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Back Home in Athens and Kea

The Revolution Starts Now

Syntagma Square demonstrationAs events spiral out of control (not in Athens but in my personal life... eating, drinking tsipuro, hanging out with friends), it gets more and more difficult to keep up with this blog. In the USA there was nothing to write about but here there is so much to write about that I have no time to write. Well a few days ago I was so angst-ridden that I tried to convince Andrea to cancel our trip. Now I don't want to go back to America until college basketball season starts. Our first night in Athens was the usual orgy of food, fun, alcohol and conversation at Bakalogatos, our favorite restaurant in Kypseli. It was only 4 nights ago but I barely remember it. I remember saying to Andrea that it is amazing how when we go out with our friends in Greece we all just talk nonstop and the hours fly by. I think we sat down to dinner at 9 and left the restaurant at 2am. In the USA we go out with people and nobody seems to have anything to say and we are looking at our watches to see how much longer before we can pretend we are tired so we can go home. Then again Carrboro is not undergoing the kind of turmoil Athens is where everyone has stories of things they have seen or heard that puts a new perspective on the socio-economic-political events that seem to be accelerating every day if you read the papers, but are not that apparent here unless you go to Syntagma Square.

Pedion Areos, Green Park, AthensSo the next day I walked to Syntagma Square by way of the newly renovated Pedion Areos, the former Military Marching ground that is also known as Green Park. Two years ago when they began this 9 million euro project there were artist renditions of wooded paths and rivers and streams crisscrossing Athens' largest park. Walking through it now it looks pretty half-baked. No rivers that I could see and a lot of cement generally following the same dirt paths that used to be here. It does not look bad and much of it is unfinished but when you look at it you wonder what they did with the other 8 and a half million euros. But unlike a couple years ago when it was a passageway for perverts and drug addicts there were no couples and families walking down the broad pedestrian avenues and they had even built a little outdoor cafeneon for the old men who gather here to play tablis (backgammon) and cards under the trees.

Exarchia looked oddly unthreatening and this had to do with the people of the neighborhood deciding that they could not count on the Mayor or the Police to clean up their neighborhood so they did it themselves, first kicking out the drug dealers and then sending the addicts on their way too. The cafes were full and music was everywhere, as was graffiti and posters of demonstrations, strikes and rock clubs. I was happy to see that my favorite ouzeri, Lesvos, was still open on Emanuel Benaki Street, and in fact was full at 6pm on Friday evening.

Syntagma Square, Syrian Anti Assad RallyAthens seemed pretty normal to me and I was wondering when I was going to see the changes in the city that everyone had told me about that had caused me so much anxiety that I was considering canceling my trip. About a block before Syntagma I could hear the sound of megaphones and I wondered what would I find in the square. Would it be full of demonstrators and armies of riot police facing off in a haze of tear gas? Well, not exactly. There was a demonstration, two actually. In front of the Parliament building were maybe 50 people chanting anti government/austerity slogans like a junior-high pep-rally. Not much enthusiasm but then again it was Friday afternoon and these things don't usually get rolling until after people get home from work (those who still have jobs) or on Sunday when nobody has anything better to do. The second demonstration was on the steps in Syntagma Square where a couple hundred Syrians were demanding the removal of Syria's 'president' Bashar Al-Assad.

Syntagma Square, The IndignantAround the square were tents for those of the long time demonstrators who were living there and various booths and tables and areas where committees were discussing the future of Greece without the crooked politicians who had brought Greece to the brink of disaster. There were tables where people were doing art, serving coffee, giving out (or selling) food, playing music, and of course there were the usual street venders selling nuts, roasted corn, and Greek flags. It was actually very festive and the opposite of threatening, more like Woodstock than Armageddon. I realized that all Greece had to do to make itself the international Mecca for the youth would be to legalize marijuana. The Acropolis looking down at a city of Rock and Roll, Revolution and pot with the beautiful Greek Islands a ferry ride away. I guess it takes a capitalist to look at what others see as the sign of impending disaster and see new possibilities. But if I was a kid this is where I would want to be, especially with all the politicians warning that a default by Greece could bring down the whole economic system in Europe and maybe the world. How fitting that the corrupt power of the banks, governments and the high-stakes gamblers could tremble at events in Syntagma Square. Any revolutionary with any sense is going to recognize that this is a unique opportunity, a David vs Goliath moment. And if it doesn't happen? We all go to the seashore like Melina Mercouri in Never On Sunday.

