Friday evening and the clientele at the Maistros coffee bar next to my apartment, where I regularly get my caffeine fix, erupted into spontaneous cheering and applause. Greece had equalised against Poland in the 2012 European Cup. At last something the locals all agreed on! This was A Good Thing. (reference to the book “1066 and All That” for those not familiar with it. The one truly great book about history.)
Earlier in the day and again on Saturday passionate argument had been the order of the day in the Maistros as in other coffee bars. Greece goes to the polls in a week’s time and few elections will have been more important. At stake is the stability of the economy, the well-being of families and individuals, and, some argue, the social stability of the country. Wider implications could affect the whole of Europe.
The way ahead is certainly not clear. From what I can gather it boils down to a simple dilemma: People want the Euro as currency because of the economic well-being it has brought, but don’t want the austerity measures tied to it. There is no simple solution. I don’t know how I would vote.
Locals on Saturday evening were told how to vote. The Government organised what I can only describe as a political rally in its support in the main square in Kardamili. I couldn’t miss it, my apartment being in the main square, the restaurant where eat being in the main square. And the whole show having a massive sound system designed to reach a significant proportion of the planet.
It consisted initially of loud music, mostly with a militaristic and patriotic tone, very reminiscent of what we used to have portrayed on TV and in films as characteristic of the Soviet bloc. Then at a prearranged time an impassioned hour long speech from a Hyde Park Corner orator who, as far as I could gather, was saying “Don’t vote for PASOK (the previous socialist government) or the left, they got us into this mess. Vote for Us”. There was a small audience which applauded at various points, obviously pleased with what they had heard. Most ignored it or seemed unimpressed.
I regret that my Greek wasn’t up to it. I know the difference between ‘keftedes’ (meat balls) and ‘soutsoukakia’ (meatballs in a piquant tomato sauce) and can ask my way and understand the reply, but rapid flowing political diatribe is beyond me.
I know it sounds unlikely, but there is strong scientific evidence in support of it, the result of the Greek election on Sunday 17 June will undoubtedly be influenced by the results of the Euro 2012 matches between Greece and the Czech Republic on Tuesday 12th and especially Russia on Saturday 16th June. The feel-good factor of sports results is very real and cannot be ignored as an influence on election results. Let’s hope that the Greek Government doesn’t follow the example of the Hussein regime which imprisoned, tortured and executed unsuccessful Iraqi soccer teams.
Back to the mundane. Today’s walk brought some of the issues to mind.
I followed a path, new to me, from one chunk of mountain down into a valley and then up and across to another. Very good path, very clear, very interesting, alongside craggy cliffs. Just the sort of path I enjoy. Then rounded a bend and the narrow path was all but gone, taken out by an uprooted olive tree. The way ahead was blocked. On one side an overhanging cliff, on the other a steep drop in thick vegetation. There was a way past, somewhat awkwardly squeezing past the uprooted tree, so on I went. The Greeks have a reputation for determination, finding a way around obstacles. Look at the Athens Olympics, delivered on time despite all the doom-mongers and gainsayers. Let’s hope they have the touch this time to find a way past the impasse.
It’s pushing the allegory a bit too far but another thing struck me about the path. I dropped down towards another valley on a very good paved old kalderimi and was presented straight ahead by a gate made from 6 inch square reinforcing mesh for concrete. Gates in Greece are generally cobbled together affairs. On Symi they make them out of old pallets tied with bits of string or old rope. On Kalymnos they are made out of wire fencing stretched across a thick wooden frame with hinges make from bits of car tyre so you have to struggle to open them and they then whack you up the backside as you go through. On Amorgos, great paths but the gates are 6 inch square reinforcing mesh loosely hinged and tied with wire so they flop everywhere as you try to go through. The one I encountered today was just like the Amorgos variety. My heart sank, they are the ones I dislike most. If you’re not careful they rip your arm.
But then I had a dim recollection from the pantomime as a kid: “it’s behind you!!” Oh yes it was!. The kalderimi had turned sharply back in the opposite direction as my eye had had been caught and my attention fixated by the nostril-flaring recollection of Amorgos gates. This gate was into a smallholding, private property, keep out. The path was completely un-encumbered. Then it struck me. There are no gates on the paths around Kardamili. The only exception is when the path goes through a monastery and the only one I’ve encountered like that so far is Agios Sotiros in the Viros Gorge …. and that was no problem whatever.
So there’s a rule of thumb and a moral. If there is a gate on a path around Kardamili, it isn’t a path. Think laterally. And don’t get fixated by a problem ahead, it may turn out not to be a problem at all. Think laterally.
Another Greece-in-Europe connexion on the walk. I was heading for a village called Proastia shown on the map to have 3 Byzantine churches. Fascinating place. Just before the village was the small church of Agios Giorgos with door unlocked. Inside were the remains of frescoes and a picture of himself slaying his dragon. Why is St George always associated with England? There are far more churches dedicated to him here in Greece and every single one has multiples of the same picture.
On to Proastia with its narrow, winding alleys and indeed not 3 but 4 Byzantine churches. Two of them had been restored with signs outside acknowledging the 75% funding grant from the EU. No access to the inside because they were locked but certainly very interesting architecture on the outside. They had been restored back to what they would have looked like originally. Another looked to have a pretty modern add-on and was the main functioning church of the village so in no danger. The fourth was very definitely in need of TLC. Without massive investment from the EU and the match funding of 25% from Greece it won’t get it.
I said it last year and I repeat now. Greece is an exception in modern Europe. It has a lifestyle, a history and an archaeology which the rest envy. So an exception should be made in terms of funding. It should be supported and the heritage it represents for the rest of Europe guaranteed before it crumbles into the ground. I put my money where my mouth is and spend my hard–earned over here in the summer.
In Proastia today I had a frappé in a tiny back-alley taverna. It consisted of a very acceptable frappé (iced coffee to non-French speakers), a glass of iced water (as all coffee should be accompanied by) and a slab of very nice cake. The bill? €1.20 !!!!!!! Less than £1. Do I care of any of that gets declared for tax purposes? Not one jot! There is only one income stream here, tourism, and that peaks July/August with low income June and September. That’s it for the whole year.
From Proastia I headed down to the coast for a swim. Another world.
I don’t know what the way ahead is for Greece. But I sure hope they get it right on 17 June and the rest of Europe bites the bullet.