Watching Athens crumble


Two weeks ago two grandmothers met at the popular rendezvous of the Syntagma Square Post Office in central Athens. The only unusual thing about this scene was the fact that the grannies are Australian, both born and mostly bred in Melbourne.

Mary has lived in Athens for nearly 40 years, while I have lived in the Peloponnese for over 30. We married Greek men, and raised our children in this bewitching, infuriating land. Australia's own Patrick White said that for him Greece was a matter of visions and lacerations: how well we understand him.

Whenever I am in Athens, Mary and I catch up. On the day in question we repaired to the coffee shop located in the garden of the Numismatic Museum, a neo-classical mansion that was once the home of the famous Heinrich Schliemann; it was a completely different Athens back then.

Our talk was the usual leapfrog business, as we tried to cover the preceding couple of months, during which we'd both been off in our different directions. But there was no denying the undercurrent of worry. What was going to happen to this country? Was any sort of solution going to present itself?

Our sons have had their salaries cut, and have received notice of extra taxes being payable. Suicide rates are rising, young people are emigrating, and those who do not have that choice are wondering if they will ever be employed again. Older people are trying to cope with reduced pensions and with the spectre of a new property tax, which many will simply be unable to pay.

All these general lacerations. The specific ones were not slow to start: the rude and incompetent waitress who neatly short-changed us; then, when we left, the sight of a stray dog standing, a bewildered bundle, in the middle of the traffic that boils incessantly around the square.

Suddenly the riot squad hove into view. There was no discernible riot going on, but I learned later that in these troubled times the men are always on the move. I always find the sight of the perspex shields very off-putting; even more so is the appearance of the individuals in the squad, as most look about 16. Hapless soldiers indeed.

One of the worst things to bear is the uncertainty, from which no one here is immune. Things are in a general state of flux, with many people hardly daring to move away from the TV news.

What is the future of our grandchildren? We, Mary and I, to use a suitable and timely metaphor, have made such an emotional investment in this country, and are now uncertain of the return. The school year has just started, and there are very few textbooks available. We cannot remember such an occurrence before. Nothing is as it was before.

Greeks are tired, and marks of weakness and woe are easily seen as one wanders Athenian streets. Marriage hearses are certainly blighted, and the newborn infant is right to cry. For more than the usual reasons. Despair seems to have settled like a shroud, and no one knows when it will lift. As I write, Athens is paralysed by a mid-week strike of all land transport: my son's girlfriend is staying with her sister for the duration, so that she can at least walk to work.

Still, Greeks have always been people to cock a snook at Fate, even while lamenting its power. On Sunday, a mellow day of bright sunshine with a few leaves starting to fall, central Athens was crowded with people intent on having a good time, on distracting themselves as much as possible. The coffee and eating places were packed, the vendors of you-name-it-we've-got-it were manning their stalls in Monastiraki to quite some effect, the tourists were gawping and taking photographs.

But I, I wanted to post some cards. And so I wandered up to the Syntagma Post Office. And stood, incredulous: the building is now boarded up. 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Athens, economic crisis, Greece



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Existing comments

Without pretending to know much about the current problems in Greece, the boarding up of the Post Office in Athens suggests a return to the negative reaction that made the Depression of the 1930s so bad and so prolonged, especially in Australia. Have the lessons of history and the success of Keynesian economics been forgotten?
Bob Corcoran | 29 September 2011

Gillian,as always I read your article with interest. I have never been to Greece and my only knowledge of the present situation in your country is what i have read or heard in the media. however, your words helped me understand more what is happening to ordinary people and how they are suffering. I feel for you, your family and friends.
Maryrose Dennehy | 29 September 2011

Hi Jeanette,You probably have seen this, but thought I would send it in case you haven't.....came in my email today. Things sound a lot worse than we see on the Tv! Love
Jeanette Noy | 30 September 2011

Many thanks for sending me a copy of your article. I feel everybody is giving up too easily. Strikes are not the solution. If Argentine can overcome so can Greece. It takes time, patience and discipline to accept and move on.
Elena Christe | 06 October 2011


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