During a discussion about feminism’s recent mainstream breakthroughs, I was made to recollect the fact that I have, all too often, in the (all too recent) past, behaved in an egregiously misogynistic manner, probably most severely when drunkenly shouting salacious, even sexually aggressive things at women in the street. A few years on, I now claim honest and meaningful regret for these actions. But still. Not cool.
I mention this now because it casts a strange light on the consideration given in my Italy post to the growing prevalence of public sexual harassment of women in European cities. My point here, I think, is that perhaps I don’t have the requisite authority to be going around like the grand High Male Feminist of Europe when the foundations of my own Sexual Wokeness are so fragile.
There was cause for further contemplation of the kind of self-presentation plied in this blog, when my accomplice (who’d kindly carried out a baton pass of my debit card with my housemate in London) revealed that the father of said had read my blog and had called his son to check if I’m alright. I am alright, and I’m sure my housemate assured him as much. ‘It’s just his shtick’, he probably said, an occasional catchphrase of my ever-supportive closest friends these last few years, I’m sure. But I voiced concern to my accomplice that people might be inferring from these sketches that I’m having a bad time. I do, I suppose, tend to focus on the negative, but that’s just because presenting only the positive would be boring and disingenuous.
My accomplice asked whether dutifully writing a long blog is in fact a good thing to be doing, during what will in hindsight surely seem a precious but all-too-short episode in my life. Perhaps it’d be better to take the time off to just appreciate things and maybe read some books rather than typing out thousands of words of regret over not having enough time to appreciate things and being a slow reader.
I disagreed and my accomplice compromised by gently suggesting that if I must write a blog, I might feel less duty-bound to spill the grimmer psychological beans if I restrict myself to just one paragraph per entry.
I saw the value in this approach. It would allow me to get down enough of my impressions and observations to provide a good source for expansion in years to come, while at the same time, keeping me in sufficient check to avoid giving anybody else’s father cause for concern.
So I’m going to try it, not restricting myself quite as rigorously as my accomplice suggested, to one paragraph to cover the entire Athens stint, but at least to one paragraph per day of the trip.
Slept long and decently on the ferry, across a bank of airline-style seats. Awoke to see the sun climbing over the Ionian islands.
Passage from the port of Patras to Athens, 200km over the Peloponnese, which might have been tedious in the midday heat, proved straightforward. Off the ferry, I was straight on a shuttle bus to the port entrance, and straight off this onto the town bus to the coach station, and straight off this onto the Athens coach. Then a delicious two hour drive with a window-scape of violently blue coastal vistas. The fates were smiling. Their smiles weakened slightly, however, when I reached the bus station in Athens and found myself utterly discombobulated. The deep pertinence of the possibly xenophobic idiom ‘it’s all Greek to me’ became apparent as I looked around for general signage or indeed any sort of intelligible linguistic marker. Whereas in France, Spain and Italy, I’d been able to infer, deduce and guess my way through the semiotic landscape, here I was utterly impotent. My Airbnb host, Karelina, said she’d pick me up by the station entrance, bus the station had at least three entrances and I couldn’t even be sure I was at the right station. She’d said she’d pull in on ‘Kiffisios Street’ but the only nearby road accessible to public vehicles was a roaring dual carriage-way, overrun with urgent, loud traffic. She can’t possibly mean she’ll pick me up here, I thought. But a quick phone call revealed she did. Shortly thereafter, her grey Ford Focus screeched into a narrow gap between idling cars and I flung myself across the path of a beeping coach and into the passenger seat. Karelina, who had the kind of smile that hits you like half a Valium, was immensely charming and helpful, until she turned out to be - like Eloise in Foix - a casual racist, so revealed when she recommended go to a beach someway out of town because the nearest one was ‘where the Albanians and Pakistanis go’.
[Probably a good time to admit defeat with the one paragraph per day approach. I tried. Also to acknowledge that when the hosts say these racist things I habitually do the pathetic liberal thing of simply muttering polite disagreement. If it happens agan, I’ll contest it properly.]
