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The Violence in Athens

Syntagma riots"well it looks to me as if foreign media are playing this for all they are worth which encourages the undesirable stuff ..i'm watching malcolm with the sea behind him talk about the events today in syntagma..so he certainly isn't there...making it sound pretty bad you'd def cancel your flight...but...i am 200m from syntagma and it's just fine..tourists drinking mythos..taxis running.."

So reads a Facebook message from my friend Lauren OíHara who was a couple blocks from yesterdayís demonstrations in Syntagma Square while BBCís Malcom Brabant reported on it... from the beach. For those who donít know Athens, the beach is nowhere near Syntagma Square and so a live report from the beach about the demonstrations in Athens is like reporting on the Superbowl from Guam.

Athens riotsBut letís further analyze Laurenís message and not be too hard on Malcolm, since the beach is where I would want to be as well, in fact I sort of am. She is 200 meters from the action and around her tourists are drinking Mythos beer, taxis are running, and things are normal and the only reason she knows anything is going on is because the cafe she is in has it on television. And this is how it is in Athens as I often have to explain to frightened travelers. The news makes it seem like all hell is breaking loose, causing stress and angst to travelers, when really it is an internal affair, a spat between the government and the people, taking place in a small area in front of the Greek Parliament. So unless you are so rigid that you absolutely have to see the Evzones at the exact time of the demonstration, there is no reason you would have to be anywhere near it. The undersireable stuff she is talking about which the media encourages are the guys in the hoods throwing rocks at the cops who get to watch themselves on TV after the demonstration ends and then post the video on Youtube for all eternity.

Monastiraki, AthensIn Pireaus a group of seamen affiliated with the last gasp Greek Communist party is blocking a gate to the ships. The BBC interviews a young American woman, upset because her wedding is in Santorini and she canít go there. The ferries are running. She just canít get to them. She does not know Athens. She has no hotel for tonight. She has been there for days.

Wait a second. The strike was yesterday. If she has been in Athens for days it is because she chose to be. There was nothing keeping her from going to Santorini on Monday or Sunday. The ferries were all running and this was not a surprise strike. Yet she gives the impression that she is trapped. I have all the compassion in the world for her. Her friends and family are waiting for her on Santorini. Itís her wedding! But I know that on Sunday and Monday my friends at Fantasy Travel spent long hours changing the travel plans of their clients who were supposed to leave on Tuesday for the islands, getting them out on Monday or sending them to Delphi for the day and booking them on ferries for Wednesday, changing hotel bookings, and keeping their guests informed of the changes in plans. Why was this woman stuck in Pireaus? Did she book her wedding on Travelocity or Tripadvisor?

Violence in Makrianni, AthensWhile it is self-serving for me to recommend that people use travel agents on my website (especially for a wedding or honeymoon), this womanís story proves my point. There is no reason that a one-day strike should ruin your holiday. It is a one day strike, not a collapse of society into chaos and urban warfare. The ferries are on strike on Tuesday? OK. You stay in Santorini an extra day. You are in Athens? OK. Go to the park. Go to a cafe. Go shopping. You go to Santorini tomorrow instead. The travel agency delivers the new tickets and vouchers to the hotel they have booked for the extra night which they know has rooms available because there is someone who could not get back from the island. You are worried that you will miss your flight home? So what? You go the next day. Do you think the airline is going to blame you for missing your flight because of a strike? You may even get a free night in Paris or something.

Violence in AthensThe Greeks tend to see the world as being against them. They complain that what people see on CNN and BBC is not what is happening in Greece. It is what is happening in a 4 block area of central Athens. Photographers and cameramen make money selling dramatic photos of shield bearing riot police surrounded by flames and smoke from teargas battling masked demonstrators. But this is the same hooliganism that you find after a soccer game, in fact it is the same people. My complaint is that the Greek government allows these people to fight with the police, but besides the damage to the image of Greece and some broken windows and the unfortunate loss of life in the bank that was burned nearly two months ago, which really was an accident (the deaths, not the fire), what kind of danger to they pose? They like to fight with the police. It is like a game. The police fight back in a restrained way so they donít actually hurt anyone. It is like on-the-job-training. People stand on the sidelines and watch. It is like a sport, but a game that you know the outcome. The hooligans will get tired and go home or to Exarchia to drink frappe and brag about their courage in battle, the police will leave and go back to their families, street-cleaners will come with their sweepers, and the cafes and sidewalks will fill with normal people and cars and buses will once again take over the streets.

And meanwhile a couple blocks away, tourists who may not have seen the TV wonít even know something happened until they get frantic messages from their family and friends at home wondering if they are OK.

We live in a world of soundbites and flashing images. But no image from CNN or the BBC can capture the reality of what is happening here, not even Malcolm Brabant reporting on what is going on in Syntagma Square from the beach.

This has been Matt Barrett reporting on the violence in Athens from the beautiful island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. (Where nobody is on strike or demonstrating)

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