Put to shame, and other postscripts

It’s amazing what can come up in conversation. When I visited good friends in Athens a month ago, we were talking about what we take with us when we travel. Do we travel light? Or do we take an outfit for every possible contingency? Naturally, I brought up my packing list, the one I’d so lavishly praised in a blog post just before I left for Greece. I praised its virtues exuberantly.

My friend said that he, too, had developed a packing list that the whole family uses when travelling, and brought it out for me to see.

What can I say? It was a long, comprehensive, laminated list that could be used multiple times: things that weren’t relevant could be crossed out; things to be packed could be ticked off. There were even blank lines for miscellaneous things only relevant to each specific trip to be added. Then you can wipe the whole lot clean and start again.

I was floored. “Oh my God” I stammered. “I’m so impressed. That is so impressive…”

I had been put to shame.

Later, over dinner, the conversation turned to food and I mentioned my favourite meal was a traditional Greek casserole of green beans and potatoes (known as φασολάκια με πατάτες – fasolakia me patates). My friends’ teenage daughters can’t stand this dish, I was told.

I turned to one daughter and said, “Aaah, that’s because you haven’t tried my fasolakia me patates!”

“Yeah”, she replied, “That’s what you said about your list, too.”

Gotta admit, she had a point.


When I wrote about the difficulties in conversing with my friends and family in Greece, little did I realise I had a secret weapon in my possession that would help me out.

This is the first time I’ve travelled to Greece with a smartphone, you see – not because I haven’t been to Greece in a long time (I was just there in 2013), but because I was a late adopter as far as smartphones are concerned.

In any case, I very quickly realised that, thanks to my iPhone, I could reach into my pocket and pull out my own instant translation service. Google Translate became my new best friend.

iPhone screen shot from Google Translate

Not only was it useful when I desperately needed help expressing myself, I also used it when reading about the political situation in Greece – in fact, I’m still using it for this purpose. I am able to copy words straight from news websites or from Twitter and paste them into Google Translate. Within seconds out spits a translation.

It has been incredibly helpful. I’m now pretty fluent in the language of the current political landscape in Greece. Unsurprisingly, given the timing of my visit to Greece, the first word I looked up was διαπραγματεύσης – diapragmatevsis. It was in every news report on TV and all the articles I read online.

It means ‘negotiation’.


Another word I learnt when in Greece was δημοψήφισμα – demopsifisma: ‘referendum’. In the last post I wrote, I said I was hoping for Greeks to vote ΟΧΙ – ‘NO’ – in the Greek referendum of 5 July 2015. Author Christos Tsiolkas recently wrote an article about the aftermath of the referendum for The Monthly (Greek Tragedy). In it he writes about experiencing “political hope” and “political optimism” in the immediate wake of the referendum. These were feelings that swept up an entire nation (or at least the 61.3 per cent that voted ‘NO’). Feelings that I experienced, too, when I was in Greece in the week preceding the referendum, as well as immediately after.

The tragedy of what followed and what continues to be played out is that the Greek prime minister’s tactic of using the referendum result as a means of strengthening his negotiation position spectacularly backfired. Greece’s people may have rejected austerity but Greece’s lenders had not.

Meanwhile, the flower of political optimism and hope that had begun to grow in the hearts of the Greek people was not only weeded out; the garden it grew in was completely concreted over.

On my last day in Athens I visited the Acropolis, which I hadn’t been to in over twenty years. It was a glorious day and the marble of the Parthenon and the other buildings glimmered in the sun. The Greek flag fluttered against the backdrop of the city and the blue sky.

Greek flag - fluttering in wind

Over more than two millennia, the Acropolis has withstood countless attacks by Greece’s enemies, including being bombed in World War II. It’s still there though, and, while it is obviously damaged and worn, it’s still breathtaking in its magnificence.

I’ve written before about the lessons of history regarding the strength of the Greek people, and when I look at my photos of the day I reflect on this again.

I think of the Acropolis and its buildings as symbols of the resilience of the Greek people, who may be down now, who may be worn and damaged, but who will never be out.

Parthenon of Athens

A First Hand Look at Economies in Crisis – part 2

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

I travel to Europe about every three years and was last in Greece in September 2010. At the time the economic crisis was just starting to affect people’s day-to-day lives as the first round of cuts had just been made … Continue reading

It’s a Dog’s Life

If you’ve been to Syntagma Square in Athens then you’ll probably be familiar with the stray dogs of Athens that congregate there. By my count there are about half a dozen large-ish dogs of mixed breed that seem to have the run of this major central square in Athens.

Syntagma Square, for those not familiar, sits in front of the Greek Parliament building, which also has on its grounds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the other end of the square the very long Ermou Street, the premier shopping street of Athens, kicks off, and the Plaka precinct brims with shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Syntagma Square is always bustling, popular both with tourists and locals, who arrive in their hundreds every minute from the Metro station that sits underneath it.

It seems kind of surprising then, that a pack of stray dogs would be able to survive in Syntagma Square, yet these dogs do more than survive: they thrive in it. They are an incongruous addition to an otherwise sophisticated environment, yet over the years they have become an integral part of the whole Syntagma Square precinct. God knows they have the run of the whole area; on my last trip I even saw one dog snoozing near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, unperturbed by the tourists – and soldiers! – who gathered nearby.

20130214-151957.jpgWhen I first saw the stray dogs of Athens I wondered how they managed to survive through the hot summers and cold winters. On this trip I spotted a young woman who had come into the city one night with the specific objective of feeding the dogs. She seemed to be checking them for any signs of ill health, as well, which made me guess she was a vet or student vet.

20130214-152106.jpgA lot of the dogs wear collars and tags and there are shops whose staff feed various dogs. There is obviously a support network of animal lovers that looks after these dogs. Even in times of economic crisis when everyone and every business is tightening their belt, the stray dogs of Athens remain at the heart of a community that finds a way to take care of them. They are quite literally the underdogs that everyone wants to see succeed in life.

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