I asked Karelina how long it would take to walk into town and she told me 30 mins but warned me it was a bad idea because I would see ‘nothing that is special on the way’. She’s clearly no psychogeographer, I thought. But she was right. The narrow, unevenly paved, balcony-overlooked, stray cat-ruled streets surrounding the Airbnb were quite special in my eyes, but these soon gave way to the most tedious and polluted road I’ve seen in all of Europe. Like Euston Road but hot. Unsure where to come off said, I got lost, and not in a thrilling psycho-geographical way, just in an annoying way. Eventually found more interesting terrain, saw the Acropolis, luminescent up a hill. Found a smashing little bar with a busy terrace in a fragrant and tree-shrouded back street. Ate in a heavily tourist-focussed restaurant, but as tourist-focussed restaurants go it was a good one. Think the waiter found my order (one stuffed pepper, one stuffed tomato, bread and a big beer) quite weird.
Went to Syntagma Square and saw the Parliament building. Watched the lads with the big soft balls on their shoes clomping about. In addition to these fellas, the area was awash with militarised police officers. Walked around the National Gardens, which, like all good green spaces were heavily shaded and easy to get lost in. Went back to apartment to buy food before accomplice’s arrival (find the Metro a joy to use here, very modern and marble bright – possibly because of Olympics?; later read about the improvement of services for the olympics having been exemplary of Greece’s uneven and neglectful infrastructural spending). In the supermarket struggle to find hummus. Really expected there to be like a hummus aisle. But, I now realise, hummus is not really a Greek staple, more a Levantine speciality, which becomes dietarily auxiliary north of Cyprus (until you get to East London amiriii) . Accomplice arrives at airpot about midnight and I wait at arrivals with a funny sign. I’ve insisted in advance we get the bus back into town because it is 10 times cheaper than a taxi. Accomplice reveals that a British ex-pat on the plane has called me ‘cheap’ because of this.
Morning. Accomplice has to drink Athenian cold cafes or ‘Freddos’ (as in ‘cold’, sadly nothing to do with the little frog chocolates) ‘for work’. These are nice. Frappes, basically. While we drink them, a destitute-looking, elderly woman, who has been removing plastic cups from a bin, approaches us and indicates that she would like my cup. Accomplice and I conspire in weird, whispering tourist fashion and decide that she probably just wants the cup for a recycling reward or something but that maybe it would be A Very Nice Thing For Me To Do to give her the remaining third of my Freddo. She appears incredibly grateful and slurps the bastard down with a big smile. In my head she then lobs the cup onto the floor, but that’s just in my head. In reality she hung on to it.
The Acropolis. A fairly transcendental experience involving standing as long as possible before the deeply familiar and yet somehow disarmingly Osymandian monuments of Classical Greece, before the heat becomes unbearable and flight shade-wards necessary.
While we’re eating dinner (very good, mostly seafood) a man maybe in his mid 30s, approaches, and regales us with stories of his rambles. By the sounds of it, he’s been homeless in every single major city on the continent. His stories are entertaining and any suspicions over the veracity over claims to have e.g. discovered and inhabited two separate, unoccupied yet fully-furnished German castles go unvoiced. Eventually, a waiter indicates that he should leave the apparently public thoroughfare, upon which our table is situated. Callous.
After dinner we walk to Exarcheia, apparently Athens’ ‘anarchist neighbourhood’ which saw riots in 2008 following the police shooting of a student. Judging from this brief foray into the area, its anarchism now manifests mainly in the form of fairy lights and trendy bonhomie. Nice though. We drink beer and Ouzo and discuss, amongst other things, my great area of expertise, feminism.
Visit Aegina, a small island, one hour from Athens’ Piraeus port by ferry (40 minutes by ‘Flying Dolphin’ catamaran). From here we take another boat to Moni Eginas, an islet off the far side of the island. I can’t recall ever having been to an islet before, and I’m not disappointed – except by the fact that Trip Advisor describes the island as being ‘a haven of peacocks’ and we see not one of the special-feathered specimens. We do hear one or two though, crying out from hidden depths on the pine ridges, their plaintive note warbling, as if to say: ‘I wish all you fucking pricks on your sun loungers with your Greek salads and your small Heineken cans would get off my island’. Accomplice, I think, remains amused and not too perturbed by my neuroticism over travel logistics and suncream application.
