Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Survival of the species

Someone had plans for a hotel on the southwest coast of Kea

This country we've been floating around for the past two months is both pathetic and sublime. Above, you see the pathetic side - shells of incomplete houses and hotels, ruins of the written-off Greek economy.  These photos were taken off Kea island, just south of Evia, but we've seen aborted developments all over the place - on main streets, along beaches, on bare islands and forested hillsides.  On the north coast of Limnos we drove past an empty resort. It was a big spread, sealed roads and drainage built to last, probably with generous contributions from the EU, but no-one was coming to stay in the foreseeable future. The caved-in roof of the reception/admin centre was open to the birds. Somewhere along the track, close to completion, the money had dried up.

Close the resort, the roof is leaking (not to mention the savings account)
Archeologists dig where they can in Eretria town which is built over the ancient site
You rarely see any sign of life or machinery around these house-shells. They are not works in progress but works put off for a better time. Perhaps there won't be a better time, though when your history is measured in millennia and your towns built on top of temples and agora and houses with mosaic floors laid down in 800 BC, it's maybe easier to be philosophical about interrupted building schedules. Still, to my new world eyes, the raw concrete reminds me of other ruins. Places with no windows and no roofs, like the houses and churches in Kayakoy which we visited last autumn, one of those sad places where in 1923 Greek citizens of the recently-buried Ottoman empire were ordered to pack up their belongings and go "home"- the Asia Minor Catastophe, as the Greeks call it (the Turks talk of the popuation exchange, which is so much more clinical).

The ghostly houses of Kayakoy
In Eretria we met a gregarious fellow called Takis who told us his own story of failed development.  Ten townhouses built, not one of them sold. He runs a waterfront cafe/bar now with the help of his pretty young Cuban wife, and a tall muscular son from a previous marriage. Takis's whole family was hanging out at the cafe at one time or another - his father  drinking and playing cards with friends at one table, his mother chatting to his sister at another, his little daughters riding on their trainer wheels around the legs of strolling locals then darting back for a cuddle with daddy. "Family is the alpha and the omega," Takis said with an orator's flourish. He has masses of cousins in Melbourne, some of them wealthy men, but for the moment he has no thought of leaving the country. Someone's got to stay and fight, he said, with a wide smile. A less desperate-looking man it would be hard to find.

Aphrodite and Eros in the Eretria museum

He proffered a novel solution to the Greek meltdown. "We Greeks, we gave the world mathematics and theatre. I'd like to say to Mrs Merkel, why can't you think of us like you do the animals that people give money for?" You mean endangered species, I asked? "Yes, yes, like the panda," he said. "Why not? I have people say to me, oh you are Greek... you have the light. We do, but we don't have the money to pay for electricity."


The Greeks gave us theatre - Eretria's is still to be excavated

Yesterday I followed with great difficulty a convoluted story that an officer at the port authority in Piraeus was telling me about a departure tax I needed to pay before we could be stamped out of the port.  It made no sense. Nothing like this was required last year, I told him. Well, this year things have changed. Greece needs the money to pay for him to do all the paperwork he has to do (he showed me a large wad of papers under the counter, presumably something to do with yachts coming into the harbour to spend, in our case, 52 euros a night for a berth). I struggled to follow him, but eventually understood that the tax office was a kilometre from the marina (he gave me a map), and there I should hand over my departure tax of.....88 cents. The office was open Monday to Friday, but only until 2.30 pm.  I couldn't just pay him directly? No. There was a special form. Small steps towards solvency one might argue, but oh, how counter-productive.

Ahead of us in the queue to enter Zea marina - Shamrock V

Boat at the bottom of the holiday house on Aegina

And pathetic. You think these big guys are waiting in line to pay the taxman 88 cents?

Back to the sublime though. Sunset over the haunted houses of Kea island.  Ditto, sailing across the Saronic gulf in the dusky light which wraps around the landscape from about six o'lock. Ditto, waking on Sunday morning in the U-shaped harbour of Korfos to church bells ringing and calm waters dotted with little fishing dinghies. 

Sun setting behind Kea

Early evening light is so soft

Korfos harbour (and below)

The finger is messy but healing. The stifling heat (someone just turned up the temperature) is more than reason to lie low for a few weeks and come out to play again when the fingertip is waterproofed (skin would be good) and the anchorages have emptied out a bit. First we take Athens...

The taxman has always been with us - item from Eretria museum

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