Once more into the breach: back with a different focus

I can’t tell you how happy this post, from my good friend Mike, makes me. It’s great to hear his voice in a public realm again. Looking forward to hearing/reading more.

Watching the Deniers

Hi there.

About a year ago I shut down “Watching the Deniers” (WtD) and took an extended break from writing and the climate change debate. So to anyone who used to follow the blog welcome back.

I started WtD in 2010 and maintained it for more than four years. During that time I was welcomed into a  broader community of writers, activists, scientists and researchers interested in climate change. During these years I had the great privilege of meeting many of these people, and feel some pride in having made a small contribution to the conversation.

But such commitment can come at a cost. The considerable effort to to research, write, edit and publish original content can be both time consuming and exhausting. After four years of “being in the trenches” I felt exhausted. I thought I’d take a few months off and recharge and get back to writing.

However…

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When in Greece – part 2: In the midst of a crisis

In January 2013 I visited Greece and was shocked to find how badly things had deteriorated because of the financial crisis.

The first thing that relatives asked me when I arrived in Greece four weeks ago was, “What do you think of our situation now? How do you find us?”

While they all told me that things were much, much worse, to my eyes things seemed to be about the same. I know unemployment has gone up, amenities seemed even more worn out and damaged than before, and there were slightly more shops closed in the heart of Athens. But otherwise life seemed to be going on much as it had before.

The main change I saw in Greece, or in Greeks, rather, was that many people seemed to be suffering from crisis fatigue. Whereas the crisis seemed to be on everyone’s lips in 2013, this time round I found that only about half the people I talked to spent their time obsessing about the financial crisis, while the rest had switched off. They avoided news and current affairs shows, newspapers and online news outlets – because they found the news too depressing and too distressing. For many, it was just too hard to continue with the crisis at the centre of their lives; they had become worn down to the point of emotional and mental exhaustion by it. So they were opting out.

Even as negotiations began in earnest ahead of Greece’s 30 June deadline for its first payment back to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), many people refused to keep abreast of what was going on. The rest, meanwhile, continued to obsessively scan the television for the latest reports.

Talking to people it seemed to me that they had gone through several of the stages of grief in relation to what had been happening to their country, Greece, including shock, anger, resentment, grief and, for many, acceptance.

The media reported that €3billion was withdrawn from banks by Greeks in the week ending Friday 19 June, with €1billion withdrawn on that particular Friday. But I saw no bank queues that week.

In fact, I only saw bank queues from Saturday 27 June onwards, once the Greek prime minister had called a referendum for 5 July on the question of whether the people accepted the bailout terms put in an ultimatum to the Greek government by the so-called Troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.

Even still, while the media showed photos of the same long queues over and over, I only ever saw relatively short queues of between five and ten people. People who seemed calm and good natured, not panicked or desperate, as portrayed in the traditional media.

While much has been written about the limit of sixty euro a day that can be withdrawn by locals from ATMs, on social media OXI campaigners have pointed out that the capital controls don’t affect the thirty five per cent of the population living in poverty because they don’t even have the luxury of a bank account.

I can’t help think that if money is running out in banks, maybe it’s because the people who withdrew the billions of euros before the referendum was announced are hoarding it.

A lot has been written about the politics implicit in the referendum and the economic consequences of voting no or yes. In Greece, the traditional media is aggressively supporting the NAI or ‘yes’ campaign, while the OXI or ‘no’ campaign is running hot on social media.

People I know have expressed a variety of opinions. Some say that either way they’ll be hungry in the next few years, so they might as well vote ‘no’ and get the Troika off their backs. Others say they know that more pain awaits if they accept the bailout terms offered, but they fear Greece leaving the Eurozone and a return to the drachma. They say it’s better the devil you know, than uncertainty.

As a very wise woman once explained to me, people are only motivated by two emotions: fear and love. All other emotions can be traced back to these two.

I have no doubt that everyone voting in the referendum will think they are doing the right thing for their country and their future. I also have no doubt that for many the motivating emotions will be fear of what will come next mixed with love of their country.

I personally hope that Greeks vote a big fat ‘OXI’ – ‘no’. But it’s easy for me to have an opinion because I’m an outsider. I’m all care and no responsibility.

