Greek observations

31 Mar

As our time in Greece winds down–we leave for Croatia next Tuesday–I wanted to pull together a few of my observations/opinions/ruminations from our time here.  These are entirely my opinions, and I’m sure most of them could be disputed for hours, but just take them as observational and not points of contention or complaint.

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greekalphabet2col

–I now know what it feels like to be semi-literate! Even when I figure out the Greek letters, I still don’t know what the words mean. It doesn’t help that some letters that look like Latin letters are pronounced as OTHER letters, e.g., an H is an E, a P is an R,  a v is an n, and an n is an e, too. Also, a B is pronounced like a V, and what seems to be a G is actually pronounced like a GR.  Thankfully, many, many Greeks speak English, and no one expects you to know Greek.  I am ashamed that I have learned only three words in Greek: “kalimera” (good day), “evaristo” (thank you), and συγγνώμη or “syngnómi” (I am sorry). This inability even to read out the words has already been a real obstacle, when trying to do any business on the internet.  Fortunately for the map reader, most signs are in both the Greek and Latin alphabets

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andros_favoritekitten

I have already written elsewhere about the famed Greek street cats. At the same time I like seeing them, and in so many varieties, I find it very distressing to see so many of them, begging and fighting and looking scroungy. It breaks my heart. The Greeks seem to be rather fatalistic about them. People do feed them, and some people do have indoor pets that are pampered, but there are just too many of them, and they lead a difficult life. A lot of them do seem to be in better shape than the alley cats back home, but a lot of them look terribly undernourished, with rheumy eyes and wounds. This little one became my favorite, even though he meowed most loudly at a restaurant in Chora, and begged most cheekily (including jumping on to the table). Because they are semi-feral, they will run away if you try to touch them, and I have already been scratched by one of the meanest ones when I tried to drop some food on the floor. Evy assures me that there are organizations and individuals who attempt to capture them and neuter them, but more needs to be done.

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–Every woman in Greece, apparently, gets regular pedicures, and probably manicures, too. When I told Evy that I had never had a pedicure (or a manicure, for that matter…), she looked at me as if I had said I never brush my teeth. They must consider it part of hygiene rather than pampering.

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P1030164–We have finally figured out how Greeks eat (at least kind of). We are still baffled by their late time frames–lunch at 3 or 4, dinner as late as 10:30, and no one going to bed until after midnight–but we now understand that they often eat socially: they order lots of plates of small things, like dolmades and taramasalata, and then share everything. (This is a photo of a more formal meal at Evy’s house, for Cheese Day, the beginning of Greek Lent).

There are also special breads for special days. We were here for the beginning of Orthodox Lent, and happened to be at an Athens bakery when they were making the bread you are supposed to have on that very day, “Clean Monday”. Everywhere we went on that day, people had this bread on offer.

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Fish–both in restaurants and in the markets–has been quite expensive. We don’t know if this is because of the season, or the lack of fish in the sea. Because of this, we have mostly been eating calamari, octopus, and small anchovies or sardines.

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–The Greeks, perhaps more so than any other people, are tremendously burdened by their past, ancient and more recent.  They hold grudges against all of the countries surrounding them, whether Turkey, Macedonia (call it Skopje, please!), Bulgaria, and even Albania. While these grudges may be warranted for past evils perpetrated against the people, such centuries-long pride and bitterness makes it difficult to move ahead. While tradition is important to maintain and nurture, and the Greeks have so much they should take pride in, moving into this difficult era may require some judicious forgetting and/or forgiving.

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As I have written before, the Greeks have been the most hospitable, the friendliest, the most accepting people we have met. The current mess with the EU, the refugee crisis, and their impossible economic situation has caused huge social upheaval that affects more than anyone the common people–the middle class, who are still suffering the most. Better minds than I have been stumped by this stalemate, but our hope is that the honest, freewheeling style of the Greek people will somehow endure.

Despite all the economic woes, even Athens seemed to us to be less prone to pickpocketing and gypsy scams than Spain or Italy. Evy tells us as well that the sight of homeless people on the streets is a very new thing for them. And on the island of Andros, where we have been for two weeks, I felt that it was totally safe and honest.

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–A huge percentage of the population, and certainly those servicing the tourist industry and young people, speak very good English. Such a marked contrast to the Spanish, where so few people of any age do.

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The transit system in Athens:  the Metro is excellent, clean, fast, efficient. The busses are another story.  Where we stayed had two bus lines supposedly running every 10 minutes or so.  They were never on schedule, and somehow or other, while we could usually catch one going down to the Metro, we almost always ended up having to take a taxi home, because the bus never came! How that is possible, I do not know!

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Greece DOES have winter weather, and if you are in one of the many places that has heavy winds, it can be pretty miserably cold. Come in April-June, when it should be lovely, and before the summer crowds.

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While the waters of the Aegean are luscious–clear and inviting and I expect wonderful to swim in–most of the Greek beaches are pebbly and/or small. Anyone used to Australian or even Californian beaches will be surprised and a bit underwhelmed by the beaches here–NOT by the water, but by the sands.  I know this might not be the case in some islands–I have only experienced a few–but I remember 50 years ago being surprised by this geographical difference. Still: this is a water person’s PARADISE!

 

 

3 Responses to “Greek observations”

  1. romaine March 31, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

    Thanks much for you thoughts and pix of Greece about which i new very little ( I know a lot more about Ancient Greece ). I do believe that your very relaxed stay there, with an old friend, has given you some pause and rest, and you will always rember it fondly for those reasons. What is next?

    • esauboeck April 1, 2016 at 6:02 am #

      Thanks, Romaine. On to Croatia on Tuesday. Fly to Zagreb, then drive first to a little SLovenian town where G’s best friend’s family came from, then to Plitvice, the Falling Lakes, then Split, and finally to Dubrovnik, where we stay at our friend Wolfgang’s summer house. After a few weeks there, we drive up to Trieste and stay there for two weeks. Then a rather vague spell back in Vienna, and finally on to GErmany, where we fly via Toronto back to the USA!

  2. aibiman April 7, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

    Ti kannis George, We avidly follow your odyssey. So many insights. I’m leave for points East to Connecticut & NYC, and South to Namibia. I’m considering a blog like your WordPress. I opened a WordPress blog, but what to do with it? I would appreciate your advice.

    How do I pass it on to my group, now gathered in Google(as bcc)? How do you send out daily blogs with daily captions? Danke, Stan

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