SPETSES, PARADISE FOR SOME

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A very privileged few days. My friends and I got the last ticket on the Flying Dolphin from Athens to Spetses: since most voyagers disembarked on the other islands along the way, we were finally able to sit together.  When we landed, we were rejected by one taxi which, according to my friend, was the result of our age.  She said we were too old for him.  However, a younger driver, Andros, was game, and he and his partner now taxi us around. Both are friendly and easygoing. My friend, an honorary Greek, speaks the language and knows a number of people who have houses on the island. She believes these two drivers are thrilled to have work.

The island does seem deserted, but, it isn’t quite the season. However, two tavernas favored by my friend are no longer in business: one, perhaps, due to the economy, the other is a different story. This particular one was on a beach. The mayor allowed the restaurant to build its base by having concrete cover the sand. However, the government got wind of this construction and discovered that the owner didn’t have a permit. Does this mean the government does work, but slowly?

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AN EVENING IN ATHENS

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I spent my first night in Athens on the rooftop garden of the Hotel St. George Lycabettus, a posh hotel. The person who had initiated this trip to Greece with me and four other women, was an honorary “Greek” as she had spent many years visiting every summer and working in Athens. She invited to this gathering two people who made their home in Greece were knowledgable of the crisis the country was facing as well as being part of a large education circle. Both were charming, graceful, and well-informed.

The woman of the duo did comment on the graffiti that seemed to be everywhere in Kolonaki, the wealthy area of Athens, the location of the missing swimming pools, that is, those not claimed for tax purposes.  I had been faithfully watching CNN to get news of Greece. I mentioned the statistics given by newscasters: seventy percent of small businessmen were leaving Athens to return to their villages to work the land as the only way thier families could survive. She corrected me, “That would be seventy Greek men.” I threw her another statistic from CNN: thirty percent of Greeks were below the poverty belt.  She asked me where that belt began. What followed was a discussion of how most media mislead us in an effort to get viewers or readers. So, I still don’t know how life is faring for the vast majority of Greeks.

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ARRIVING

As soon as I picked up my bags in the airport, I made my way to the taxi stand. The sign at the beginning of the line of taxis clearly stated “35 Euros to Athens.” I was pleased, no bargaining, no checking to see if there was an actual meter running, no watching the route to see if the taxi was going the long way around to the hotel. After I entered one, I tried to turn down the window and said “Zesta,” meaning “hot.” The driver said, “No, no. Air-conditioning” and insisted I close the windows. Then, he informed me that the weather was unusual for June when the temperatures were usually around 28 instead of 36 as it was today. I nodded politely, thinking that in that cab, the temperature was a “cool” 35. The vents blew only tepid not cold air.

As soon as we got on the well-maintained highway with signs in Greek and English, my driver proudly informed me, “Made for the Olympics.”  As we entered Athens, I looked for signs of the economic crisis. There was more graffiti, and there were some office buildings that looked deserted, but I didn’t see much difference than any other time I traveled from the airport to Athens. I did notice a number of stores with large outdoor displays of expensive patio furniture. Perhaps all those Athenians who swore they didn’t have swimming pools needed furniture for the new found space on their rooftop terraces.

My driver was an affable man in his fifties. He told me he was from Santorini where he returned every November. I told him that my grandfather was born in Greece and complimented him on his English. He replied, “Only for my customers, madame.”

At the hotel, he took my bags out of the trunk and I gave him 40 Euros expecting an “Efharisto” or “Thank you” for the tip. Instead, he insisted on 46 Euros. I insisted that the sign at the airport had said “35 Euros.” He insisted that the price was 46 Euros. I told him “Ohi, ohi,” that is, “no” in Greek. I started to go for my bags, and he followed me. Luckily, I was staying a posh hotel, a new experience for me and there was the doorman ready to intervene.  Bags in hand, I looked at my driver, shrugged my shoulders, and entered the hotel. One for the Greek-American.

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ON THE WAY TO GREECE

Although I haven’t yet reached Greece, I’m already immersed. On the plane, a pleasant German mathematics professor warned me against traveling there. On several occasions, he had booked a luxurious vacation through a travel agency, a Greek travel agency. When he and his family arrived in Athens, somehow, all the luxury had disappeared. He kept shaking his head from side to side, muttering, “Nothing, nothing.”

I advised him that the Greeks are a foxy bunch. It is almost a sport to see how to get the best deal. This approach includes getting first in line or getting the best seat on the bus, no matter how old or young a person might be. I have been trampled over by yayas (Greek grandmothers) and children alike rushing for the prime location on a bus. Once everyone had boarded, friendliness abounds.

Not far from my seat, I could hear a Yalie discussing his Greek roommate whom he described as a nationalist. Anytime anyone had something negative to say about Greece, his roommate ardently rushed to defend his country. However, alone in their dorm, he could be heard lamenting, “What has happened to my country? It is falling apart.”

We shall see.

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