There are bars you never forget, places the sheer memory of which can get you through the long winter months… or trying weeks at work. The Veggera Beach Bar on the northern coast of Corfu, in a small seaside resort called Acharavi, is that place for me. A great deal of human energy has been expended there over many years simply to create an atmosphere in which you will feel instantly happy and at home.
No, not at home. Better than that. So that you will feel like you are in paradise.
Such utopias are rare. And the kind of utopians who devote themselves to their sustenance and care are rarer still. I had the supreme good fortune of meeting one such utopian, an old and dear personal friend, for cocktails at the Veggera, as the Ionian sun drifted lazily into the sea. It was the sort of scene before which words fail, sinking happily into the silence of that same sea.
We had been speaking of the current crises, economic as well as political, and she mused a bit nostalgically over the summer of ‘68 in Paris, which she, as a radical young idealist from Italy, had gone to see at first hand. She traveled well and widely after that summer, making life-changing visits to Moscow and to Albania, to see the work of creating a revolutionary new social order up close.
The results were disappointing, to say the least. My friend was neither the first nor the last revolutionary whose idealism could not survive the Stalinist reality
On thing that struck her most on these trips was that the symbol du jour was the blue jean. Of all things, the blue jean. While begging was strictly forbidden and harshly punished in Moscow, people would approach her and offer to buy the jeans right off her legs. But why? Partly because they were forbidden and impossible to get.
If you tell a human being not to eat of the fruit of a tree, you shouldn’t be surprised when they do eat. Every aspiring utopian should remember that sad story.
But why were blue jeans forbidden? Because they were seen as a symbol of global capitalism. I had to ponder that one. A brand of clothing designed explicitly for workers, designed to last and to save them money, was viewed in a completely different light in an allegedly Workers State.
In Albania, she said, it was even worse. Visitors were stopped at the border and told that they’d have to buy new pants or else be denied entrance altogether. Imagine that. You could stroll breezily into Albania wearing an Armani suit and travel free and unmolested, but a young traveler in blue jeans—one working for the revolution no less—gets stopped and held over.
Such is the impossible and untamable shift in meaning of so many of the things humans create. The Maccabean revolution broke out in Hellenistic Judea when the young kids started wearing a Greek-style hat, and going to the gymnasium. God knows what some non-westerners make of our baggy blue jeans and backward baseball caps today. And I see the point.
The sun was gone by the time she’d finished her reverie, and a full moon was rising. It was time to turn to the crucial topic of where we’d head for dinner. She was wearing blue jeans; so was I. Neither of us a revolutionary per se, since any student of Thucydides and ancient history knows to be suspicious of revolutionary violence and rhetoric on the island of Corfu. No, not revolutionaries, but vaguely utopian all the same.
Which, as it turns out, is a fine thing for a blue jean to mean. Flower power rather than social engineering. More island sunsets and fewer cars. A lighter touch when it comes to the apples in Eden. Taking the time to pay attention to the significance of where to go for dinner.
As the Greeks’ beloved Byron knew well, since Eve ate apples, “much depends on dinner.”