Syntagma Square, demonstration, Greek flagI met a blind man in the square, an old Greek who had been a seaman, being led around by his wife who wanted to know where I was from in the USA, where my Greek relatives were from and so on. He did not think much of the fasaria in the square and dismissed it with a look of annoyance and a wave of his hand that made me wonder how blind he really was. I crossed Fillelinon Street and walked down Ermou which was full of shoppers. There were the usual Africans with their knock-off handbags, selling them off white king-size sheets that can easily be picked up when they have to run from the cops, and a block down were half a dozen young police boys and girls (cops in Greece are really young and often from the villages because it is the lowest paid civil service job and the most dangerous), chatting with half an eye on the crowd, looking for the first sign of trouble though I don't know if it was to prevent it or move to another corner to continue the conversation and avoid it. Further on, Japanese tourists were taking photos of a small girl who was posing in front of the Church of Kapni Karea and in the cafe of the same name the band that plays rembetika every afternoon had a full house.

Pandelis Melissinos in his Sandal ShopI ended up at Pendelis Melissinos Sandal Shop where he was measuring the feet of some young American teachers who had just finished a year at Athens College and were getting ready to go to the islands, their last hurrah before returning to the uneventful USA. They had all read my website and took turns posing for photos with me and Pandelis who always tells me horror stories of life in Athens. "If you visit Athens it is like a paradise, but if you live here it is like hell" is what he said to the American Girls, something I had heard a thousand times from him and other friends who don't have the luxury of working for the Greek government as so many do. Pandelis had just been hit by an enormous tax bill, more than he makes in a year, which is fairly typical of what is happening here. The politicians stole or squandered all the money they borrowed and the only thing they can think of doing is to tax the people who already pay their taxes, rather than go after the people who don't (themselves included).

Actually if I was Prime Minister I could solve Greece's financial woes overnight. I would nationalize the Greek Church. The church always says that in Greece there is no separation of church and state. Oh, Really? That is good news because the assets of the Greek church could pay off the debt tomorrow. Then you could house a million homeless immigrants and Greeks in the derelict property the church owns all over Athens and get them out of the center of the city.

The next thing I would do would be invade Switzerland. OK maybe not with tanks and fighter jets but with lawyers, and get back all the money that Greek politicians, tax officers, and local bureaucrats have stashed away there which is surely more than enough to build a new Greece once the church has paid off the debts. The Swiss are nice people but let's get serious. It is a criminal state, the capital of money laundering, where the money stolen from the Greeks and every African, Arabic, Asian, and American dictatorship is hidden. Any money from Greece that is in a Swiss bank was stolen. There is no other reason for it to be there. The Swiss should come clean and let us know how much is there and who's bank account it is in.

As for the problem of petty crime I would bring Curtis Sliwa to Athens and start a chapter of the Guardian Angels and let them patrol the metro if the Greek police don't want to. It is amazing what a deterence to thieves it is to see three or 4 strong young guys with red berets, muscles and tattoos in red T-shirts, ut on patrol.

After that I would tackle the ridiculous law of parliamentary immunity. In case you were not aware of this all Greek members of parliament have something better than a free get-out-of-jail card. It is a never-go-to-jail card for whatever you do. If you are in the Greek parliament you can do anything you want without fear of prosecution. You can bribe, steal, extort, take kickbacks, even murder and you can't be arrested. It is in the constitution!! So why doesn't Papandreou get rid of the law? He can't. To change the constitution you have to call new national elections and no PM wants to do that because he might lose. (Today he announced that he wants to have a referendum on changing the constitution and eliminate this law among others). So I would take them all to the European Court, just as if they were Serbian dictators or generals guilty of genocide.

In the meantime back to reality. I went to the Hotel Attalos and had a drink with the manager Mr Zissis, on the roof. While the hotels in Omonia and towards the train station are suffering because of the perception that the area is dangerous (it is), the police have kept Athinas Street from the Central Market to Monastiraki free of drug addicts and criminals. There may be a purse snatching or a pick-pocketing but no worse than anywhere else in Athens. (Most of his guests who have been robbed it has happened on the metro and not on the streets). Maybe Athinas is safe because the Municipal Police station is right across the street, or maybe because there are so many people in the area because of Psiri and Monastiraki and Ermou, that the crooks can't really operate. I told him I had seen 5-star hotels with rooms for 90 euros near Kariaskakis Square. "You can find them for 25 euros in the winter!" he told me. Sounds like a good deal if you are a couple of beefy dudes that no petty thief wants to mess with. (Thieves are like hyenas, who go after the weakest of the herd.) Or if you are the potential victim type you can stay in a luxury hotel for twelve and a half euros each and that leaves plenty left over so you can take taxis to and from the hotel. But I think that most people will probably want to stay in and around the Plaka until Athens is finally able to clean up Omonia and Metaxourgio once and for all.