On the way back, the Flying Dolphin is full so we have to take the slow ferry, which turns out to be the Serendipity of the Year, as we chug back through the gulf at sunset, as hues of gold and sixteen shades of red pervade the sky. We each nail a couple of Heinekens and the lights from the islands begin to pierce the gloam. You can see how he might have dreamt it all, Homer – whoever he or she or they was/were – Saronically drifting, the impressions of islands, in darkling layers on the horizon, flanking channels and suggesting that untravell’d world, whose margin fades forever and ever.
Accomplice leaves to join family holiday in Italy. Sad. Go to the Acropolis museum and flesh out the meagre learnings of two days earlier.
Btw, the Greeks really, really want their marbles back. And, to be fair to them, it’s hard to dispute their case. The British argument, which basically seems to amount to, ‘they don’t know how to look after them properly’, seems pretty paltry when you’ve walked around this state-of the-art museum devoted to preserving ancient stone monuments. [By utter chance, a few days later see a Yougov tweet stating that British public are strongly in favour of returning them].
In the evening, walk up Mount Lycabettus at sunset, which provides yet more Homeric transcendence, despite the presence of 16,008 other tourists.
Re-visit the Exarcheia neighbourhood on the way home. It’s anarchist credentials more apparent now: graffiti and posters for political events and rave nights everywhere; riot officers standing at ease, resting huge shields on their legs, on the boundaries of the district; at the centre of things, a large square, rather like Plaça Orwell (Acid Square) in Barcelona or Notre Dame du Monte in Marseille – a couple of hundred people, lots of them apparently migrants and/or refugees sitting on benches and kerbs, lots of cool, lo-fi bars, off-licenses, kiosks, kebab shops on the sides. Sit down outside a shisha bar and, for some reason, order a shisha, plus an aubergine curry and a large beer, all for 10 euros.
Two bros in vests and caps approach and ask me in over-deliberate English what the food is like. I reply that it is good and they’re like ‘oh you speak good English! Huh!’. I explain I am English and they’re excited. These two guys are from Oklahoma and have been in Athens for something like six weeks volunteering at a refugee school around the corner. They explain this is a big area for refugees and refugee activism. Two women, apparently European but not possibly not Greek, join the bros but seem a little less enthused by me than the American confreres. One of the bros is like: ‘wow you’re just sitting there with a shisha and a beer and a nice meal, huh’. I ask if they’d all like to join me because I’m not going to smoke the whole pipe on my own and the bros seem keen but the Euro-women say they would rather sit inside and that is the end of that.
Walk ‘home’ feeling a bit sick, but fairly content nonetheless.
This is supposed to be final full day in Athens but it’s transpired that a friend from the States will be coming to town tomorrow on her way to teach at an Ancient Greek summer school (as in a summer school on the subject of Ancient Greek not a summer school which is..). I look into changing plans to stick around but the next few weeks are administratively tricky (entirely my own over-organised fault of course), involving, as they do, a pre-booked train to Thessaloniki, a pre-arranged day of volunteering with a refugee charity, a pre-booked coach to Skopje, and a pre-booked Airbnb there, whose host has already gotten onto me about arrival and departure times, and a pre-arranged low-level anxiety attack about the whole business. Dolefully email friend to say I will not see her.
Realise I’ve seen no remotely modern art in Athens so go to the Contemporary Art Museum, which turns out to be not only closed but apparently completely empty. A sign mentions the ‘documenta’ [de-capitalised, of course] , which I now remember my Marseille host, Thibaut (himself an artist) mentioning. The documenta is a global art exhibition held annually in Kassel, Germany, but this year for the first time it also visited a second site, i.e. Athens. A later Google reveals this to have provoked allegations of a new-colonialist agenda: the implication being that Athens is trendy/ attractive to the contemporary art scene partly as a result of the counter-cultural responses to the economic crisis, a crisis which many people see as being gravely exacerbated by EU policy, strongly advocated by the German government.
Indeed, an intricate stencil graffito on the wall outside poses a sort of quiz question:
‘documenta 14 is like:
A. The World’s fair
B. The Eurogroup
C. The Eurovision
D. All of the above’
Voters had given their ballots in the form of discarded chewing gum, affixed after the optional answers. (D was winning).
