To be ‘Mediterranean’…

A friend asked me what it means to me being a ‘Mediterranean’ person. I wrote something in reply:

To be Mediterranean is…
To see Spain for the first time through the eyes of a Phoenician seafarer…
To marvel at the splendors of Aleppo and Damascus like a Venetian merchant…
To follow Alexander the Great all the way to the Pillars of Hercules…
To learn the charms of Neo-Platonist knowledge from Hypatia at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina…
To lament the tragedies of Pompeii, Knossos and Troy as if you knew the people there…
To gaze at a distant ship and dream of Hannibal, Mark Antony or an Ottoman Corsair…

These are times long gone, you might think, but then you don’t know that all it takes to live them again is to go to any Mediterranean beach at night, roll your pants, take you shoes off, walk into the water till it’s knee-deep, close your eyes and listen to the tender temptation of the waves that return forever.

But if your memory is short, then let me explain it differently, in more modern/contemporary terms.

To be Mediterranean is…
To be in Athens and think of Alexandria;
To be in Tetouan and smell the breeze of al-Andalus;
and when in Tripoli, miss Marseille;
while in Istanbul, you feel nostalgic for Carthage…
To learn from Eratosthenes; be hypnotized by Euripides; enjoy Virgil and Boccaccio; recite the Song of Roland; follow the footsteps of Don Quixote and Ibn Battuta; whirl with the verses of Rumi or come to tears with those of Ibn Arabi…

To see Matisse’s Dance and think you’ve seen it in some Mediterranean fishermen village whose name you cannot remember; to look for Cavafy’s Ithaca every time you set sail; to arrive at new harbours and feel you are among your own people; to dip your bread in olive oil and thyme; and enjoy your fresh fish by the sea; to be grateful for the gift of the genius loci…

That, my friend, is what it means to me being a Mediterranean person.

Amphora

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