Like most Greeks, I’ve spent enough time reading grim predictions for the future of Greece and contributed my own not-so-happy thoughts to the conversation. Now, however, I’m moving on from my dabble in political/economic analysis and speculation to mention several more uplifting things I’ve encountered recently.
The last few weeks have been quite variable, weather wise, with cold, rain and even snow, giving everyone lots to complain about. Still, among the clouds there have been some stunning days (including today!). A few weeks ago, I was out walking on Saturday morning and the sidewalks were bustling as the sun warmed people’s spirits. True, my walk took me past a number of empty shops, but I also stopped in the supermarket on my way home and was met with a mob scene. No, not people scrambling to stock up their pantries while they still have Euros, but rather in preparation for Kathara Deutera (Clean Monday), the official start of Orthodox Lent.
We’re now fully into the forty day period of fasting before Easter, and although some people joke grimly about whether this period of self-sacrifice and frugality will actually end, I’ve seen a lot to keep smiling about.
Today I walked to the centre of the district where I live to buy produce from the local greengrocer. Not only did I pick up more fresh Greek apples, oranges and pears than I could carry, for barely 5 euros, but I passed cafes crowded with people out to enjoy the sun, hoping that the spring we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. Despite the hardship, it doesn’t take much more than a sunny Saturday to remind us, even if just for a moment, how happy we are to be here.
Several weeks ago two of my friends came to visit me from England and, despite terribly unlucky weather, they gave me the chance to show off Greece. When I took them out to a neighbourhood taverna for Sunday lunch, they were surprised by the joie de vivre in the atmosphere. The restaurant was nothing special – classic wintery Greek comfort food, but it was crowded with families enjoying their time together. On Clean Monday we headed to the centre of Athens to Filopappou Hill, the traditional spot for a favourite Clean Monday activity – kite flying. Although buffeted by the wind and rain, we found not only kite flying, but also a group of stalwarts who were dancing on the hill to traditional music set up by the municipality. Although my friends were freezing (sorry guys), I was actually quite moved. The combination of bad weather and grim forecasts for the future still didn’t deter this simple expression of joy. We spent most of the rest of their visit eating, which was obviously enjoyable, but everywhere we went my friends noticed the spirit of the people: ‘I saw a country celebrating Lent and enjoying life as it is.’
After my friends left, the next focus of my time was the PanHellenic Forensics Tournament. For three and half days from dawn til dusk, some of Greece’s most talented students competed in events like dramatic and comic duet acting or oral interpretation, original oratory and debate. Unfortunately I fear that most of these kids have their sights set on education outside of Greece, but many hope to return and help their country out as best they can.
Equally, optimism is spreading around the internet as well. One of my favourite initiatives is ‘The Good Side of Greece’, a blog which shares only good news about Greece. It has remained a breath of fresh air, even on the gloomiest of days. Also I’ve recently been enjoying this series ‘Greece on the Breadline’ which has done a very good job of looking more carefully into the crisis, drawing attention to individual efforts to get by and give one another a helping hand. ‘Boroume’, which means ‘we can’, is also an inspiring effort of cooperation – the organisation links people in need of food with restaurants, bakeries and shops that have extra to spare. Finally, there are even signs of economic optimism, from a small business point of view. One of my favourite local places is a new cupcake cafe that is doing relatively well in spite of things (Check it out if in Athens, trust me – Funky Elf Cupcake Cafe!)
Ultimately there is still plenty of anxiety and lots to be said about what the future holds for Greece, but life here goes on. It is becoming more and more difficult for many, but if one is willing to look, optimism and solidarity are not difficult to find. I will continue to take note and share the sunnier elements of life in Athens. I’m still proud to be here.