Later get a strong impulse to change plans in order to see friend, which obviously turns out to be quite an easy undertaking..
Have to move to a new Airbnb, just south of the National Gardens. This is of a type which makes up maybe about 15% of listings on the site, as in its definitely not a spare room belonging to a citizen just trying to make ends meet. It’s a professional operation. The listing’s profile picture is a sleek logo rather than a photo of the place and its description dizzyingly pitches it as an ‘Airbnb, Restaurant and Spa’. Any qualms over community-threatening socio-economic evils and imprecise branding are supplanted, however, by its market-beating star-rating-to-price ratio. Ain’t that just modernity for you!!
The booking confirmation comes with a near-primer in the ‘self check-in’[ process, which seems to involve putting more codes into more doors than a medium difficulty first-person shooter level. Along with these are rigorous instructions about dropping my bags off and then going away again until the room is ready. In the event, though, when I arrive the host, Niko, is there to greet me. He’s a tall and ebullient fellow of about 32, who I suppose might register as having the vibe of a ‘Greek God’, albeit a slightly comical one (e.g. Eureus, God of the unlucky East Wind. . I veer between enthusiastic approval and wild dislike of Niko on an almost second-by-second basis. One minute he’s telling me about his small stone dwelling on the island of Ithaka which he lives in for three months a year without mains electricity, the next he’s boasting about how many holiday apartments he owns and how many more he intends to own.
He gives me a plate of delicious melon slices (water, honeydew, and, I think, gala) which somewhat sugars the pill of some of his more annoying utterances.
He rhapsodises about the natural splendour of the island and then recounts the destruction of som precious, ancient trees by inordinate floods a couple of years back. ‘That’s terrible!’ I say.
‘Yes, he says, but it is nature. You cannot control nature.’
A few days later, wild fires begin to burn around Athens.
I go to the Benaki Museum where the fates have played a blinder by staging a temporary exhibition about Patrick Leigh Fermor the British writer whose European memoir, ‘A Time of Gifts’ inspired this blog (or at least its title.)
The exhibition charts the friendship between Leigh Fermor and the artists John Craxton who designed the covers for all the former’s books and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. The three friends spent a lot of time in Greece together, as documented by the paintings and written extracts on display. Leigh Fermor built a house on the Mani peninsula of the Southern Penepolese, and would spend summers there with his long-term partner and eventual wife, Joan Rayner, and a revolving cast of friends, staying up late eating, drinking, discussing poetry, painting theatrical backdrops. Later life could be alright, I think. Could be. If we’re not all dead in the nucle
After getting, probably excessively, stuck in to that exhibition, my powers of concentration are all but sapped and I waste the opportunity to learn something substantial about modern Greece as I rushing around the rest of the museum. All I can tell you with any certainty about the last century of Greek history is that lots of things happened.
I did just about have enough in the tank to sit and watch a well-executed video exhibit, which was an interview with Jeff Koons, whose work I’ve never appreciated, but he came across alright here. You sit in a chair looking at a, big, portrait-aspected high-def screen projection of the artist sitting in a chair talking, more or less directly to the camera. His monologue was on what is still vital and instructive about Classical Greek, primarily its propensity for ‘balance’. Something we should surely take heed of in our lopsided times. The Greeks strove for the harmonious counterbalancing, and even the resolution, of apparently antagonist opposites: Apollo and Dionysus, masculine and feminine, the ambition to build colossal marble monuments and the desire of the enslaved underclass not to do backbreaking unpaid, manual labour.
When I get back to the Airbnb, the self check-in process proves to be actually of boss-level difficulty, relying on key-pad technology so modern as to be virtually unusable. Inside, I look around and suspicions about the property’s former life are aroused: there is a large foyer area, with no windows, decked out like a lounge, but really atmospherically more like a waiting area. There are maybe six bedrooms, some of which can only be the size of large cupboards, and these directly abut the waiting area. The advertised ‘spa’ element is comprised of a sauna and steam room, apparently out of action, and the showers - as in the actual showers for guests to use - are separated from the central space by plastic curtains. It looks like used to be a brothel, in case that needed spelling out. A weird move to convert a brothel fairly directly into an Airbnb, in my book. Still, as a young entrepreneur in a struggling economy, you’ve got to be resourceful, especially if you’ve a isolated island retreat to maintain.
