let’s party – Greek style

It’s party time – 32 parties, to be exact.  As most of you probably have heard by now, Greeks vote on Sunday for a new government.  They’ll be voting for 300 Parliament seats; the new Parliament will choose a Prime Minister, President, etc., so this is the big election.  It’s the equivalent of Americans electing the President and the entire Senate and House of Representatives all on the same day.

Thirty six parties applied to run in the election; thirty two were approved by the Greek Supreme Court.  Not all 32 are on the ballot in every prefecture (a prefecture is like a state – there are 51 prefectures).  In S’s prefecture, there are about 20 parties on the ballot.  Some of the parties are just so small that they weren’t able to get onto every ballot.

Even when you only have 20 parties to choose from, it’s still a bit overwhelming.  So, to help Greeks figure out which party is most aligned with their own beliefs, there is a website called Help Me Vote – you fill out a questionnaire and it lists the parties in order according to how close they come to your answers; and they show you where you, and the parties, sit on the political spectrum.

It’s a useful website but it’s only available in Greek.  When S and I did the questionnaire, it occurred to me that the questions themselves are very telling about the current political and social reality in Greece.  Though you may not be interested in the differences between the parties, the questions that the parties are discussing are enlightening.

And since it’s quite likely that the new Parliament will include some parties that most people outside Greece have never heard of, I’ll also indicate what each of 13 major parties has to say about each question.

The parties covered by this questionnaire are:
PASOK: Socialist Party (elected to power in 2009)
ND: New Democracy Liberal Party (in power until 2009)
KKE: Communist Party of Greece, currently in Parliament
Syriza: Leftist group of parties, currently in Parliament
LAOS: Religious right party, currently in Parliament
Greens: Ecologist-Greens, environmentalist party, not in Parliament
Antarsya: Revolutionary Communist party, not in Parliament
DemAr: Democratic Left, centrist party, not in Parliament
Indep: Independent Hellenes, rightist party, not in Parliament
GD: Golden Dawn, neonazi/nationalist party, not in Parliament
DemSym: Democratic Alliance, rightist party, not in Parliament
Action: Drasi (Action), rightist party, not in Parliament
SA: Social Agreement, centrist party, not in Parliament

1.  Prison sentences should be reduced for prisoners to reduce overcrowding of prisons.
..Strongly Agree: PASOK, Syriza, Antarsya
..Agree: Greens, DemAr, DemSym, Action
..Disagree: ND
..Strongly Disagree: LAOS, Indep, GD
..Didn’t answer: KKE, SA

2.  The police need to use harsher measures to protect the personal property of citizens.
..Strongly Agree: LAOS, Indep, GD
..Agree: PASOK, ND, DemSym, Action
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: SA

3.  Citizens need to accept measures such as video monitoring to protect against terrorism and crime.
..Strongly Agree: ND, LAOS, Indep, GD
..Agree: PASOK, DemSym, Action
..Disagree: Greens, SA
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya, DemAr

4.  We have every right to renege on the debt and don’t have to answer to anyone.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya, Indep, GD
..Disagree: ND, LAOS, SA
..Strongly Disagree: PASOK, DemSym, Action
..Didn’t answer: Greens, DemAr

5.  The unemployment problem requires more flexible forms of labor.
..Strongly Agree: ND, DemSym, Action
..Agree: PASOK, LAOS, Indep
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya, SA
..Didn’t answer: GD

6.  Further legal measures are necessary to limit protests and demonstrations.
..Strongly Agree: ND, LAOS, GD
..Agree: PASOK, Indep, DemSym, Action
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr, SA
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya

7.  Defense spending should not be reduced, to protect the country.
..Strongly Agree: LAOS, Indep, GD
..Agree: ND
..Disagree: PASOK, KKE, Syriza, Greens, DemAr, Action
..Strongly Disagree: Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: DemSym, SA

8.  Reduction in business taxes will help drive development.
..Strongly Agree: ND, DemSym
..Agree: PASOK, LAOS, DemAr, Indep, Action, SA
..Disagree: Greens, GD
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya

9.  Environmental protection laws need to be relaxed to attract investment.
..Agree: PASOK, ND, LAOS, Indep, DemSym
..Disagree: KKE, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: Syriza, Greens, Antarsya, DemAr
..Didn’t answer: GD

10.  I approve of people’s disobedience movements, such as the “I won’t pay” movement.
..Strongly Agree: Syriza, Antarsya
..Agree: KKE, Greens, Indep, GD
..Disagree: PASOK, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: ND, DemSym
..Didn’t answer: LAOS, DemAr

11.  The children of immigrants cannot be completely absorbed into the Greek community.
..Strongly Agree: LAOS, Indep, GD
..Agree: ND
..Disagree: PASOK, Greens, DemAr, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: KKE, DemSym

12.  Greeks who were born from Greek fathers and mothers should have more rights than others.
..Strongly Agree: LAOS, Indep, GD
..Agree: ND
..Disagree: PASOK, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: Syriza, Greens, Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: KKE, DemAr, DemSym

13.  The rules covering political asylum and naturalization need to be made more strict.
..Strongly Agree: ND, LAOS, Indep, GD
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: Syriza, Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: PASOK, KKE, DemSym

14.  Multiculturalism is a positive phenomenon in Greece.
..Strongly Agree: Syriza, Greens, Antarsya, DemAr
..Agree: PASOK, KKE, DemSym, Action, SA
..Disagree: Indep
..Strongly Disagree: LAOS, GD
..Didn’t answer: ND