As I write this, the polling booths have closed and soon we will know the result. Either way, in the tradition of Greeks who pass on “good” wishes, I wish Greece and Greeks, Καλἠ μαχἠ και καλἠ συνἐχια – a good fight and a good continuation.

When in Greece – part 1: “Good” to be here

When I was learning Greek as a child, I was taught that there were three words that one could use as a greeting, or parting wish, at different times of the day: Καλημἐρα – kalimera – good morning, Καλησπἐρα – kalispera – good evening, and Καληνὐχτα – kalinichta – good night. That was it. Those three things.

As the years have passed, however, more “good” greetings and “good” wishes have been added to the Greek lexicon.

Now you have to understand that in Greek, notwithstanding a few variations, the standard seasons greetings all begin with “good”, for example, Καλὀ Πἀσχα – Kalo Pascha – Good Easter, Καλἀ Χριστοὐγεννα – Kala Christougenna – Good Christmas, Καλἠ Πρωτοχρονιἀ – Kali Protohronia – Good New Year.

But alongside these and the standard greetings I learnt as a child, there has been a steady increase in other wishes, so that you now regularly also hear:

– Καλὀ πρωϊ – kalo proee – good morning (this is different to the good morning above which is a greeting, whereas Kalo proee is said when you’re heading off and the morning is still ahead of you)

– Καλὀ μεσημἐρι – kalo mesimeri – good lunchtime (which is the period from about 2pm-5pm and takes in the siesta)

– Καλὀ απὀγεμα – kalo apogema – good afternoon (the period between about 5-9pm; different to Kalispera in the same way Kalimera and Kalo proee differ)

– Καλὀ βρἀδυ – kalo vradi – literally “good night time” but used in the sense of good evening (the period between 9 and whenever you go to bed)

– Καλὀ Σαββατοκὐριακο – kalo sabbatokiriako – good weekend

– Καλἠ εβδομἀδα – kali evdomada – good week

– Καλὀ μἠνα – kalo mina – good month

– Καλἠ χρονιἀ – kali chronia – good year

– Καλἐς γιορτἐς – kalles yiortes – literally “good holidays” used in the American sense of “seasons greetings” for either Easter or Christmas

– Καλἐς διακοπἐς – good diakopes – good holidays, in the Australian sense of good vacation

Then about seven or eight years ago I became aware of even more “good” wishes that had been added:

– Καλὀ ξημἐρωμα – good ximeroma – good day break (said the night before, either instead of or with Kalo Vradi and/or Kalinichta)

– Καλἠ ξεκοὐραση – kali xekourasi – good rest (usually said before the siesta)

Don’t you think that’s a lot of wishes? I mean, in comparison to what we say in English? And yet, on this trip I heard a new “good” wish which seems to have emerged between now and my last trip to Greece in January 2013.

People now say, Καλἠ συνἐχια – kali sinehia – good continuation.

You hear it everywhere: you’re at a shop, the teller puts through your things and wishes you a good continuation – i.e. of your shopping. Or you wish them a good continuation – of their working day. You’re travelling on a long haul coach or train, the conductor checks your ticket and then wishes you a good continuation – of your travels. Basically whenever you’re in the middle of something, any person you interact with can wish you a good continuation – of whatever it is you’re doing.

I often joke with a Greek-Australian friend who lives in Greece about all the “good” wishes that people pass on in Greece. Where will it end? we wonder. What will they come up with next?

My friend called me when I was at the first “OXI” rally about a week ago (that is, a rally supporting a ‘no’ vote in the Greek referendum held on 5 July). I told her that one of the speakers at the rally had just announced the long list of artists who would be performing at the rally concert. At the end she signed off by saying, Καλἠ συναυλἰα, καλὀ ΟΧΙ και καλἠ συνἐχια – Kali sinavlia, kalo OHI kai kali sinehia – Good concert, good ‘NO’ and good continuation.

“Did she really say “Good ‘NO’?” she asked incredulously, and we both laughed.

The next night I told the same story to another Greek-Australian friend who has lived in Greece since his teens. He also saw the funny side. As I ended the call I wished him, Καλἠ τηλεὀρασι – Kali tileorasi – good television!

I truly am amazed – sometimes hilariously so – at the way the Greek people are constantly finding new ways to wish each other well.

