"The Pillars of Hercules, A Grand Tour of The Mediterranean", by Paul Theroux, G.P., 1995

Putnam's Sons
200 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10016Tel:
Tel: 212-951-8400

Author Theroux makes his homes in Cape Cod & Hawaii.


"The whole of Greece seemed to me a cut-price theme park of broken marble, a place where you were harangued in a high-minded way about Ancient Greek culture while some swarthy little person picked your pocket. That, and unlimited Turkophobia." p. 314.

"The Greeks had not taken very much interest in their past until Europeans became enthusiastic discoverers and diggers of their ruins. And why should they have cared? The Greeks were not Greek, but rather the illiterate descendants of Slavs and Albanian fishermen, who spoke a debased Greek dialect and had little interest in the broken columns and temples except as places to graze their sheep." pp. 315-316

"The Turks had brought their whole culture, their language, the Muslim religion, and their distinctive cuisine not only here but throughout the Middle East and into Europe, as far as Budapest. The contradiction persists, even today: Greek food is actually Turkish food, and many words we think of as distinctively Greek, are in reality Turkish kebab, doner, kofta, meze, taramasalata, dolma, yogurt, moussaka, and so forth; all Turkish." p. 316

"Signs at the entrance to Delphi said, Show proper respect ... I saw a pair of rambunctious Greek youths being reprimanded by an officious little man, for flinging their arms out and posing for pictures. The man twitched a stick at them and sent them away. Why was this? It was just what you would expect to happen if you put a pack of ignoramuses in charge of a jumble of marble artifacts they had no way of comprehending. They would in their impressionable stupidity begin to venerate the mute stones and make up a lot of silly rules. This Show proper respect business and No posing [in front of the ancient stones] was an absurd and desperate transfer of the orthodoxies of the Greeks' tenacious Christianity, as they applied the severe prohibitions of their church to the ruins. Understanding little of the meaning of the stones, they could only see them in terms of their present religious belief; and so they imposed a sort of sanctity on the ruins. This ludicrous solemnity was universal in Greece. Women whose shorts were too tight and men wearing bathing suits were not allowed to enter the stadium above Delphi, where the ancients had run races stark ballocky naked." p. 316.

"The litter in Greece was remarkable . . . I wondered why . . . Because they are barbarians, they are different from every other European." p. 321

"More than any other place I had seen so far on the Mediterranean, Greece was purely a tourist destination, a theme park of shattered marble and broken statues, and garbled history. But tourists did not really go to Greece for the history; they went for the sunshine . . ." p. 322.

"The Greeks struck me as being more xenophobic than the French, and more ill-tempered and irrational, in a country more backward than Croatia. They sneered at the Albanians and deported them. They loudly cursed the Turks. They boasted of their glorious past, but were selective, for it was only yesterday in the 1960s that these passionate democrats had welcomed a military coup, and supported them for creating one of the most right-wing governments in the hemisphere, the seven-year dictatorship of the Greek Colonels." p. 322

"By being accepted as a member of the European Community, Greece had become respectable, even viable as a sort of welfare case. Membership meant free money, handouts, every commercial boondoggle imaginable . . . all the while keeping their Mediterranean enemies out of the European Community." p 322

"Given these tetchy people and this insubstantial landscape and the theme park culture, it was odd that Greece was thought of as a country of romance and robust passion and diaphanous rain. In a land of preposterous myths, the myth of Greece as a paradise of joy and abundance was surely the most preposterous. How had that come about?" p. 323.

"Elsewhere in Ierapetra the eighteenth-century mosque . . . had been wrecked and partly rebuilt. The minaret was still standing. The Arabic calligraphy remained. But the interior was defiled, having been turned into a tiny auditorium . . . Was this worse than the Turks in Istanbul revamping the Byzantine magnificence of Santa Sophia's and making it a mosque, along with any number of Christian churches? Probably not. But there were still Christians functioning in Turkey and there were no Muslims in Greece. Apart from the tourists and some retirees, there were no foreigners in Greece. There were Arabs in Spain, Albanians and Africans in Italy, Moroccans in Sardinia, Algerians in France; but there were no immigrants of any kind in Greece. The Albanians that came had been sent back. Whether it was Greece's feeble economy that kept everyone except Albanians (whose economy was abysmal) from wishing to settle there, or Greek intolerance, was something I did not know." p. 325.

"Mike the Greek was still sitting at his motorbike rental agency, still reading the porno magazine he had been leafing through that morning." p. 326.

"Turks were calmer, more polite, less passionate, somewhat dour - even lugubrious; less in awe of tourists, and so they were more hospitable and helpful. Greeks were antagonistic towards each other, which made them hard for foreigners to rub along with; Turks, more formal, had rules of engagement, and also seemed to like each other better. Turkey had a bigger hinterland and shared a border with seven countries, yet Turks were less paranoid and certainly less xenophobic, less vocal, less blaming, perhaps more fatalistic." p. 329

"We had crossed from Europe to Asia. Turkey is the superficially westernized edge of the Orient, Greece is the degraded fringe of Europe, basically a peasant society, fortunate in its ruins and (with most of the Mediterranean) its selective memory. But it was wrong to compare Greece with Turkey, since their geography and their size were so different. Greece's landscape was more similar to Albania, and if Greece was a successful version of Albania, Turkey was a happier version of Iran - perhaps the only moderate Muslim country in the world." p. 329

"Turks also had Asian contempt, and were famously cruel, both knowing they were so and believing that most people in the world were just the same. If you abused Turkish hospitality (as I did frequently) and asked Turks whether they tortured their prisoners, they spat and said, "Everyone tortures their prisoners!" p. 329

Please forward your letters of protest and telephone calls to the Publisher, whose address and telephone is listed above.

A book review by Stephen Greenblatt in the November 5, 1995 New York Times Book Review section had the following understatement to offer on Theroux's vulgar misograecism:

At the Fortress Palamidi in Mycenae, Mr. Theroux asks the young man at the entrance what the dress code means: "He was unshaven, in a grubby shirt. He was playing cards with his much grubbier friend. 'People come with bikinis and shorts. They don't look nice,' he said. Oh, sure, Demetrios, and you look like Fred Astaire."

It's a good laugh line, but there is something decidedly ugly about the mood that ruins seem to bring out in Mr. Theroux. This perhaps helps to account for the intensity of his loathing of Greece, though it hardly makes more forgivable the boorish language of ethnic contempt: "The whole of Greece seemed to me a cut-price theme park of broken marble, a place where you were harangued in a high-minded way about Ancient Greek culture while some swarthy little person picked your pocket." The nastiness in tone is no accident: "The Greeks were not Greek," Mr. Theroux declares, looking at the modern guardians of the ruins, "but rather the illiterate descendants of Slavs and Albanian fishermen." And Mr. Theroux's travels along the coast of the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia and miserable, chaotic Albania did not inspire in him an admiration for those peoples either, any more than he likes Israelis or middle-class Frenchwomen with poodles or German tourists or, for that matter, tourists in general.

But "The Pillars of Hercules" is not altogether an exercise in xenophobic travel writing in the style of Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. From time to time in endless succession od polluted beaches, overbuilt resorts, meretricious tourist attractions, sinister war zones and miserable slums, Mr. Theroux finds places to admire, places like Corsica, Turkey and rural Syria that have their share of swarthy people.

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