Later I answer a frantic knocking on the door to find a guy outside looking baffled by the keypad. I show this fellow guest, a Chinese man of about 20 named Ping, inside and orientate him around the probable former knocking shop, as Niko is apparently nowhere to be found. This is, it strikes me, the height of modern bourgeois capitalism: arranging your business in such a way that your customers end up having to perform labour for you. Canny stuff.
But, Lo, the big man is soon back on the scene to esteem himself once more, when he discovers me working in the kitchen and, when I ask him whether there’s a good restaurant nearby, he insists on going downstairs to his own restaurant (currently closed as the BrothelBNB is apparently bringing in sufficient revenue) and bringing me stuffed tomatoes and peppers with a glass of red wine. There’s no price for any of this except that he sits with me while I eat it and shows me slow-motion videos on his phone of him swimming and jumping off a boat, all of which he seems to find genuinely hysterically amusing. He then excitedly tells me that tomorrow three more guests are (separately) coming for the weekend: an American girl and a British girl and a British guy (whom he seems less excited about). He suddenly has the idea that we should all go on a boat to ‘a private island’. I tell him that I can’t because I have to meet my friend and he looks utterly bamboozled and states his proposal again with added emphasis and goes as far as to show me the women’s profile pictures, which strikes me as fairly invasive.
I humour his proposal. It is a weird move from the fates to bolt this one out of the blue, but I did not decide to stay longer in Athens in order to lounge around on a boat with strange babes, I stayed in Athens to sit in a restaurant by the acropolis with a jet-lagged woman who will do her best to remain awake while I bombard her with questions about Greek Mythology.
Try to go to another contemporary gallery (The Breeder) in the afternoon. This too is closed. See police raiding brothels near Metaxourghiou Metro station. Perhaps they’ve been earmarked as Airbnbs.
In the evening go for dinner by the acropolis with my friend who is jet-lagged but does her best to remain awake while I bombard her with questions about Greek mythology. We have a good, wider-ranging chat besides this, all of which, I tell her, was worth sticking around for, admitting that I was unduly anxious about changing my plans. She suggests that this aversion to spontaneity might be a British thing, and I riposte that I think it’s more just a me thing, before going to on to posit that perhaps spontaneity and the anxiety, which might accompany it are perhaps related to class and economics. At this point, her fatigue becomes too great and we call it a (very enjoyable, semi-spontaneous) night.
Travelled to Thessaloniki, northern Greece by train. Had read in the early summer about a crash on this route in which four peopl died after a train came off the tracks.
A couple of hours into the journey the stopped suddenly, without explanation, and we were made to board a coach, which took us north for a few hours, before we disembarked and got on another train the rest of the way
Arrived late to the Airbnb, whose host, Sukie, an instantly very likeable, woman of about 50, welcomed me with measured and slightly nervous jollity. I apologised for how much I was sweating and asked to re-fill my water bottle as soon as enter the kitchen. She told me it was fine: she herself had drunk six litres of water that day!
‘In my ex-life I must have been a frog’ she joked.
‘Yes, or a fish!’ I added.
‘No, a frog because I can be out of the water, I just like water’ she said, and that was the end of that riff.
I apologised for my lateness. I’d already texted her to explain about the train delay and it transpired she knew precisely what had happened because she used to work on the railways as a signaller so looked into what the delay was about. Turns out that the previous day a train HAD come off the track! It was just a goods train and no-body was hurt but it had meant that a section of track had to be closed off. Sukie told me all this with the casual dispassion of someone reporting a minor traffic tram. She later told me that she retired early from her job because it became too stressful after the economic crisis.
‘They stopped buying new trains, new signals, the things you need to make the railways run properly and people blamed us’.
Now, I infer, she lives on the income from renting out her two spare bedrooms on Airbnb, which seemed a logistical stretch given that her son and daughter, both mid twenties, live with her as well and there appeared to only be three bedrooms in the apartment.
