January 19, 2017
So, I have been here in Athens (Agia Paraskevi, to be precise) for a full week now. I’ve spent the week getting my bearings in this delightful neighborhood which is roughly the size of Marvyille but with a distinct urban feel. You certainly know when you are here that you are in the capital due to the city buses and tons more cars (and their honking horns, oh the horns!) than I ever see in Maryville on an average day.
The people in this middle class neighborhood are friendly, wanting to talk about all kinds of things. Although, I must say I have had more conversations about gun control and American politics than I thought I would have. The Greeks I have talked to do NOT support the current direction of American politics. And, I can see why. One of the residence hall directors told me that the kind of thinking that is pervading the current American discourse is what led to the decisions that were made in the 1980s and 1990s which ultimately led to the Greek economic collapse in 2004 and 2008. [A layman’s summary of the situation can be found in a 2016 New York Times article: Here]
Speaking of that collapse, evidence of struggle is prevalent along the main street leading to the ACG campus (Agiou Ioannou). There are empty store fronts and empty restaurants. On Saturdays, there is the occasional pan-handler which so far has only been elderly women. But the one thing that clearly has endured the economic struggle: coffee shops. I counted no less than 20 coffee shops within a 6 block radius of my apartment. And, yes, there is a Starbuck’s on campus. The typical Greek breakfast is a coffee or two and cigarettes. Not healthy, I know. As I partake in neither, I am sticking to fresh baked tyropita (cheese pie) and frosted flakes.
Despite the evidence of decline, there is though a sense of recovery here. There is new construction going up and new businesses opening. The neighborhood instituted a discount day at some of the local stores which is really not all that different from our Maryville Chamber bucks program. I’ve been informed that I really need to attend those sales because you can get designer fashion for about 75% off. Since I already went through a pair of running shoes while here, I’m clearly going to have to “suffer” through this shopping experience. The sales extravaganza is meant to keep money circulating in Greece so that taxes drawn from it can be used for local needs like infrastructure, healthcare, education, etc. It’s the Greek equivalent of the “Buy American” slogan we have all heard before. And in this neighborhood, it seems to be working. There are signs of hope. [Granted the EU is talking about giving more bailout money to Greece so that helps]
For the presidential inauguration tomorrow, I plan to go down to the city center and spend time on the Acropolis to reflect on the evolution of democratic principles. Saturday, Athenian women are participating in the Women’s March on Washington movement by marching from the US embassy to the Acropolis. I think I will go down and be a part of history.