Roosevelt Island to Greece and Back: Lessons Learned

Updated 49 weeks ago David Stone
My View from Zia, Kos, Greece
My View from Zia, Kos, Greece
© David Stone for The Roosevelt Island Daily

It's a mistake expect the news media - newspapers, magazines or television - to report on the world with a clear eye. Attracting readers  distorts reality yet determines what gets published. Nowhere have I seen media warped views more exposed than during my first trip to Greece. 

You can check for yourself.

Google the “latest news from Greece”

By the time you scroll through the first page, you will know so little about Greece as it is and so much that’s wrong that you’d be better off not reading at all. 

On the Way to Rhodes, Greece

When I hauled my largest, rarely used suitcase to the F Train on Roosevelt Island, I was eager to be immersed in Greece. My group’s anchor destination was Rhodes, an island  on the main path of European history for centuries.

History holds my attention as stories unfold, telling us how we got where we are, the human passions, the desire for adventure and discovery, the way accident returns as fate.

Anywhere in Greece, recent history must be part of that, and all the history rendered by the news media has been relentlessly bad. It has also been close to nonsense.

What I expected to see, along with the traces, large and small, of humanity’s march through time, was a modern turmoil of trapped refugees, failing services and citizens in despair over a prolonged financial downturn. 

What I saw instead was, in the wise words of John Cleese, “something completely different.”

Greece Now

“Do you think we’ll see refugee camps?” one of my newest friends wondered.

I thought it was inevitable. The news had been filled with heartbreaking photos of families escaping war and poverty, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

But in hours speeding, sailing and ferrying on the beautiful blue Aegean, we saw only tiered villages climbing sun-seared hills, lonely monasteries built into crooks, fish farms with sea bream fattening for their journey to fine dining in America and goats navigating impossible cliffs.

In Kos, an island so near the Muslim territories of Asia that maps show it resting in the mouth of a Turkish harbor, the capital maintains a sun-washed grace undiminished by the financial or refugee crises with which the news media struggles to define Greece.

Our news sources are so addicted to a negative slant, the commercial warning caveat emptor, “buyer beware,” ought to apply to the evening news.

Residents hit the cooling beaches early in the morning. Friendly cats stretch and groom near the shore. Sunshine flashes off whitecaps in blue water almost without interruption.

Our driver dropped us off in the afternoon at a market of small shops in Zia. Zia sits on one of the Kos’s highest hills, and the shops attract visitors with locally produced souvenirs and household goods at unimaginably low prices.

I bought my wife two bars of olive oil soup for next to nothing and would have bought more if my bag wasn't already overweight with gifts from our generous hosts.

Then, I sat in the shade at the top of a hill with my friends, sipping the most delicious lemonade of my life and watched the falling sun soften the western skyline.

A kitten played nearby, and children kept running over to pet it.

That’s Greece to me.

Theft by Media

There’s a hint of larceny in taking away from readers an appreciation for all that modern Greece is.

When the media digs deep into misrepresentation to produce stories about refugees crowding Europe, it denies readers clean access to the history of Greece entangled so completely in our lives today, from science to art.

Overwhelming focus on a prolonged fiscal crisis denies readers 5,000 miles away their awareness that life goes on, as it long has, with a passionate, welcoming Hellenic culture more eager to give than it is to receive.

“You look like a different person,” our tireless guide Greta told me, three days into our Aegean immersion.

“I get it,” I agreed.

After months of watching my own country go through the most discouraging political season in my lifetime, seventy-two hours in Rhodes, Halki and Lindos felt like taking a nature cure.

My enjoyment of the beauties and pleasures that have kept men and women happy for thousands of years returned.

In perspective, the news media — the New York Times, which I read daily with skepticism and disappointment, especially — will remain far from a reliable source of information because they're in the trap of bad news sells.

Television networks, which I refuse to watch, prop up talking heads to spur irresolvable conflict. 

That will go on. Economic waves will come and go. Wars will unsettle souls and cost lives. But Greece, its artful history, the quiet islands settled in lyrical oceanic beauty will remain, come what may.

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