When I woke up and entered the living room, I found Sukie sleeping on the sofa but she awoke abruptly and insisted she had fallen asleep there unintentionally.
This was the long-awaited day on which I would perform my one vaguely utilitarian duty during the entire three month project and volunteer with a refugee charity. Being accepted onto one of the various refugee projects in the region can be a difficult process, as my fellow volunteers – one of whom was a nurse, another a teacher, and both experienced crisis volunteers to boot – attested. I’d had a Really Good Friend of Mine put a word in for me with the charity’s CEO to ensure a volunteering place. Apparently there were no deliveries going out on the day I was there, which was why I couldn’t go to a camp, but then I wouldn’t have resented them for explaining that I can’t just turn up for one day, untrained and useless, and expect to be spirited right to the front line. To have protested would have smacked of voyeuristic self-importance so I happily went and did my logistical bit.
It’s two busses to ‘the warehouse’ – a storage and distribution facility located in a former warehouse in the industrial near-wastelands which fringe the city.
Here, seemingly, there’s a rolling cast of maybe about 30 volunteers, 15 or so of whom are there slightly longer term, as in for at least a few months. On this day there were about 20 people in the warehouse, about six of whom were newly-arrived and either, like me, leaving all too quickly or were not yet settled into regular roles. I joined this group for the duty of packing pallets to be distributed, as per order forms sent from the camps. A camp might send off an order along the lines of: 500 litres cooking oil, 1000 kg salt, 1000kg flour, 1000 kg sugar (perhaps to make a big, horrible cake!) and the volunteers will fetch all this stuff from the stockpiles and stack it all on the pallets ready to be loaded into vans and taken out. It was good, proper physical work of a kind, that I rarely am required to carry out and therefore fetishise. There was lunch and good camaraderie and the whole experience was giving me a kind of base-level sense of contentment that I’ve invariably gotten from the few stints of volunteering I’ve done in my life.
The charity in question is Help Refugees, which started in 2015 when a group of friends set out to raise £1,000 to take a van of donations to Calais. Within a week, they’d raised £56,000 and were soon receiving 7,000 donated items a day. Now, as the biggest facilitator of grassroots humanitarian work on the continents, they fund more than 80 different projects.
I almost launched off here into an overwrought digression on how this impressive harnessing of a mass, though often repressed, tendency for economic selflessness, provides a demonstrative example for the kind of new social and economic models we’ll need to establish very soon. But then it struck me that doing one day of volunteering in a warehouse (with a very long break in the middle for a Freddo from a nearby petrol station, initiated by the nurse and teacher) doesn’t quite give me the requisite authority.
My giddy, altruistic high was destroyed by a, looking back, bathetic chain of events at the end of the day: I was helping to make a stencil for a mural with an immensely fanciable South African woman, who announced suddenly that she was going home for the day, getting a lift with another male volunteer, and didn’t offer me a ride (and, in the end, why should she). I said I’d stay and finish the stencil, before realising that all the other volunteers had left as well. One of the more ‘senior’ volunteers (not using inv commas facetiously, just don’t know her proper title) was left but she apologised that she was driving in the ‘completely different direction’ from the city so couldn’t offer me a lift. No problem. I’d come by bus and I’d go home by bus, though I was a bit worried that with the warehouse being way out of town and it being a Saturday night that the buses might have finished. She assured me they were still going a few times an hour so I’d be fine.
I thanked her for having me and she said I should get in touch if I ever want to come back. I said I would and made to leave, but just as I did so received a message from Airbnnb: Niko was requesting money. I read the accompanying message which went along these lines:
‘Liam! It was great to see you driving the big boat. I think you’ll make a great skipper one day. I’m glad you decided to stay with us one extra night but I did not find any money left in the room. I will have to charge you an extra 30 euros for this!’
Attached with this was a photo showing Niko and (presumably) the British and American women lying on the deck of the boat grinning, and behind them, with his back to the camera, a thin pale man in a cap driving the boat (the other British guest?).
He was trying to rip me off! I knew he was a scoundrel, luring me in with melon and peppers before trying to extort me. If I rejected the request for extra money he’d send the photo to Airbnb and say it was me. Gallingly, I realised I had left no message confirming my check out time the previous morning.