But how much does it say about the spirit of a people that has been going through so much hardship in the last five to eight years that they continue to find the positivity required to give these upbeat good wishes to each other?

It’s like people know that together they can give each other strength to carry on, in spite of what life is throwing at them. Every “good” wish implies that the person saying it to you cares for your wellbeing. They want life to be good for you. So they keep coming up with new and innovative ways of giving each other that strength and support.

The truth is, notwithstanding all my laughter, I actually find something profoundly beautiful and admirable in that.

Return of the travel curse

Years ago I thought I was cursed with a travel curse. I’m not sure by whom, how or why I’d been cursed but every time I went overseas some drama would occur, so I was pretty sure the curse was real.

One time on a Greek island, my bed and breakfast host (who in those days would collect guests’ passports and hold them at the front desk), inadvertently gave my passport to another Australian on check-out. By the time they notified me the other Australian had left the island. To add a bit of urgency to the situation, I was due to leave Greece myself in four days’ time – so I needed that passport. (In case you’re the kind of person that needs to know how a story ends, yes, I managed to obtain an emergency passport on the morning of my flight out.)

Another time, when travelling to Vancouver, I lost my luggage. Or rather, it was delayed by a couple of days. Not too big a deal, except that I didn’t have any carry-on luggage with me because one of my friends had suggested I didn’t need any, saying, “What can go wrong? How many people do you know who have lost their luggage?” As it turns out, the moment I arrived in Vancouver after twenty hours in transit, desperately needing a shower and a change of outfit, but with no toiletries or clothes, I remembered I do, in fact, know someone who lost their luggage. Funny that.

I’ve also missed an international flight, though that was perhaps less due to a curse and more to my own problems with punctuality (but for the sake of the argument I’ll include it here). I was travelling from Madrid to Thessaloniki and arrived at the Olympic Airways check-in counter to find a drawn shutter and no sign of staff anywhere. Do you know the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is banging on the glass as he watches Katherine Ross prepare to marry another man? That was me, banging on the glass in the airport, watching my plane roll away along the tarmac.

(And yes, I learnt my lesson and have only ever been early for all flights since then.)

Then the curse seemed to disappear. For eight years I’ve had trips without anything remotely going wrong. In fact, everything has gone to schedule so smoothly that I’d actually forgot about the curse. As I was leaving for Greece last Wednesday, however, I remembered it.

Firstly, as I finished packing my suitcase I clipped the zip tags into the suitcase’s built in lock. I immediately tried to open it again, entering what I believed to be the three digit code. It didn’t work. I tried it again. Nothing. I tried it repeatedly for about ten minutes. Nothing doing. I only have one three digit number that I use when I need a three number PIN. If it wasn’t going to work here, then I had no idea what the number could possibly be.

I actually tried to break into my suitcase but didn’t have the right tools. After twenty minutes I had to leave it and trust that I would be able to sort it out later. Otherwise I’d be in jeopardy of not being early for my flight (see point above).

We packed the car and I returned to lock the front door. The main door locked fine. The security door, on the other hand, which had been working just fine all day, decided to spontaneously combust at that precise moment. Not only would it not lock, it wouldn’t even stay closed. I couldn’t believe it!

At the airport I called my brother and told him about the door. He assured me he would look at it, so I knew, thankfully, that the issue would be resolved pretty quickly. But still I wondered: what would be the third thing? Because we all know these things come in threes.

My flight to Athens stopped at Dubai, where I had a four hour wait. I went to a cafe to get something to eat and pulled out my wallet to pay. Normally I carry my usual credit cards and ATM card when I travel but this time I organised a debit card that I’d loaded up with euro. I pulled it out to pay with it and immediately realised I couldn’t remember my PIN. It’s a long story but I also knew there was no way I was going to remember it. And I had no back up plan to access money. This was the third thing. The curse was most definitely back.

Thankfully I was given some fantastic travel advice some years ago by a lovely friend called Lil that has proved invaluable for dealing with situations like these:

“Remember: even when you’re having a shit time, you’re actually having a good time.”

When I missed my flight in Madrid, I was freaking out at first and then, remembering Lil’s advice, realised I’d rather be missing a flight in Madrid than be stressing out at work.

