Without Greek civilisation we would forever be denied Filo pastry and leaving one’s aircraft by the rear door. These beguiling thoughts crossed my mind as I marched across the expanse of concrete apron that is Athens international airport and getting somewhat high on the smell of aviation kerosene. There is a strong sense that I am at a previous military airport still in the last century. Any structure of any height is painted in alternating bands of red and white.
As I meander around the old city I have absolutely no sense that Greece or more specifically Athens is in the grip of financial annihilation. The taverna and Cafes along the boulevards are teeming with well dressed tourists and I think locals. It has a more sedate cleanliness than Istanbul.
I am reminded of Rundle Street Adelaide on a spring or autumnal Saturday evening multiplied several times over. As I watched a local choir singing in the square an elderly Greek man with reasonable English best guessed that I was Australian. The conversation took a somewhat predictable and troublesome course. He asked my name and then shook my hand and offered that “my name is Michael but call me George “. Why he should stress this, which he did often, I have no idea. It was not as if his Greek name was Mnesiplhilos!
He was a caricature of every Greek that has settled in Australia during the 1950s. His emotions were melancholic, maudlin and every other descriptive of depression beginning with “m”. He had lost an eye following a failed cataract operation and had dense sclerosis of the cornea. He was 79 and should he lose the good eye, he was adamant that he would do himself in. In fact he was convinced that his 80th birthday was unattainable. I must clarify that he, to his credit did not ask what I did. Next he bared his hairy sun bleached chest and the inner aspect of both thighs to bring me up to speed on his cardiac bypass surgery 11 years ago. His survival provoked his one glimmer of optimism. But he rapidly returned to his family or rather it’s absence. I am so sad he moaned I have lost all my brothers and another cousin moved to, wait for it, Melbourne. The implications was that the aussie cousin was so distant to be as good as dead.
Next he turned his attention to me specifically my family and matters financial. The lack of a wife he mulled over but he then underwent a remarkable transformation. From being “so sad” he became “so happy” when I mentioned a daughter, although would have been ecstatic should I have had a son. We established that my brother is ensuring that the family name will well and truly will live on. You own a house? Yes. Is it paid off? Yes, by now he was almost manic in his continual expressions of happiness for me and holding my hands in his whilst he vigorously shook them he made more of a statement than a question: of course you will leave it to your daughter.
Brother he said still gripping my hands in a manner that would make Tony Abbott pansy like , let us have a drink together. I know I am gullible but off we went to a small taverna where to be social I ordered a small white wine. The waitress obviously knew him as a regular and without asking, produced what I am sure was his standing order, a rather large glass of Ouzo. He now returned to his chronic state of melancholia, threw in a few comments about the current financial crisis which had led to more than 5000 suicides in Athens this year. The waitress produced the bill which she directed to me. The drachma dropped and I realised that I had paid for him to drown his sorrows. A small price to pay. Was he genuine or a very clever possibly alcoholic senior citizen? In a wry way I did not mind. He was entertaining and at no stage did he offer to take me to a marble factory where I may be able to “just look” but perhaps take home a marble statue of David, just for my daughter. My daughter!! Bugger her! It would be for me!
I developed a touch of what I used to call Delhi Belly last night. No vomiting but food had rapid transit time. I an better this morning although a mild headache and myalgia. Better to have it now than next week on the swim. Sticking to mainly fluids today and hesitant to venture too far away from the hotel. Nor sure how I came down with it but obviously Istanbul. It may have been the fresh orange and pomegranate juice from the street vendor.
It is 30 degrees centigrade but the reflected rays from the shiny white marble pushed it towards the high 30s I am sure. I coped with the climb to the Acropolis but the heat, a niggling headache and sore thighs convince me to head back to the air conditioning of the hotel whilst I wait for my flight to Lafkada at 8:30pm. I am sure that the restoration cranes and scaffolding around the Parthenon are unchanged in 40 years! I have slides to prove it from 1978.
There must be several PhDs in the psychology of the Selfie. “This is a picture of me ” the adolescent shares his (or usually her) snap of a grinning face taking up most of the frame and a blurred white marble Greek statue in the background. I an sorely tempted to inform the giggling girls that the statue is none other than the Greek God Narcissus. The delicious irony of this juxtaposition would be completely lost on them.