It wasn’t really about the money; I just utterly resented this devious effort to rip me off. My mood crashed. I sent a tactful reply suggesting that I had left the apartment the previous morning as agreed and that he must have made a mistake. Then I trundled to the bus stop - a derelict, litter-ridden, shadeless structure by the edge of the busy road. ‘I bet I’ll have to wait the full 20 minutes for this bus’ I internally grumbled. And in the event, I did. And then another 20 minutes. And then another. Cars and lorries appeared, shimmering on the horizon like beads of hot oil, before roaring by uncaringly, but no buses.
I saw a car leave the warehouse. It was the senior volunteer. She gave a timid wave as she drove by, in the direction of the city.
This was the perfect metaphor, I decided. For everything. Me standing there, on a Saturday night, in this graveyard of South European industry getting a taste of the reality faced by so many in this region who know a very different Europa from the one I know. The buses must have finished for the night, and I had no way of getting back to the city. It’d be dark soon and it was too far to walk. I’d have to spend the night in the warehouse yard and get the bus back in the morning, which would mean I’d miss my booked coach to Macedonia so I’d have to buy a new ticket and I wasn’t even sure there’d be another coach until the following morning so I’d have to book another night’s accommodation and I’d probably have to pay that prick 30 euros or else he’d give me a bad review! Maybe the easiest thing would be just to get a flight home in the morning. I’d had a good time, but this was all just too much no-
And then the bus came.
When I got back to the Airbnb, Niko had replied to insist that he didn't have the wrong person and that I was on the boat and the photo proved it. Not quite ready to write him off as a crook, I fired off one last missive urging him to consider whether he might have confused me with the other British guy who’d come to stay that weekend. And then I began photographing evidence which would prove (or at least heavily imply) me to have been in Thessaloniki at the time Niko was saying I was illegitimately remaining at his Airbnb – train tickets, food receipts, messages from Sukie telling me not to worry abut being late. I was about to send these to both Niko and Airbnb, when the Athenian antagonist replied to say he had made a huge mistake! He had confused me with another guest! And he was sorry I was not on the boat because it was a great day!
Later had a good chat with Sukie in which I sought her Take on contemporary Greece, with particular regard to the social effects of the debt crisis. Here is a potted list of her statements and my reflections thereupon, bearing in mind potential translation issues on her part or memory issues on mine.
- Before and during the crisis several politicians had personally embezzled state money and never faced reprisals
- She didn't believe in Syriza to effect change. She felt Tsipras was like ‘any other politician’ and had made impossible promises.
- She had no cause to be optimistic about the country’s economic or political future
- She said most people were getting along okay because they had savings or property and could do things like Airbnb (unclear whether this applied to the whole country, Athenians, or just people she knew)
- Young people, as a rule, had to live with parents, no prospects of buying houses or really living independently for most
- This chimed with something accomplice said about there being a subculture (or just a culture) amongst Greek youth for ironic, gaudy largesse of buying cheap yet extravagant items e.g. those fake roses guys sell in nightlife spots, and then take these to cabaret style shows and throw them at the stage
- She felt that young people were too arrogant to adjust to the new economic circumstances as they did not want to be seen as ‘the waiters of Europe’
- This seemed at odds with the resourcefulness and resilience (or at least ebullience) of the (admittedly few) young Athenians I’d met (some of whom were waiters)
- Her son had studied engineering at Leeds Uni. Now was hoping for job in UK. Her daughter had applied for teacher training at Leeds Met but was rejected (I’d met her briefly and she seemed smart but it takes more than that to make a good teacher I suppose, as I found out at the time of my own failed attempt to do a teacher training qualification)
- She hoped to move with her son to UK, ideally to Leeds or Manchester
- I went to bed wanting to move to Leeds or Manchester.
Took coach to Skopje, Macedonia.
So that was Greece: birthplace of western literature, realm of Freddos, diminisher of hummus, stomping ground of accomplices, accepter of refugees, harbour of the erudite jet-lagged, supposed terminal zone of European ambition, belonging place of marbles, sumptuous sunset kingdom of the imagination.