I’ve also learnt from experience that issues resolve themselves. When I arrived in Athens last Thursday I got airport staff to cut through the zip tags so I could open my case. I’ve also managed to obtain my debit card PIN through the miracle of the internet. Obviously there are real tragedies that can occur when travelling, but for the lightweight dramas I’m talking about, it helps to keep some perspective.

suitcase lock with tags cut

So. I’ve been in Thessaloniki a week now and there have been no more dramas. Perhaps it’s all over – the curse has gone again. On the other hand, I just visited at a cousin’s holiday house by the beach and she spent about half her time there trying to fix her toilet which seemed to break down upon our arrival. Which leads me to wonder: are curses transferable?

Travel habits – part 2: Little miracles

I’d like to let you in on a secret: a little miracle is about to occur in humble suburban Melbourne this evening. Yes, for the first time EVER, I will be packing my suitcase a full 24 hours ahead of my trip.

I’ll just pause here to let you recover because I realise I’ve probably thrown you into shock.

What’s that? You’re not in shock?

Aaah that will be because you’re not aware of my “only ever pack on the day of the flight” motto which has countless times served to trip me up because the packing took longer than expected and caused me to run late.

Hence the decision to pack early. Normally early is a concept that makes no sense to me, but in this case I think it’s warranted.

Now, earlier today I was telling my osteopath Nigel about this, and he wondered whether or not it was a good idea to pack early as there is, he suggested, something to be said for packing under pressure. And I agree to an extent because I know from experience that packing at the last minute definitely gets you to focus.

On the other hand, my packing methodology is so foolproof that I don’t need that last minute pressure to focus the mind. You see, as you might have expected given my love of lists, I have created a packing list. In fact, that doesn’t do it justice. It’s more accurate to call it The Greatest Packing List of All Time.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

*bows with flourish of arms*

What’s so special about it, you ask? I’ll tell you. It’s detailed. It doesn’t say “toiletries” for example, it says:

“shower stuff
body stuff (deodorant, moisturiser)
make up
hair stuff
eye stuff
teeth stuff
face & body SPF stuff”

And so on. We are talking about an appropriately detailed yet suitably generic uber-list.

Everything you could possibly need is on the list. You don’t need to pack everything on the list, mind you, but as long as you go through it and use it as a checklist you’ll pack everything you need.

That’s actually the reason I came up with the idea of the uber-list. Before the list I’d arrive overseas to discover I’d forgotten something critical (my phone charger one time, pyjamas another). After this happened one too many times I came up with the idea of the list. Needless to say, since the emergence of The Greatest Packing List of All Time, I’ve never forgotten to pack anything.

So, with the mother of all packing lists in hand, tonight I’ll be conjuring a little miracle by packing a day early. Because I’ve decided: old travel habits don’t have to die hard.

packing list sitting in empty suitcase

Travel habits – part 1: Express yourself

It’s about to happen again. Tomorrow I fly out to Greece to visit family and friends. I last saw everyone in early 2013 and a lot has happened in everyone’s respective lives since then so there will be a lot to talk about. Which is why it’s going to happen again.

I speak Greek fluently, or I like to think I do. Whenever I go to Greece, however, I become painfully aware of how poorly I speak the language. Don’t get me wrong, I can order a meal in a restaurant like a native, give instructions to the taxi-driver like a local, and enjoy all the small talk in the world.

My limitations become glaring, however, in two circumstances. Firstly, when I attempt to watch the news broadcasts. There’ll be a report on the economy, for example, and after a detailed three minute report, this is what I’ll have gleaned: “Something about money and the euro and the economy and that man disagrees with that other man but that woman had something to say about it.”

Yep. That’ll be everything I understand.

The second, and most painful for me, is when conversation with family and friends turns to anything other than the most superficial of topics. I’m the kind of person who loves a good d&m (that’s “deep and meaningful” for the uninitiated). I love to get into the heart of matters and don’t shy away from difficult topics. But when I try to do this with family and friends in Greece, I’m hamstrung by my poor vocabulary and hit-and-miss application of grammar and syntax.

For someone who makes a living stringing sentences together and helping other people express themselves, I can’t tell you how incredibly frustrating it is not to be able to express myself properly in these discussions.

Sometimes I’m sure they all think I’m an idiot as I stumble along in broken Greek, struggling to find the right word, knowing it won’t actually come because I don’t know it to begin with.

