Just because Greece isn’t on the front pages anymore don’t imagine that this is because everything here has suddenly transformed from the perilous to the perfect because it hasn’t. But just because things are bad here doesn’t mean that it can’t also be good. Greece is still beautiful and the islands still offer everything that the islands always did: great food; drinkable wine; sunshine; beaches and all manner of wonderful holiday things. This is the time to visit a Greek island. Actually, scratch that; it’s always time to visit a Greek island.
But underneath the holiday styling, hidden in the areas where a tourist wouldn’t go, there is grief displayed often as anger, as an impotent rage. Blame the politicians, blame the rich men, blame the immigrants but no one is coming forward to take their medicine.
Even cocooned in the relative luxury of the northern suburbs I notice the changes here yet some other people don’t. I put this down to not owning a car and having to walk or take public transport everywhere. When you walk a city you get an entirely different landscape to the one seen fleetingly from the car window whilst you negotiate the complex traffic systems and avoid the scooters that appear from nowhere.
Last week I had lunch in a fancy deli/coffee shop with some friends who have now all left Greece but had returned briefly en-route to their island holidays. As one they all agreed that nothing had changed up here and certainly in that particular coffee shop nothing has. But they don’t see the other coffee shops that have closed down along with the restaurants, small shops and other businesses. We now have a shop where you can sell your gold which was previously a smart gift shop selling mastiha products. Sometimes new shops open up but they’re the chains, the ones who have the bargaining power, the ability to take a hit in the short term unlike the small family stores that have stopped trading. The flower lady from the plateaia has disappeared as has the lady with the cheap and cheerful jewellery stall.
I don’t really know how to describe the rest of this without sounding either like some smug colonial type hoofing around worrying about the natives or that hand-wringing, liberal, Guardian reader that I really am, but I’ll go ahead: The rise in begging is shocking, particularly from elderly women and middle-aged men. The bureaucracy in Greece doesn’t make life easy for the average citizen, the average citizen who relies on state support for health or pensions. Some people are begging because they have run out of whatever pension or savings they had Many pensions have been slashed and until recently some people were unable to get their prescription drugs if they had no cash because the insurance companies haven’t paid the pharmacies. But overlaid on this people are spending 20 euros on a light salad and remarking that really nothing much has changed. Armani is still open.