The media are reporting that Athens has degenerated and there is no end in sight to the downward spiral in Greece. Film clips show a cycle of violence, protests, riots, leaving one to believe the streets of Athens have been overrun by hoodlums. It makes for good press and in the age of the internet, instant website traffic.
Alas, contrary to what you might take away from all the media hype, Athens continues to be the vibrant, flourishing and interesting metropolis it has always been.
There is a Greek song that says: Governments may fall but love will remain.
And though the song is hokey, love the Greek people have for life really does remain.
Great, you say, the Greeks still love life. But isn’t Greece dangerous?
It is true, there are many inherent dangers in Greece. The writer John Morrit of Rokeby once wrote of a particular area in Greece which, during his time, was known to be wild and full of danger (the Mani). “If I see any risk of not getting out, it is not from bandits, but from the hospitality and the kindness of [the Greek people]”.
And pretty much every Greek guidebook warns of protecting yourself from the sun.
While much has changed in Greece since Morrit traveled in the late 1790s, and since 1958 when Lee Patrick Fermor shared that warning with readers in his book “Mani”, one thing that anyone who has been to Greece will tell you: the kindness of the Greek people toward visitors is unmatched.
You’ve been warned!
Greece is a very old country. It has seen many ups and downs. It has survived and it will survive. Sure, times are difficult right now as Greece, like most of the world, faces a new reality. For a long time, Greece (and alot of countries) had a grand party and now the hangover of the day after has begun.
But it is not the end of life in Greece, rather it is a new beginning — and as any mother will tell you, the birth (or rebirth in this case) is painful.
But better days lie ahead. Greeks will not lose their love for life. The bouzoukia clubs and koutoukis (little “joints”) have opened their doors and music & song fill their stages, the archeological sites are open, and now, free of the hoards of daytripping cruise passengers offer the traveler a chance to explore without crowds or summer heat. The laiki agora farmer’s markets take place daily in neighborhoods throughout the city of Athens, with the freshest Argoloida oranges and Nemean grapes, and the winter’s harvest now arriving. As the holiday season approaches, shops will discount to entice the shoppers in, and people will shop. Christmas and New Years will come, and people will still share in the warmth of the season, heralding in a New Year with parties and dinners and family gatherings and Agios Vasilis (the Greek Santa) will still visit the children of Greece.
And while life continues, new initiatives are born in Greece every day. Enthusiastic Greeks and expats who love Greece are looking for new ways to succeed and help rejuvinate the country they love. Whether it is the latest initiative of the Athens volunteer Greeter Program or the AthensSpotlighted discount card or the Atenistas continual work at making Athens a more liveable city, or the fun filled ideas of the folks launching the Athens Plaython. The city of Athens continues its tradition of bringing free music to the people in various outdoor concerts and strolling events while private initiatives bring music & art to the streets of Athens and artists continue to create new and interesting work around town. Cultural centers and museums continue to offer new and interesting exhibits and archeologists continue to make new discoveries throughout Greece. Restaurants and cafes continue to open their doors, many welcoming patrons with special offers and discounts (in true “Greek” fashion, reminding me that the hardest working people I ever new growing up in Chicago were the Greek coffee shop owners who always offered quality and value even during trying economic times in America).
As for the Greeks themselves? Life will be different, but I suppose they will not stop going to their country homes for the summer holidays – though their holidays may be shorter. The sun will not stop shining. The sea will still be that amazing million shades of aqua that is undenyingly only Greek. The cities will continue to be centers of culture and history. The mountains and their villages will remain magestic and inviting. And Greece will still be that place with the “special something”. The place that gets under your skin and into your heart and changes you forever.