And yet, somehow we manage to get through to each other. In fact, my mother told me the other day that my cousins are looking forward to seeing me and “discussing things” with me, so perhaps they’re getting something out of the conversation, no matter how limited I think my contribution is.

The positive for me is that for all my limitations when I speak Greek, I’m pretty good at the non-verbal stuff – and I don’t mean waving my arms about in typical Greek gestures (though I’m pretty good at that, too). I’m talking about one of the oldest ways of communicating love and affection between humans, which transcends all verbal boundaries. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt with all my visits to Greece it’s to never underestimate the power of a good hug.

It’s a numbers game

The other day I went shopping for four birthday cards. A card for each of two friends who are turning 45, another for a friend turning 50, and the last a card for my mum who is 75 today.

With a few notable exceptions, the numbers are tending to be on the big side for everyone in my circle of friends and loved ones.

Of course, ‘big’ is a relative term. I remember one day when I was twenty-two and working at VicRoads, my mum came in to pay her car registration. Later that day she asked me who the ‘young good-looking man’ was that had served her. I racked my brain. As far as I knew, there were no hot guys my age working at VicRoads at the time. I asked for more details.

“The Indian man, with the moustache” she volunteered.

“Mum! He’s not young! He’s forty-four!”

“From where I’m standing, that’s young!”

She would have been fifty-three at the time.

Forty-four seemed positively ancient to me back then. But that’s the thing about these numbers. They all seem ancient until it’s your turn.

I remember being eighteen and working with a woman who was twenty-one. That seemed lightyears from where I was. When she turned twenty-two it was as if she’d declared she’d officially finished with her youth and joined the world of the adults. She was no longer one of “us” – she was one of “them”.

I also remember having a romantic fling with a nineteen year old in Florence when I was twenty-one. I considered him a “younger man”.

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two – they all seem incredibly small numbers now. As does twenty-seven. Though when I turned twenty-seven, I felt incredibly old because it suddenly dawned on me that I was only three years from thirty.

The irony is, I’ve discovered, as you do with age, that I’m actually getting better and better as I get older. I am more and more my true self, comfortable with who I am, and much less inclined to care what anyone else thinks about that. They say the majority of people get happier as they get older for that exact reason: you care less about faking it for the sake of what others will think about you.

One of my friends has confided that she is not at all happy with turning forty-five. “I have a real problem with that number,” she told me recently.

On the other hand, I’m not only comfortable with forty-five, I’ve projected ahead and I’m comfortable with all the numbers in my future.

Okay, it is true that, when I really think about it, I still can’t believe I’m actually going to be fifty in five years’ time. But I don’t feel fifty! And I don’t think I look fifty – whatever that looks like.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my mum when she turned sixty and I asked her what it felt like. She said, “Len, you know, sometimes I look in the mirror and I expect to see a twelve year old girl looking back at me. That’s how I feel on the inside!”

I always put that down to my mum being a very youthful person, full of energy and with a young-at-heart spirit. But as I’ve gotten older I can relate to her experience a lot more.

I’m stuck at nineteen. That’s how old I feel inside. And I know Mum and I aren’t alone in this phenomenon. A woman I worked with many years ago told me whenever people asked her how old she was she always answered “twenty-six” because that’s how old she felt. She was in her forties.

Funnily enough, just the other day my mum mentioned in passing that the time that her family lived in the heart of Thessaloniki held her happiest childhood memories. They lived there in 1952. When she was twelve.

Looking back to when I was nineteen, that year was hugely significant in my life. It was definitely the happiest year of my youth, if I had to pick one.

Mind you, I should’ve said ‘I used to be stuck at nineteen’, because as I’ve become happier and happier with my life these last few years, I feel less my nineteen year old self, and more like my very happy forty-something self. And loving it! – as Maxwell Smart used to say.

The other thing about turning fifty in five years’ time is that, the way I look at it, it’s kind of like the transition from being in primary school to being in high school. One minute, you’re top of the kids, the mature Grade 6-er. Next thing, you’re at the bottom of the ladder again. You’re the young newbie Year 7 kid, looking up at all the older kids who know so much more than you.

Fifty is like being the youngest of the oldies.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself; I’ve got lots of days between then and now. And I plan to savour every single one of them, including all my birthdays. If life is a numbers game, I’d like to play them all.