On Zorba the Greek and happiness


[Feature photo:Enrico Donelli]

I spent my first two months in Greece contained in solitary confinement. First, inside a cave on Santorini island. Second, on an olive farm in Lesvos. It wasn’t entirely how I imagined my trip. I was lonely. By the time my best friend Matt showed up to explore the islands with me, I was more interested in frequenting the insides of pubs than the insides of books – I was craving the social life. I had been plodding my way through Zorba the Greek when I came across this quote:

“All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven’t the time to write, and those who have the time don’t live them!”

And so I stopped stressing about keeping up with my reading goals, turned off my Kindle, and crammed as much life as I possibly could into the remainder of my Eurotrip.

I lived so hard and so fast that I ended up with the king of bladder infections in my final week. Bedridden and forced to reconcile myself with the approaching end of my fantasy life, I picked up Zorba again.

The premise: The unnamed narrator strikes up a friendship with the eccentric 60-year-old Zorba. They travel to Crete, where Zorba manages a lignite mine financed by the narrator, who wants to be in closer contact with the working-class (but never quite gets there). Zorba is the star; he flits from woman to woman, strikes up a romance with the aged Madame Hortense, spends money hastily, and tells outlandish tales from his yesteryears. He forms a strong and unexpected friendship with the narrator who just can’t seem to fit into society, and prefers to observe it instead.

Much of the book is centered on Zorba and the narrator’s conversations about life and death. Sometimes the conversations are long and tedious. Sometimes the narrator is downright hysterical: “This woman, Hortense, seemed to me to be the queen of the island a sort of blonde and glistening walrus who had been cast up, half-rotting, on this sandy shore.”

I thought about the book a lot on my first day home after five months abroad. How easily I settled into a routine again: wake up, brew some coffee, read for a few hours, get to work. On my second day I climbed out of my bedroom window onto my rooftop to watch the icebergs floating through The Narrows, and thought about how just a few days before I was in Croatia swimming around the Adriatic. I was happy. I’m still happy.

I think this quote from Zorba the Greek says it best:

“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”

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