What the Greeks have is most definitely worth fighting for.
Richard Clark is a writer, editor and journalist who has worked on an array of national newspapers and magazines in the UK. In 1982, on a whim, he decided to up sticks and go and live on the Greek island of Crete. So began a love affair that has continued to this day, when he still visits Greece on a regular basis. He is married with two grown up children and lives in Kent.
In 2011 he published a book "The Greek Islands: A Notebook" (262 pages), where he describes his occasional journeys through Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and other islands.
Emirates Greeks had the following interview with Richard Clark the author:
How did the idea of writing the book came into your mind? Didn't you fear that there is little to say as there are many books on the subject?
I have been aprofessional journalist for most of my working life and so, as you would expect, love writing. I am an English Literature graduate and have written tens of thousands of words for publication every week for the past 35 years. My father was a well-known novelist and so I guess it is hardly surprising that when my children had both grown up and I had some time on my hands, I would turn my hand to writing for myself. I still work as the editor of one of the UK's top weekly consumer magazines, TV easy, but I heeded the old axiom of writing about something you know and love when it came to working on my first book. You say there are many books on the subject but I was surprised how few dealt with the small cultural nuances that fascinate me and, I suspect, other people who love the country so much. Many of the guide books gloss over, or don't mention, many of the mundane aspects of the country which are the very things which make it real – and an ignorance of which makes any experience of Greece less authentic. My intention was not just to inform but also to entertain. I hope the book can be read and enjoyed even if the reader has not been lucky enough to visit Greece. Indeed, one of the things which has given me most pleasure since the books have come out are the people who have contacted me to say that they have booked to go to Greece for the first time after having read my work. Another anecdote I treasure is from a Greek woman who kindly emailed me at work in London to tell me she was getting off the Athens Metro having read the Kindle edition of one of my books and wished she was on an island rather than commuting to work! I really wonder at the immediacy of that. So I suppose, in answer to your question, I think my work is different enough to stand out from the crowd of pure tourist guides.
You mention that the book is a "personal memoir" and you say clearly that it is not a travel guide. Nevertheless can it serve actual travelers in a practical way during their journeys?
I hope so. The books are probably valuable in a different way. I would hope they encourage the visitor to Greece to embrace the country and enjoy the serendipitous experiences which this beautiful country provides if you let it dictate the pace of your visit there. If my books encourage people to just go on a voyage of discovery, rather than following a tick list of what should be discovered, then to an extent they have served their purpose. Having said that, my secondbook, Crete – A Notebook, does feature places that would not disappoint if the traveler were to visit them and, in some cases, it might hint at places to avoid. However, I think that sometimes even these places can contribute to our understanding of a place.
You started your journeys to Greece in 1982 and you witnessed how life has changed during the following three decades. Do you feel that you witnessed a really transitional phase? What useful conclusions can you make out of it for you and for the Greek people?
Of course life has changed dramatically over those three decades socially, culturally and economically. I suspect, as in most societies, these changes have both positive and negative consequences. For me what is Greece's greatest strength is that, despite the changes over the years, many fundamentals remain as constant as the beautiful landscapes. The people are relentless in their kindness, generosity and welcome to strangers. Tourism may be seen by some as a necessary evil, but for the most part has been handled well. If the trade-off for the tourist euro is a better standard of living, then that can only be a good thing, as even in the 1980s times were tough for much of the population. I have never been to Greece and felt that it might be somewhere else, which cannot be said for so many other homogenized destinations worldwide. In the current financial climate there have been scare stories in the foreign press which can do nothing to help the situation if they deter visitors from traveling there. But be reassured, if people who ignore such talk, they will be rewarded. So the challenge is not to change, but to let the world know what they are missing by countering the bad publicity.
Do you plan to enlarge your notebook to cover the mainland Greece or you prefer to focus on the islands?
As I have said, I have just finished my second book, this time specifically about Crete, and am already writing about Rhodes, and may follow up with a book about Corfu. I would love to write about the Greek mainland but, apart from Athens, have little experience of it. Although I lived in Crete and now visit the islands possibly three times a year, I can only get away for holidays and so have not been able to go everywhere. I would hope that when I retire in ten years’ time that I can spend more time visiting new places.
You say "Greece has had to develop and adapt, but has never lost its power to captivate and amaze". Do you think Greece can remain attractive for tourists, investors and most importantly for its own population?
To the first part of this question I would say an unreserved yes. Greece has everything needed to continue to develop as a world-class tourist destination. The second part of this question is to an extent linked to the first, tourists are investors. They may not see it that way, but their money and the servicing of that industry is a legitimate way to significantly grow the economy and encourage investment in all sorts of tertiary sectors. It would be wrong of me to speculate as to how attractive the country can remain for its own population. All I do know is that most Greeks have been badly treated by the worldwide financial institutions and let down by a succession of their own politicians. However they are strong, have faced worse hardship and, if they pull together, will find a way out of the labyrinth. What they have is most definitely worth fighting for.
You can purchase the book through Amazon.com here.
Interview conducted by Hrach Kalsahakian.
The cover page of the book: