The Truth About Athens

I have read the news in Kathimerini and on some Greek blogs. Crisis, finances, banks, politicians, corruption, debt, garbage collection. And immigrants.

Nobody seems to tell the truth, though. Everybody beats around the bush. “Immigrants, bla bla”. Well, here’s how the situation is.

We stayed in Athens Central Square Hotel, next to the Central Market. There were thousands of immigrants. Africans, Pakistanis, Moroccan, Tunisian, Chinese and probably dozens of other nationalities. There are few Greeks in that neighborhood.

As I was driving through the narrow streets, looking for the underground parking, I felt I was back in my Tunisian nightmare. People pulling my sleeve, touching, harassing, begging and aggressively selling  useless or fake merchandise, asking for huge prices in an attempt to “negotiate”, or, simply put, con tourists. I was freaking out, thinking that I’d have to get out on those streets and go through that again.

Fortunately, the Athenian immigrants learned to keep it down and there was no nightmare. Very few street merchants tried to push me inside shops, or force me to “have a look” at their stuff. I’m tempted to say “shit”. I mean, why the hell would you try to sell me a brand new antique gramophone made in China ? Or fake ivory tusks ? Who the hell buys that ?

Nobody was aggressive and I felt secure, unlike in Tunisia. Athens seemed fairly safe, even at night.

What nobody says, though, maybe because they want to be politically correct, is that the number of immigrants in Athens is shocking. I don’t think there is an official estimate, but I guess it would be staggering.

There is virtually a Chinatown in Athens and I’m sure there is a Tunisiatown, a Lybiatown, a Pakistanitown and a Moroccotown. It’s just disturbing, really.

And now, that I’ve said what nobody seems to dare say, here’s the cherry on the cake. Gypsies. Gypsies are the only ethnic minority in Athens that lives off of begging. I’ve seen thin, poor-looking black immigrants, selling fake watches and Vuitton bags. Tunisians selling lamb, Moroccans selling fruit. Chinese that sold everything, even live snails, 4 different types of eggs, shovels and hats. And begging Gypsies. So there. And guess what. Lots of those gypsies were speaking Romanian. Lots.

These are things that should be said.

This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Athens. Actually, I did. About that, later.

The fauna

The valley belongs to a family of hawks. Their offspring have learned to fly and hunt. There is plenty of food here, for everyone. Insects for small birds and lizards, small birds and mice for the hawks. Fish for the sea gulls, who visit sometimes, flying above the opposite hill, from the sea and back.

No mosquitoes so far, but there is great potential. There is a wetland down by the road. I’ve seen it, but I would have known it’s there anyway. Tell-tale signs ? Hundreds of frogs, bellowing their love.

There are beetles and bees, wasps and bumblebees.

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This weekend we lived at last in a society. About 10-15 children and roughly the same number of parents came to the tsoloridi.

They started coming on Friday, March 25, Greece’s Independence Day.

The kids had a kite, several bikes, pets and lots of energy. They played football, hide and seek, one of them even played Lara Croft in our living room, on our computer. She pretended to be thirsty, my wife let her in and gave her some water and the kid just sat down and started playing. I was having a conversation with one of the neighbors and when I came home I was surprised to find a child in the house.

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