So where are we? Ah, yes, we’re in the middle of yet another strike and today it’s all the public transport. Earlier this week the taxis had their turn and I suspect that the health workers are going to join in the party soon. Today the English language paper, Athens Plus, carried a report with a nurse who works in a public hospital; his monthly salary is less than what we pay in rent which seems terribly wrong. Apart from the fact that our rent is much higher because we’re English speakers and too stupid to know how to do things for ourselves, but even if we were paying the going rate for the rent it would still be more than he earns. This is not to boast because although we live in a pleasant apartment we’re actually nowhere near the higher end of the market. The austerity measures that the government are implementing are only going to drive the corruption harder, I suspect.
So let’s give you an anecdote and call it research. A friend of a friend went into a public hospital and for the first day she was practically smothered with care from the nurses but after 24 hours they stopped and someone explained to her that she hadn’t tipped them and so they wouldn’t do anything more for her. Two doctors were taken into custody yesterday for bribe crimes – the only surprising thing there is that they got arrested and didn’t manage to bribe their way out of it. Athens News reports that almost 800 million Euros went in bribes last year of which 33% went to hospital staff. Yet every single Greek person I speak to (all 3 of them) disagree with the bribery ( it’s called the envelope το φακαλακι –I learnt this in my Greek class).
Apart from strikes and bribes life is good. In fact, even with strikes and bribes life is good because the weather is better and we’re getting more used to living here. The traffic doesn’t freak me out as much anymore and I don’t spend the whole time swearing at drivers and instead reserve it for those really special, near-miss moments. Of course, I have yet to drive our own car here and after that I may be updating this blog from prison or from a comfortably padded cell.
From November to March the Acropolis and Agora have free admission on Sundays and we’ve been making the most of that with a Sunday walk around the Parthenon and then to lunch in the Plaka or Monastiraki. Previously I had always thought that the Acropolis was one of those places that looked better with distance – and it is truly beautiful seeing it lit up at night from a distance – but visiting while it’s relatively quiet has been a privilege. The walk up to the Propylaea is itself a marvel as you get higher and start to see over the concrete of Athens to the Saronic Gulf beyond Piraeus. Despite much of the Parthenon and all of Athena NIke’s Temple being covered in scaffolding it’s still an impressive sight as you walk through.
Now I can buy my transport tickets in Greek; all of three words which you have to admit is pretty impressive after three months. However, this morning I ambled up to the fruit and vegetable stall and managed to buy everything in Greek and what I didn’t know the words for I pointed at and said ‘I would like that’. It would have been all the more impressive if when being asked if I wanted the tomatoes for salad, I hadn’t answered with a resounding ‘Ja, gerne’.
It won’t be long before I become spectacularly annoying and start talking about islands. And finally, wild orchids growing near Lavrio