Ancient monuments, beautiful islands, hedonistic parties, wild mountains. Whenever you hear about Greece being a land of contrasts, these are the images that come to mind for most people.
The contrast to which I refer though is one between three people, two of whom I have met and one that I read about this morning.
Let’s start with Athena. This is not her real name – she asked to remain anonymous. She had been bringing our beer at our favourite beach bar after a hard day’s sunbathing and snorkeling for over a week before we spoke. Pretty with jet black hair she wore heavy framed glasses. In truth I assumed that her English was poor so to my regret I had never really attempted any conversation. However, that evening, there was a power cut across the whole island. In fluent English, she apologised for serving warm beer and went on to tell us that there would be no electricity for several days ,something to do with the power cable that feeds the island. Knowing that the season was coming to an end and that there were only 100 permanent residents over winter, we asked about her plans. Turns out she is due to start a PhD in Polymer Chemistry and the fourteen hour days she has been working are to help her through university. However, they are struggling to fund the course because of the recession so just a few days before she is due to start it is uncertain whether it would go ahead. What a bloody waste. All we could do was leave a large tip and wish her good luck.
I felt unreasonably angry. Not just because of her plight but because of a gentleman that I had bumped into the previous night. We had stepped into the village mini mall to buy some bottles of water only to find it occupied by one of the most unpleasant people I have come across. He and his sidekick were buying champagne. Lots of champagne and loudly. They would pick a bottle off the shelf and shout loudly across the store demanding the price. If it was too cheap they put it back. How much? 350 euros shouted the store owner in exasperation. We’ll take them all came the reply!
The following morning I found an excuse to go back. The store owner recognised me, grinned widely and asked if I wanted a 350 euro bottle of champagne. Of course I had to ask about the idiot the night before. Turns out he was Russian and had come in on one of the yachts moored in the marina. Thing is, they were spending the night at the boutique hotel up the hill. Does it happen often I asked. ‘Yes and they usually pull out a wad of 500 euro notes’ he replied.
Now I didn’t know if my new friend was exaggerating. I have never even seen a 500 euro note and they might not exist but having watched the Russians in action, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Accepting that I am biased, believing massively in education and having an inbuilt dislike of all the Russians that I have met (albeit a very small number) I could not help but feel that if you could funnel some of Dimitri’s wealth in Athena’s direction, the world would be a much fairer place. Maybe I need to teach her the 350 euro champagne trick..
Finally I read this morning about a retired lecturer who was killed by a pack of wild dogs after visiting an archeology site on the Greek mainland. Apparently there are thousand of dogs running wild because their owners can’t afford to feed them. It’s tragic for her family but also sad for all the people that have been hit so badly by this recession. I don’t think that the 350 euro champagne trick is going to help them. This is the plight of modern Greece.