Greece is, you see, the opposite of California, and I’ll tell you why.
The first thing is: Greece is very old. California is, on the other hand, very new.
The “West”–that is to say, California and all the rest of us New World types– actually started in Greece about three thousand years ago. Greece was the “West” because it was westward from what was, in ancient times, the Old Country, the region we now call the Middle East, or Levant, or Holy Land, depending on your point of view.
Long ago, after Alexander and his military legacy turned the Persians back at the battle of Marathon, long about 490 b.c.e., the people of the Greek city-states began joining together to form an historical entity that we now call Ancient Greece.
And since that time, the whole thing of Greek culture moved westward and northward over a couple of millennia of time. The great thrust of Western thought, anchored in a mental discipline called philosophy and a political idea called Democracy, inspired empires and nations from those ancient days until the present day.
We still dream about governing ourselves in this thing call a democracy, but it has never quite manifested in a way authentic to the original concept.
Probably never will, but it’s a nice thought.
A couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, the Romans came along with their Republic and their empire. Much of their marvelously innovative empire-building was rooted in Greek thought and mathematics (Euclid and Pythagoras). A lot of what the Romans did was direct imitation of Greek stuff. A good example of this is their omnipresent use of Columns for holding buildings up.
You’ve heard of Doric columns, Ionic columns?
That’s Greek stuff. Except that–guess what!–the Doric and Ionic names originated across the Aegean sea from Greece, in a region called Asia (Minor), which is now Turkey. Go figure!
A couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, along came the Romans. What they ended up doing was much grander and more elaborate than what the Greeks did. They took Greek columns and turned them into a universal architectural art-form. Those two earlier Column designs–the Doric and the Ionian– were not fancy enough to suit the Roman sense of grandiosity. So the Romans decorated the capitals (tops) of their columns with new, leafy frou-frou carvings and castings which came to be called Corinthian.
The Corinthian name, however, was not Roman, but Greek. Corinth was an important city in Greece. So once again, go figure.
Figuring is important to the whole advance of Western civilization. Everywhere Greeks and their European progeny went, they were figuring stuff out.
Thus did Western Civilization expand over millenia of time. Along came the Germans, French, Spanish, British, all of them making ever grander plans, striving to construct their own versions of civilization.
When the Greco-Roman enterprise got to the big Sea at the end of Europe–aka the End of the Earth–its expansion was delayed for a few hundred years. But then along came Cristoforo Columbo and Presto!, Western civilization took a grand leap across the Atlantic Ocean.
Now we Americans know about Boston, New Yawk, Philly, etc etc etc; and we are intimately familiar with Paul Revere and Grampa George Washington. Why we even know about Charleston and Savannah and all that unreconstructed goings-on down south, but what’s important here is California!
Because Americans are adventurers. Our forefathers and foremothers hit the ground running after we got off the boat in Baltimore or Ellis Island or wherever it was.
Before you knew it, we were all the way over on the far other edge of the continent, in California, baby!
Or bust! That’s what the Okies said.
And that was, if you think about it, the very end of the Greek frontier. From Athens to Anaheim, westward ho all along the way. That’s all she wrote.
The westward expansion of Greek culture ended at California. It couldn’t go any farther. Why, even when they o’erleaped the wide Pacific, what did they find?
It doesn’t get any older than that–China. No Westward expansion there, although the Brits made a few dents, and of course there was Marx and all that People’s trial and bloody error.
Now We Americans have a saying: as California goes, so goes the nation.
That means that, from the 1849 Gold Rush on, the great exploratory thrust of American ingenuity and creativity originates in place called California.
The land of fruits and nuts.
And broccoli, lettuce, grapes, wine, silicon, integrated circuit chips, beach boys, beach girls, computers, iPhones, movies and pop culture, etc etc etc.
So once all the migrant Europeans got themselves planted on the East Coast back in the 1800s, they built so many cities, and built them so quickly, that before you know it they got overcrowded and pulled up stakes to head West.
Go West, young man, wrote Horace Greeley, about a hundred and fifty years ago.
And very quickly. We developed America from raw earth, from Schenectady to San Francisco in less than a hundred years, blazing a yankee trail all along the way.
And when we hit up against that great Pacific rim, the grand tide of our exuberance struck a sea wall and then it swayled back the other way: Disney in Paris, McDonald’s in Athens, Kennedy in Berlin!
But now–and my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars–our grand millenia-old Restatement of Greco-Roman expansionism strikes, back at its ancient nascence, an Athenian rampart.
So I see the next phase of history this way: As Greece goes, so goes the West. And this is what it looks like, according to a pic I recently snapped in Athens:
Which is to say, a propped up portal. Where can we go from here?