Greece Remembered

My assorted newsfeeds brought an article on Greece to my attention.

I spent some time backpacking there last summer just as everything was really starting to heat up. I spent most of my time on a couple Aegean isles where it seemed like most people were busy trying to make a living. In fact, aside from Crete it seemed like, aside from occupancy rates being a little low, everyone was getting by.

But I also spent a night in Athens at the end of my trip when a general transportation strike occurred. I was staying near Onomia Square (no, not the best part of Athens). I heard one of the protest marches go by my hotel and when I ventured out for lunch at a local ethnic restaurant (relative to Greece–I think the menu was from one of the Slavic countries) if anything everyone was simply nervous, as if waiting for something to spill over in their direction.

Otherwise, in no hurry to be accidentally caught up in anything and discouraged by the transportation strike from making a better day of it, I spent several hours holed up watching CNN International play a live feed of the rioting/protests (it varied during the day) in front of the Parliament Building. I was struck by not only the contrast of the feel in Athens versus the islands, but also by how the violence making the news was pretty much concentrated to a single square and even a few blocks away there was nothing going on.

I made a habit of reading the local English daily while in Greece. I read about the Boom and Bust of Athens. Of the days when everyone flooded in from the countryside for jobs in the city and how now tens of thousands–if not hundreds–had fled Athens for the life in the small towns. Of an Agricultural Ministry flooded with requests from those planting gardens tin their lawns or taking up beekeeping or making cheese . . . I saw first hand the abandoned buildings and closed stores outside the tourist dominated areas near the Acropolis. I read statistics about how many Greeks cheated on their taxes, about the myriad protected classes of workers, and about the corruption. I talked with a woman from Greece on the plane back to the USA who spoke of all her friends who could get out of Greece (she was, IIRC thirty) getting out as fast as they could to find work.

Finally, I remember standing on the beach west of Iraklio (aka Heraklion on some maps), Crete. It was could have been a pretty beach with its light colored sand and beautiful water; a beach with busy hotels catering to European vacationers. But instead it was littered with refuse, bordered by abandoned single family homes, not a single open hotel on the water, and thistle growing everywhere. Looking right I could see the old part of the city where the tourists go see the ruins of Venetian fortifications. Nearby was the big, modern soccer stadium which as far as I could tell wasn’t in use.

That moment, standing on that beach, is when I knew it was over. While it might not be a fair thought, it was this: “The only thing Greece knows how to sell is its antiquities.” So when I read about the current situation, I can’t help but mourn for a beautiful country with so many wonderful people. I can only pray that beauty finds a way to survive and, failing that, the people can find a way to rebuild.

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