Platia Iroon in Psiri, AthensPsiri was jumping, with all the cafes full and crowds of people on the street. A week ago it was dead, Pandelis told me, but it was buzzing. There is a new beer hall on the square where you can get a whole keg with a faucet, that they set up on your table and you just keep pouring your own beer. How come I have never seen anything like this in the USA? What a great idea. We went to Taverna Psiri, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Athens and we became a group of about twenty people at a long table in the garden. Yiannis from Xidera, who owns the Methymnaos Winery showed up with several bottle of his wine to go with the bottle we had gotten from the bar at the Hotel Attalos, and we did not leave the restaurant until after 2am. But this being Greece we walked back to the Plaka so we could see Yiannis new apartment and his view of the Acropolis and we got a grand tour, drank more wine, and then he gave us a ride back to our apartment at about 5am. On the way we had to take a detour because the police had closed the road through Syntagma Square, but that is how it is in Athens. People are afraid to come because of demonstrations but really they are just an occasional inconvenience and when you know they are going on you can make alternate plans to avoid them.

Barbouni at Violetta Restaurant in Fokionos NegriAfter Thursday and Friday nights, Saturday seemed more like Sunday so we invited Corinne who has the Athens Living Video website and our friend Patty, to Fokionos Negri for lunch at Violetta, another of the restaurants I go to. Amarandi and I ate a kilo of barbouni and koutsomouri (red mullet: in the photo in case you want to know what a kilo should look like). Corinne and I split a small bottle of Barbajiannis Ouzo before I gave them a little tour of Fokionos Negri. Patty was astounded because all she had heard of Kypselis were horror stories and had avoided it. Corinne had not been to Fokionos since before they turned it into a park and it was full of cars and traffic. "This is as close as you can get to being in Paris" I told them. Once we moved to Kypseli I stopped going to Psiri, Gazi and the Plaka. I love those areas when I go but my attitude is usually, why bother? I can have just as much fun in my own neighborhood and be able to walk home. That night we went to Alotino Jazz Bar where they serve the best imported German draft beer, grilled sausages and tapas and salads and the best free bar nuts in the universe. We got into a conversation with some people there who told us of videos that were posted to Youtube that showed the Greek police putting on ski masks and going into the crowd of Syntagma demonstrators to throw rocks at the police, to give the police the excuse to attack the demonstrators so they could clear the square. I went home and looked for the videos but could not find them. But in doing so I watched a couple dozen videos from the 'riots' on June 15th and it is pretty clear that there are not more than 30 or 40 people who are in direct confrontation with the police, throwing rocks, molotov cocktails and the police firing tear-gas. It is also obvious that the reporters have no idea of what is going on. One was hysterical after getting tear-gassed and the demonstrators had to calm her down.


So Sunday we got in the car and drove to Lavrion and took the ferry to Kea, where I am now. (I am typing this from the Cafe Korissos in the port- the whole port has free wireless!) I had my usual anxiety about putting the car on the ferry but it was so easy, the guys just pointed to a spot behind another car and told me to park there instead of yelling directions and me forgetting my left from my right in Greek. When we got off the ferry we went right to Otzias beach for a swim before driving up to the village where our house is.

Fish Tale

At 9:00 we went to Rolando's which is my favorite restaurant in the world, where we saw our friend Tim who showed me a photo of himself and Andrea's nephew Stefanos and a giant swordfish and told us the story. It was a windy day last week and he went to Otzias to snorkel and spearfish when he saw this big fin circling in the bay just off the rocks. At first he thought it was a shark but then noticed that unlike a shark the fin was webbed. Tim realized that this might be too much fish for him so he went to the port and found Stefanos who owns the Magazes Taverna and along with his brother is the best spearfisher on the island, maybe in Greece. He told the cook to take over the restaurant while they threw his gear in the jeep and drove back to Otzias where the fish was still circling. They both jumped in the water and were unable to get close to the fish because the sea was rough and visibility was low. Stefanos managed to shoot the fish but though the spear was firmly attached, the wound was not fatal, in fact it barely slowed it down. By now they knew it was a swordfish and while it was dragging Stefanos around the bay, Tim went back to get the other two spear-guns on the shore. Every time he got to where Stefanos was, he and the fish were gone, until finally he was able to get a second gun to him and Stefanos shot the fish again and eventually got it to shore. They brought it back to the restaurant and probably got about eighty servings out of him, and Tim hopefully Tim gets to eat free for the rest of his life. Luckily it was Tim and not me who saw the fish because I would never have been able to get the second spear-gun to him and by now Stefanos would be halfway to Chios. (Read Tim's Story)

Matt in Kea, GreeceSo that's it for now. I still have a ton of e-mail to get to and I still have a few minutes while Andrea and Amarandi are buying tomatoes and cucumbers before we head back up to the village. We actually swam at Galiskari where there is a new cafe that has ouzo and mezedes and strapatsada and other dishes, and even though it plays the same crappy disco music that all beach cafes do, I may go back for a drink one of these days. But tonight it is back to Rolando's as usual. For the next few days I will be attempting to answer my e-mails while continuing to write and of course finding time to swim and maybe do some spearfishing for smaller game than Stefanos' swordfish. And for those who are reading my every word to know whether or not Greece is dangerous, click on the photo on the right and ask yourself "Does Matt look like he is in danger?"

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Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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