Posts Tagged With: elections

Things Greek

In my second week here in Greece, I continue to contemplate the state of the state.  I do this while (1) dodging the heat (which has, thankfully, dropped to the low 90s), (2) listening to my neighbors (it’s not that hard, believe me), (3) observing from my favorite cafe, and/or (4) riding the trolley.

I also attended a very long poetry reading last week, one that went on.  And ON.  Longer than planned, clearly, or than appreciated.  Even that evening, though, provided interesting people-watching time.

Greece has been in the news so much — everywhere — and with reason.  Clearly, the financial and economic issues have been widely reported in newspapers and online sources for months.  When Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned, an interim PM was named , a non-politician, a technocrat.  The May elections — and the subsequent failure of any of the top three parties to form a coalition government — meant that there was another election called for June 17, and yet another interim PM named.  There were demonstrations held after those elections.  The June elections–in which conservative New Democracy placed 1st, far-left Syriza placed second, and socialist PASOK came in 3rd — were over quickly and reported quickly.  New Democracy has formed a coalition government, though neither Syriza nor PASOK is really muscling into this.  The second elections were in fact rather desultory, at least to me — no demonstrations at all afterwards.

Not that the problems are over.  Not at all.  Now people are wondering when — not really if —  crash will come.  Will Greece stay in the euro?  What happens if it doesn’t?  For a while, there was a predictable run on money in banks — lots of people took their money out, and a number moved their money to other European banks.  One report, in fact, contends that 50% of the money in Greece is not in banks at all.  People are keeping money in safe deposit boxes (if they can get them) or in safes.  Predictions about the outcomes continue to appear daily.

What I have noticed now — some of which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts — is more businesses closed.  On the trolley ride home from Syntagma the other day, I noticed that more than one block now was composed of empty shops.  Long-time shops have closed.  In my neighborhood, I noticed that my local bank branch has been closed, leaving me to believe that the employees are not employed any more.  In news reports, my bank name is mentioned; one merger has gone south, and I hear that there is a lawsuit over breach of contract.  In the meantime, another Greek bank seems to be interested in acquiring the bank I use.  Greek banks aren’t very popular these days, as you can imagine.  No one really wants to acquire them, at least no one outside of Greece.  My bank was most recently affiliated with a French bank, but it doesn’t want that tie anymore.  One large French company, Carrefour, is closing all of its stores here in Greece, I am told.  What will happen to the stores is a mystery.  Will the previous Greek company regain its ownership?  Who knows?

Beyond the huge chains like Carrefour, lots of small stores are gone.  These are for the most part family-owned businesses.  I noticed that a neighborhood meat market was gone; it was here six months ago.  Some stores have moved to smaller spaces, hoping to remain viable.

As far as store hours (set by government regulations), stores now close earlier.  Overhead costs are kept down.  Some remain open on late nights, but close at 8 instead of 10, perhaps.  The little computer store near my apartment is open, but I’ve never managed to walk by it when it is; I’ve seen it from the trolley as I pass.  Even the large department store two blocks down closes earlier now, and though I’ve seen customers there every time I’ve gone by or in, it isn’t packed as it has been in the past.

Coffeeshops and kafenions are open, though I often notice fewer customers.  I’m just selfishly glad my favorite hangout is still open, Cafe Libre.  It’s a family place, a cafe/bar, and the wait staff are always personal and friendly.  They remember me now, as they remember my friends who live near there. I have yet to see it quite as crowded as even last year.

Yet even as things visibly reflect changes, I am told that some people keep going as though nothing has changed.  In a small town near Athens, a friend told me, on a weekday night when she was there recently all the shops and pharmacies were open, everyone was out and about and carrying on as though nothing had changed.  Her theory:  they’re in denial.

I don’t know about that, but in a sense they do have to keep going.  How much are they conserving at home?  What are things like in their homes? We can’t tell that.  The cliche about life going on rings true here.

Since one change that affects me is the closing of our local post office, I found out the one we are now associated with — so far away that it’s easier for me to go to Syntagma and use the one there.  Of course, when I stopped in the other day, the lines were incredible.  I guess one day I’ll just have to go and wait in one of those lines for a chance to buy stamps.  For years you could buy stamps (grammatosima) at almost all the peripteros, the little sidewalk kiosks, self-enclosed shops offering almost everything.  Except stamps now.  I can get trolley tickets at the one nearest me, as well as buy minutes for my Greek mobile (cell phone).

There are fewer people around; Athens feels as it does in August, when people traditionally flee Athens for vacation spots in Greece and elsewhere.  There aren’t nearly as many cars around, either.  When I first arrived in Athens, I immediately noticed that in my neighborhood there were parking spots available, which has been rare indeed.  Not now, though.  In discussions, friends have told me that if a family has two cars, they’ve gotten rid of one, and that some people have dispensed with owning a car at all.  Fewer cars on the road, too, as a result.  And as more people leave Athens, either for their villages or for jobs away from Greece, those streets will be even less full than now.

It’s all a waiting game, I think.  Yet I anticipate more discussions with friends who are Greek or who are expats living here.  Lots of learning yet to come.

And in the midst of this (or the mist of it, as some students have insisted to me in their writing), I see efforts to improve life here.  Volunteerism, a relatively new idea here, is alive and well.  Struggling, perhaps, but thriving nonetheless.  I have friends involved in regular beach cleanups.  I have a good friend who is involved in turtle rescues — she volunteers at a center in Glyfada.  I went with her yesterday to a turtle release — a joyful experience, tempered by the discovery that the beach where they often release turtles has, in the past week, been invaded by permanent beach umbrellas and a cantina.  More about that later.

People go to work.  They shop as they need.  They go out, albeit less often and probably spending less.

