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Bender is the Night


SHOULD I worry, doctor? I'm in my mid-late 20s (I like to call it the Thursday of my youth) yet I'm beginning to adopt the somewhat phobic and very apprehensive lifestyle values of a geriatric. Don't scoff, because if you too had (willingly) been a bar-columnist for months on end, the prospect of another late, adventurous night at yet another bar would turn your stomach as well. It is, however, a vicious cycle only a high-tech "disciplinatron" could resist if one lives (on) in this city.

I first started to notice the signs of my flagging nightlife morale when I was on an island holiday with some visiting friends. Our daily routine was the typically indulgent beach-till-sunset, nap, invigorating shower, dinner and bar-hopping. Now once upon a time, ten days of this would simply have not been sufficient. But this time around, it started to feel like hard work. I recognised a desperate craving for deep calm, more peace of mind, and often found myself taking long walks away from my group along the beach, gathering pebbles and sea shells and perching myself atop rocks that were like powerful dragons sleeping in the surf, to take in the sight, smell, taste and sound of the vast sea and whisper my thoughts to the all-encompassing horizon. Something I knew I could not experience in the hectic city.

Then one member of my parea casually mentioned over breakfast that he hadn't read a book from cover-to-cover in what seemed like an age, and finally I put two-and-two together. An existence of work-all-day and play-all-night can't do much for your spiritual life or intellectual fitness. Thus, immediately upon returning to the city I cut back dramatically on the late nights and embarked on a wild readathon. I still had the characteristic night-time adrenaline rush but now I was using it, not boozing it away. music, moments of mediatation and books became my comfort, my saviour, my friend, and particularly those of the internationally acclaimed "unput-downable, can't-switch-off-the-light" variety.

But what are friends for if not to drag you back into ugly patterns designed entirely to make you face the greater challenges of life and emerge with renewed "know thyself" experience? Having rejected far too many invitations in the past weeks, I opted to take a few of them up before I ended up alone in the world of the written word, rather than in that of the spoken one. As the bar's blender mixed my second margarita, my eyes almost teared with the nostalgia of a mysteriously neglected past, one of being young and full of life in a city that was ancient - but equally full of life. What had I been doing? Life is short! There's so much to see, do, live, dance to, laugh about! Fifteen books in a row in 30 days had clearly taken their toll, and I understood that, as wonderful as that era had been, I was again imbalanced because now as fit as my mental muscles were, the rest of me was slipping into a social coma.

How does one achieve the perfect balance in a city of excesses? Everywhere you go, whatever day of the week it may be, is a glowingly warm invitation for hedonism. People of all ages, of all professions, of all social or financial status, unhesitatingly pop in and out of restaurants, bars, clubs, movie-houses and "events" daily. It's expected of you to start your evening late and end your night early (in the morning). Restaurants are like a spaghetti-western ghost-town before 10pm , and bars are simply dull before 11pm . If you want to go out, an early night is not a fun option unless you've got a very individual or alternative sense of what "fun" is.

Coffee is the answer. Show me an Athens office where employees are not sucking for the life of them on a straw to inhale the last bubble of caffeine and I'll point out it's not Greek. The breaks for frappes or endless cups of filter coffee or cappuccino are the day-after recipe for stoic acceptance that this is a place where late nights are a way of life.

A French woman who reached the age of 110 and made a CD release of a techno "hit" song (in France, Jerry Lewis is a cultural icon), revealed matter-of-factly that although she smoked and took little exercise throughout her life, the juicy secret for her longevity was to ingest life daily as though it were the most exotic of energy-giving fruits, to be happy, to love and laugh and express oneself impulsively.

Greeks live their life by this very principle. Being the top-smoking country of Europe , the nationals here are convinced that their exemplary (and in most cases, no longer upheld) diet and joie de vivre spell a long and healthy existence. But what we often seem to (perhaps intentionally) forget is that the admirable Frenchwoman lived the greatest chunk of her life during a time when food, the air, drinks and society as a whole weren't as fatally toxic as they are today. Slugging it out at the gym twice a week (or having the legendary regular sex-life) to redeem oneself of any other nasty habits such as terribly irregular and low-quality eating and sleeping patterns, emotional cataclysms, intellectual lethargy and spiritual absenteeism just won't cut it.

Balance is the key, or as our predecessors said, "Pan metron ariston" (perfection comes from measure). That's what I'm back to trying to successfully acquire. If I'm realistic, going out late with friends for food, wine, great conversation and drinking is not something I'm either willing or able to opt out of. And neither is my thirst for creative thought, action and stimulation.

Waking up and making a quick mental list of what I indulged in the night before sometimes makes me break out in a cold sweat. Now this is a start. When I divulge this relatively new fact to people they often shrug at my dramatics and chuckle at my fears, but I know there's wisdom in being wary that everything, like youth, like the night itself, must end, and during dawn the raw light can be as merciless as it can be hope-inspiringly romantic.

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