly to speculate that future tourism would mean people will no longer stay in the village because on a hill but prefer instead to stay much closer to the sea. As a result a huge illegal building spree erupted close to the coast line below Kamilari. It created a faceless town called Kalivaki. It is in reality a ghost town with huge buildings rising up like tankers besides small houses. Due to the high density effects of urban concentration, the effects and impacts of such poor urban quality is by far worse than what can be experienced in a city like Berlin. The entire Kalivaki town remains unfinished. It is just a nightmare made out of cement and thoughtless building spree. Everything was done out of a belief tourists want to be close to the sea, but under what conditions, that received hardly any further thought. Then money ran out and the whole project stands there like a modern ruin. It is nevertheless massive in scale. So there is nothing in-between to counter the overall and very imposing structure. One has to search hard to find spots of beauty within that context. Altogether it is not only ugly but unbearable. Yet people live there even permanently as if they still hope that their sacrifice will pay off once better days come. Surely they have not thought as of yet about all the sacrifices they have made already for living in a town constructed entirely out of cement.



As Anna Arvanitaki would point out, the biggest mistakes are made if something completely new is constructed. She means as an example a village like Kalivaki being entirely new. There is no old core around which something new could be developed. In other words, traditional settlements can keep in check at least some of the worst developments or else influence future developments positively. There can be made a special case for all of Greece as a historical reminder. When people felt threatened by Turkish occupation, they moved their villages further up hill and out of range of the canons to safeguard their own characteristics of dwelling. By moving back down to the sea in the belief tourists prefer that, they are forgetting in the opinion of Michaelis Spyridakis that the future does not exist down there, but in places like Phaistos.

Since Michalis Spyridakis works in Phaistos, he knows there every stone and loves all that wisdom of the past. He continues to discover more wisdom every day when working at that ancient site. However, he cautions the past should not stand out like a relict as if it has nothing to do with the present and the future. Instead real cultural work is needed in order to have a sense of continuity between past, present and future. He believes that only traditional societies have a chance to withstand pressures by modern society. At the same time, he admits the traditional village is under extreme pressure to adapt to all ongoing changes. Thus it shall be important for all future projects related to cultural cooperation and the protection of ancient and cultural landscapes that this problem is heeded and taken into further consideration. There needs to be taken into account the ongoing struggle to retain a balance between the wild and the tamed. Historical landscapes can only be comprehended if a wish exists to preserve a way of life by keeping the two together. Since preservation - ecological, cultural, economical etc. - can easily be misunderstood by politics and since such misunderstanding is linked to a particular way to make money, while not ensuring that money is invested wisely, preservation as protection of cultural and natural heritage should not be dealt with arbitrarily. It means no locality should succumb to a wave of modernization by giving to ever new demands for roads to make accessible still other building sites. Rather ideas to go forward wisely should emerge out of the dialectic between the myth of the city as interpreted by the poets and planning done by visionary planners. In that sense, ancient wisdom would be a key reference point. Once heeded, it will make sense to all why there is a need to extent the preservation of Phaistos as archaeological site to the entire landscape surrounding it and thereby influence future development. This includes the need to keep free all hill tops since in the ancient past they were used as burial sites and where still today archaeological findings can be made. It would allow for a further learning out of the past, but this is only possible if these hill tops are left free instead of being built over.

Cultural history is about use of such references to distinguish human development from struggles for independence. The latter takes on negative forms not conducive to cultural cohesion but instead is anti cultural and full of coercion. There is a need to question what relationships prevail between unities attempting to become sovereign while suppressing freedom of expression and with it cultural diversity. Moreover building of the nation state implies culture can be misused to legitimize power. No clearer becomes that misunderstanding when reducing that ancient past to a cultural heritage which legitimizes the state. It will mean leaving aside historical buildings, temples and other miracles which have manifested themselves over time, but without any conformity to such unity. The nation state is a form of transcendence of all that, but limits interactions between people to an extent that sole allegiance to the one flag is required and therefore at the expense of real diversity. In Greece, the cities that Alexander the Great created, they collapsed the moment his spirit of cultural diversity no longer prevailed. Thus in view of history, and while real stories are continuing to unfold, the question may occur to everyone in search of an answer, 'but what will you find in the final end?’ That question may be answered by the revival of Ancient Theatre in Phaistos insofar as Brendan Kennelly's adaptation of Euripides' 'The Trojan Women' may be a start to ask where that female energy has disappeared to.
























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