Life continues.

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To Spiti Mou (My House)

To be absolutely correct — my apartment.  My 47 square meters of Greekness.  That’s roughly 505 square feet, I think.

Thursday I arrived in the domestic terminal at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens.  I picked up my bag, changed some money, and got to the taxi stand.  Not knowing what to expect in terms of costs, I was pleased to see an announcement about a flat rate of 35 euros to the center of Athens, and to my surprise that was accurate.  Before I’d been in Athens an hour, I was getting into my apartment.

Everything looked good — clean, in place.  Once I rolled the suitcase into the bedroom and the carry-on stayed in the living room, I gathered my money and keys and headed down the street to the supermarket.  Three plastic bags and a filled backpack later, I was back in the kitchen unloading things.  Except garbage bags.  Of course I’d forget that.

I unzipped the big suitcase and began throwing clothes into two piles, whites and others.  The whites got piled into the washer and soon that first load was filling.  I got a big glass of cold sparkling water, sat down and tried to get onto the Internet.  Since I’d gotten a new provider in December before I left, I hadn’t actually used the new service.  I had a piece of paper with what appeared to be the password.  Wrong.

After a while, I simply gave up.  Maybe I was too tired, I figured, to get it right.  Maybe I needed a nap.

So I lay down about 2.  When I finally woke up it was 7.  So much for not being tired!  Unloading the washer, I took the whites out to the balcony to hang on my wire clothes dryer.  Then the second load went into wash.  I read for a while, watched some TV, and cooked some spaghetti.

By 9, I was back in bed, reading again.  Sleep came quickly after about 10 p.m.

No alarm woke me — and unless that’s necessary, I won’t be using one for a while.  I simply woke up, checked the clock, and began to sort through the other suitcase items.  I simply created like piles on the floor.  Laundry in, laundry out.  Puttered around a while, trying internet.  Finally got an answer I’d emailed to the Athens Centre about the password, and I was online again with no trouble.  Turns out that on the bottom of the modem there’s a key listed there.  Who knew?

Anyway, I was connected to cyberspace again, and so I logged on for a while.  Then it was back to reading, watching television, and reading.

About 4, I left to meet friends at my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre.  First I stopped at the corner Jumbo store (a department store) for a few items, then picked up a bottle of cold water and some trolley/tram/bus tickets.  I walked a couple of blocks to the trolley stop and sat down, waiting for the #4.  Once it came, I climbed on, sat down, and waited for my stop.  Three stops later, I got off across the street from the cafe, walked over, and sat down with my friends.

We chatted for several hours, catching up about everything.  Elections, especially, came into the conversation.  We compared notes about what we’d seen and observed.  Phil and George and I agreed that this time around, people seemed more resigned to a hard time ahead, no matter which party “won.” No one knows what will happen — but everyone speculates about the first step, forming a coalition government.  What will it do?  Will it have any chance of success?  The winning party, New Democracy, followed by Syriza and then Pasok, are the top winners and only Pasok agreed to cooperate.  Yet Pasok didn’t provide many key figures.  So here we are, watching Samaras (the new Prime Minister) and wondering what will happen.

The elections were on Sunday, the day after the wedding, and that meant lots of people traveled to their home precincts to vote.  That’s one reason we rented the Jeeps — the buses were going to be packed.  But the Jeeps were frankly more convenient anyway.  I only turned the television on in my room once, that Sunday night, to see the outcome of the election.  It was over earlier and quicker than I had anticipated.

Which post office did I use, Phil asked?  The one down on Immitou near the supermarket.  Not anymore, George said. It closed.  It’s been consolidated with one farther away.  And who did I use as an electrician?  Sotiris, I answered. Once again — not anymore.  It turns out he’s gone back to his village, with his family.  I’ve read a number of articles in The Athens News and E-Kathimerini that this is the case with a growing number of young people.  In Athens, even with work, it is increasingly hard to stretch their money.  Without work, it is impossible.  So returning to their villages means they have a safety net, a support system.  They at least can eat and live with family.  So Sotiris, the young electrician I’ve used in the ten years or so I’ve had my apartment, has joined that exodus.

So the three Americans, the only people in the cafe for a long time, sat and talked Greek politics.  We also discussed the upcoming tour to Jordan that Phil and George are leading, the one I’m going on.  Everything sounds so amazing and I’m looking forward to the trip.

After I left, I took the #4 trolley back toward my place.  It is a circuitous route, but I wanted to see things, to look at stores.  Every block showed me a store (at least one) that had closed since I was last here in December.  More places are up for rent. I know that rental prices are down, because I used to get 650 euros a month for my place, and the last renter paid 500 euros a month.  This is how everyone is adapting.

I’m sure real estate values are down as well, and even so, places go unsold.  Who has the money to buy?

My ride on the trolley showed me lots of stores closed — big ones, too, not just small ones.  I was happy enough that my supermarket at the bottom of the street is still open, and that my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre, is still open.

What will things be like in the center?  I’ll go down to Syntagma on Monday, I think, because I need to go to the large electronics store there, Public.  Things are quiet enough, and no demonstrations have been announced, so I’ll be okay.

But before that, I’ve got a new problem to solve:  my key for the front door to our building doesn’t work.  Apparently, they’ve changed that lock.  That’ll be easy to take care of, IF I can figure out who collects the monthly koinochrista (sort of like HOA fees).  It’s changed, of course, and I don’t know who to contact.  I’ll have to bother the Athens Centre once more, on Monday morning, to find out.

It’ll be a quiet weekend.  And that’s fine with me.  I will enjoy my balcony later in the day when it’s cooler.  I’ll finish unpacking.

I’m home again.  To spiti mou.


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