I’m feeling a little sheepish having been so flippant about the Greek economy before we arrived. It’s no laughing matter and the people here are passionate about it.
I didn’t fully grasp this until an older gentleman in our hotel, possibly the owner, pulled me into a conversation about economics & politics. They’re feeling the pinch here and to make things worse the recent riots have been exaggerated by the international media and had some effect on tourism. Our hotel had a much quieter Easter holiday trade than usual and they’re encouraging all their guests to let everyone back home know that it’s quite safe, and really business as usual here.
We felt very safe the last few days and it’s very easy to find your way around the city. A few of the State owned businesses like the post office were heavily boarded up with sheet metal to prevent looting and there was a lot of graffiti that seemed related to the crisis, but the people all greet you with a smile and are happy to chat.
Right now we’re sitting up top of Lycabetus Hill having cappuccinos. At the very peak sits the Church of St George. It’s possibly the best view of Athens and at 11am we’re almost the only people here. Outside of the major tourist destinations they’re really struggling.
Yesterday walking through a park up towards the monument of Filopapou I came across an old man picking bunches of leaves and flowers from a large shrub. Minding the stinging nettles I wandered across to him and used some sort of international sign language to enquire about the bundle he was collecting.
We didn’t share a language but he rubbed some of the leaves together and they were slightly fragrant. I think he may have been planning to use them for tea or something like that. I thanked him for his time and asked if he’d mind posing before photo, he seemed quite pleased and stood up straight and proud while I snapped a picture.
I didn’t give it too much thought until later that afternoon when we were returning to our hotel through Syntagma Square and I noticed a tree surrounded by flowers and placards, one in English read that it was the place where Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist, had taken his own life. He’d worked 35 years to lose his pension. He didn’t want be a burden to his family and couldn’t face being reduced to poverty.
Tears welled in my eyes when it struck me that Dimitris wasn’t unlike the man I’d met in the park. These are the real victims of the economic crisis…let’s not forget that.