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Back Home in Athens

Athens AcropolisSo here I am in Athens again in the midst of the economic crisis and the possible default and collapse of the government and things seem kind of normal. I mean, I had my fears and doubts and in fact we were thinking about going right from the airport to Lavrion and taking the ferry to Kea. But Andrea left the keys to our Kea house in Chapel Hill and so we had to come to our apartment in Kypseli where we had spares. To tell the truth I was curious to know what it was like here. I heard stories of empty shops and failed businesses and wanted to see which of my favorite hangouts I would not be able to hang out in anymore. But the thought of being on an island and swimming my first day in Greece was way too tempting and we had pretty much decided to go to Kea when Andrea discovered the keys were not in her bag. So the decision was made for us.

Athens seemed the same when we arrived. The airport was normal though the lines to passport control were a little longer than we are used to because we were coming later than usual. There was a general strike the day before our flight and we were afraid that would affect our flight, but then 2 days before the stike, the air-traffic controllers announced that they would not be taking part because it would be detrimental to Greek tourism, which is one of the few hopes this country has. So we were pretty hopeful that we would not have any delays and no problems at least getting to Athens. I had just remarked to Andrea on our first flight from RDU to Philly, that I was feeling pretty good considering the anxiety I felt leading up to the trip. In fact I felt great until the stewardess began reading the list of connections and told us that the Athens flight was leaving at midnight, an 8 hour delay that I interpreted as meaning that the plane had been delayed from leaving Athens for 8 hours. Our hearts really sank and I was wondering what I would do in the Philadelphia airport for 8 plus hours. But I accepted that this was a fate I could handle and was rewarded for my faith when we got to the gate and the flight was listed on time and the ladies at the desk told us that someone on our flight had made a mistake. And it was a great flight! I listened to a 2 hour lecture on A Course in Miracles, ate the terrible airline food, took one of Andrea's sleeping pills and slept for 5 hours, woke up and watched A SERIOUS MAN for the 4th time (It is catching up to THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and the next thing I knew we were in Athens. Oh yeah, I have to add. You know those pillows that fit around your neck that they sell at the airports for $10? BUY ONE! They really make a difference in your physical comfort level. Trust me on this.

Kypseli, AthensSo after taking a short nap in the apartment we walked around Kypseli and were shocked to see life going on as it always had. The same cafes and restaurants on Fokionos Negri were open and people were eating and drinking. People were walking their dogs. The same Africans were selling their DVDs. We went to Cafe Foibos and Julia said they had a very good winter and planned to be open for years to come. At Rena's she said that the economy was difficult but they were surviving, as did the family at 'Oi Nostimies tis Maries'. In fact the only casualties of the economy from my Kypseli website were the Kalamia taverna, and the souvlaki shop my friend Elias made the mistake of investing in and had regretted ever since.

Meanwhile downtown, the government is trying to work out a plan to get Greece some more money that won't piss off too much the angry mob which has been demonstrating outside in Syntagma Square for the last 20 days. Yesterday the protesters tried to stop the government from voting on the new austerity plan by surrounding the parliament building and not allowing ministers to enter, which the police had to prevent with tear gas. And so for the first time the peaceful rally turned violent to the joy of CNN and the BBC which once again was able to beam their photos and stories of 'Riots in Athens' to the frightened travelers who were weighing whether or not to cancel their trips because of the 'situation'. If you are one of them and you can survive without seeing the changing of the Royal Guards (Evzones) in Syntagma Square, the demonstration should not have much of an effect on your holiday unless you happen to be staying at one of the 3 luxury hotels on the square, which I am sure have contingency plans for their guests being able to get in and out of the hotel during a demonstration.

Kypseli, AthensI have not been downtown yet, I admit. But since all the action is in Syntagma Square and nobody is on strike today that I know of, people who are staying in and around the Plaka, Makrianni, and Monastiraki are probably doing what normal tourists do. Walking around, shopping, visiting the archaeological sites and museums, and filling the restaurants and cafes of those areas as they are in my neighborhood of Kypseli.

For those who worry about the affect on their holiday of a government collapse or economic default can you imagine a hotel worker, a taxi driver, a travel agent, a tour-bus driver, or the workers at restaurants, cafes, and shops waking up and saying "well, we don't have a government and the country is broke so I am not going to work today?" Whatever happens things will chug along here the way they always do because people have to live and they have to eat and they have to work and tourism is their livelihood. The people on the streets have nothing against tourists. Their enemy is the greedy banks and crooked politicians, the same enemy you have though you may not have recognized this to the degree that the Greeks have. (Don't worry. You will).

Anyway we are meeting some friends on Fokionos for dinner at O Bakalogatos (Andrea's favorite restaurant). My daughter is taking a taxi to visit her friends in Agia Paraskevis and I think we will stick around Athens for a few more days because despite the economic hardships of the people who live here, it seems pretty normal to me. Should you be worried about your trip? I was. Now I am not. And I know I will be even less so once I get to the islands.

Feels like home to me.

More 'Riots'?

Unless I am mistaken the word riot implies a large group of people mindlessly out of control burning and breaking things in an orgy of anger. What happened in Athens is the following: The people who have been protesting in Syntagma Square for the last 3 weeks decided that the way to keep the government from voting for more austerity (more suffering for the Greek working class) was to keep the members of the government out of the Parliament building so there would not be enough of them to vote for these extreme measures. So they made a ring around the building. The police were ordered to protect the building and allow the members of government to get through and so they used tear-gas to keep back the crowd. The crowd responded with rocks, insults and maybe a few people threw molotov cocktails (since not everyone comes to a peaceful protest with bottles of gasoline and rags in their pockets). So by my definition this was not a riot. This is a crowd that had one intention, to keep Parliament from voting, coming up against the police who had the opposite intention. Neither was likely to give up their specific goals to go running down the street chasing frightened tourists.

This is an example of how the media writes for idiots, using keywords to incite fear, and manages to scare the shit out of people who should know better.

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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