How does one begin to introduce a true Renaissance man of the world? And no, that’s not a pun intended to capitalize on Steele Curry having announced his retirement as Co-Chairman of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention’s national board of directors this month at Cleveland’s Renaissance Hotel. Well, maybe just a little one.
Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Steele received his B.A. from Stanford University and M.B.A from Harvard, and went on to establish several highly successful businesses. Throughout his career Steele always found time to give back to his community, including active participation in mentoring programs intended to help young people make the most of their lives.
Today Steele’s community is the world—a place he knows well, having travelled extensively to most parts of it—and his focus now is on his Citizen of the World Guides, available for free in a dozen and a half languages, offering young men and women recommendations on how to make the most of their lives and careers, regardless of their background or lack of experience. His website, www.COTWguides.com, was set up to make COTW Guides available in the fastest, most direct way possible to all who might benefit from them.
Somehow Steele also finds time to read ninety books a year, mostly mysteries, and to add to his collection of 7,000 first edition mysteries and 4,500 other first edition volumes.
But what makes Steele most endearing to me is the great wisdom he shows in spending three months each summer with his family on a Greek island. Specifically, the northwest Aegean island of Skiathos, the western most island in the Northern Sporades group. It is a literal heaven on earth approximately 150 miles north of my home island in the Cyclades. On his island, Steele manages to read 35 books each summer, while I struggle to write just one. Then again, there are more distractions on Mykonos:).
When I read an article Steele had written for his website, I begged him to let me reproduce it here. Being the kind soul that he is, he agreed. So here is Steele Curry’s “Greece, It’s a Wonderful Country.”
There are two Greeces. First, there is the one you see portrayed in the worldwide media showing photos of violent protests and running endless articles about the country’s financial ruin. And second, there is the Greece as it actually is when you spend time in the country, as I have been doing for 40 years. Far too many people outside of Greece are only aware of the first one which is both misleading and unfortunate, especially as the protests have mainly occurred in the center of Athens and rarely in the rest of the country.
Yes, Greece has suffered for decades from self-serving, wasteful and corrupt politicians and government officials. In hindsight, joining the Euro zone enabled the Greek government to go on a binge of borrowings, primarily from the banks of its fellow Euro members (who should have known better), and to create a false sense of entitlement that its citizens should receive numerous social benefits and early pensions that were unaffordable. To get elected, successive parties in power offered their supporters new civil service jobs and condoned a total lack of accountability for both government departments and state-owned companies, most of which operated at a huge deficit.
This path proved to be completely unsustainable. It was inevitable that the Greek government, Greece’s citizens and the country’s debtors would all face a day of reckoning. Today, Greece has reached the point where it has no choice but to face reality and take the necessary measures to get its house in order. While this is going to be a sobering, painful process for everyone involved, the end result will restore Greece to being a viable, responsibly functioning country where the faith and trust of its citizens in their government is restored. How long this will take, especially given the inevitable resistance on the part of vested special interest groups, no one knows. But, as the saying goes, when you have to swallow a frog, the best way to do it is quickly.
Now, let me describe the other Greece – the one I have experienced every summer for 40 years on my annual holidays there, first for only two weeks and then gradually longer until now for over three months. My wife and I fly from our home city of Calgary, Canada to Athens and then fly on Olympic from Athens to the island of Skiathos in the Aegean Sea. As soon as I step off the plane and put my feet on the ground there, something special in the air seems to carry away all my cares and concerns, and I start to totally unwind and relax. It helps that we are always warmly greeted at the airport by a close Greek friend who lives on the island.
On Skiathos, we stay at our family’s villa, originally built on the island by my mother 40 years ago. It is located just outside of the village of Skiathos. The island’s permanent population is about 8,000 but during the summer tourist season it rises to a peak of some 35,000. To say that the island is unbelievably beautiful is an understatement. Over 60 beaches ring the island and it has a great deal of greenery and vegetation. On our land, we have lots of olive, pine and eucalyptus trees as well as some almond, apricot, fig, lemon and pear trees.
Even more impressive than its natural beauty are the people of Skiathos. They have a terrific sense of humor and are warm, friendly, generous and eager to be helpful. Everywhere you go on the island, the Greeks there do a great job of making you have a wonderful experience being in Skiathos. At the beaches, restaurants, shops, bakeries, pharmacies, the health clinic, the car rentals, water skiing, going sailing, you are welcomed and looked after in the best possible manner.
The weather on the island is consistently gorgeous with sunny, clear bIue skies day after day. While the temperature can get quite hot from time to time, there is always a gentle breeze off the sea. Something about the air’s atmosphere in Skiathos gives the sky and sea a uniquely stunning blue color.
I start each day spending some quiet time sitting on our terrace marveling at the incomparably beautiful vista of the Aegean Sea. Just looking out at the sun rippling off the shimmering surface of the blue water is hugely calming for me. Then, I have my breakfast with Greek yogurt and apricot preserves (supplied to me by a Greek neighbor) and read the International Herald Tribune on our terrace. Around noon, we go into the village to pick up the newspaper, supplies and freshly baked bread and cheese pies. Every afternoon, we spend time in the sun, often at one or another of the island’s gorgeous beaches. In the evening, we have dinner under the stars either at one of the island’s many excellent restaurants and tavernas or at our villa. We know we are tremendously fortunate to enjoy such marvelous summer holidays in Skiathos.
Despite all its current tribulations and serious challenges, Greece is blessed to be a country of great natural beauty and wonderful people. Yes, Greece is undergoing a period of painful readjustments but the end result will be beneficial for its citizens, regardless of whether it retains the Euro. While all this is going on, those visiting Greece as a tourist will continue to have an outstanding experience. Don’t wait to do so.
Thank you, Steele. See you next summer on Skiathos, filos.