15.  Private institutions of higher learning should be legal in Greece.
..Strongly Agree: ND, LAOS, DemSym, Action
..Agree: PASOK, Indep, SA
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: GD

16.  The public health system should be partly privatized.
..Strongly Agree: ND, DemSym
..Agree: PASOK, LAOS, Indep, Action
..Disagree: DemAr
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Greens, Antarsya, SA
..Didn’t answer: GD

17.  The budgets of welfare services (help for invalids, daycare) should be increased, by the increase in local taxes.
..Strongly Agree: PASOK
..Agree: KKE, Syriza, Greens, Antarsya, DemAr
..Disagree: DemSym, Action, SA
..Didn’t answer: ND, LAOS, Indep, GD

18.  Increased property taxes are necessary to cover the national deficit.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya
..Agree: PASOK, Greens, DemAr
..Disagree: LAOS, DemSym
..Strongly Disagree: Action
..Didn’t answer: ND, Indep, GD, SA

19.  The Orthodox Christian Church should be completely separated from the Government.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Syriza, Greens, Antarsya, DemAr, Action
..Agree: PASOK, SA
..Disagree: DemSym
..Strongly Disagree: ND, LAOS, Indep, GD

20.  It is better for Greece to be in the European Union rather than out.
..Strongly Agree: PASOK, ND, Greens, DemSym, Action, SA
..Agree: Syriza, LAOS, DemAr
..Disagree: Indep
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Antarsya, GD

21.  The Greek economy would benefit from having its own currency, rather than the Euro.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Antarsya, GD
..Agree: Syriza, Indep
..Disagree: ND, LAOS, SA
..Strongly Disagree: PASOK, Greens, DemAr, DemSym, Action

22.  The European Parliament needs to have additional power over all domestic and foreign policy.
..Strongly Agree: Greens
..Agree: PASOK, DemAr, DemSym, Action, SA
..Disagree: LAOS
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Antarsya, Indep, GD
..Didn’t answer: ND, Syriza

23.  I share in the anger and indignation shown during demonstrations on national holidays.
..Strongly Agree: Syriza, Antarsya
..Agree: KKE, Greens
..Disagree: ND, LAOS, DemAr, Indep, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: PASOK, DemSym
..Didn’t answer: GD

24.  The two major parties (PASOK and New Democracy) between which power has shifted back and forth since the reestablishment of democracy have completed their life cycle and should be relegated to the margins.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Syriza, LAOS, Greens, Antarsya, Indep, GD
..Agree: DemAr, DemSym, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: PASOK, ND

25.  The renewal of the political system can only come from new political parties.
..Strongly Agree: Antarsya, Indep, GD
..Agree: Greens, DemSym, Action, SA
..Disagree: Syriza
..Strongly Disagree: PASOK, ND, KKE
..Didn’t answer: LAOS, DemAr

26.  Technocrats in positions of political power are necessary for the righting of the economic and political problems.
..Agree: PASOK, LAOS, DemSym
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr, Indep, GD, Action, SA
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya
..Didn’t answer: ND

27.  The Memorandum with the Troika (IMF/EU) can be renegotiated.
..Strongly Agree: Syriza, Antarsya, Indep, SA
..Agree: KKE, LAOS, Greens, DemAr, GD, Action
..Disagree: PASOK
..Didn’t answer: ND, DemSym

28.  The Troika’s Memorandum was essential to prevent default.
..Strongly Agree: PASOK, DemSym
..Agree: Action
..Disagree: Greens, DemAr, GD, SA
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya, Indep
..Didn’t answer: LAOS

29.  Much of what the Memorandum requires are things that should have been done anyway long since.
..Strongly Agree: DemSym, Action
..Agree: PASOK, ND, LAOS, Greens, DemAr, SA
..Disagree: Syriza, Indep, GD
..Strongly Disagree: KKE, Antarsya

30.  The Memoranda are simply accumulating debt with no visible benefit.
..Strongly Agree: KKE, Syriza, Antarsya, Indep, GD
..Agree: LAOS, Greens, DemAr, SA
..Disagree: PASOK, ND, DemSym, Action

When I filled out the questionnaire, I identified 77% with one party, all the way down to -53% with another, with all the others falling somewhere in between.  I’m glad to see that my #1 party happens to be the party that S was planning to vote for anyway ;).

For those interested, the other parties are the following:  Centrist Union; Greek Ecologists; NO – Democratic Renaissance/Unified People’s Front; I Won’t Pay Movement; National Resistance Party; Marxist-Leninist Communist Party/Communist Party (Marxist/Leninist); Biethnic Greek Communist Organization; Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers’ Party; Organization for the Reworking of KKE; National Unity Party; Capodistrian Continuity Society; Pirates; Creation Again; Panathenaic Movement; Dignity; Independent Renewal Left-Renewal Right-Renewal PASOK-Renewal ND-No to War-Land/Debt/Life Gift Party-Farmers’ and Workers’ Movement of Greece; Town Development Party; Tyrannicides.

With a Pirate party and a Tyrannicide party, I guess we should expect an exciting race!

a little Greek crisis humor

Of course there is such a thing! What kind of a crisis would it be if we didn’t have songs crying about it, plays mocking it, modern dance dramatizing it, visual art bursting with pain over it, graffiti condemning it, and viral internet articles making fun of it?  It’s always good to see the silver lining in any situation, wouldn’t you agree?

My very free translation (because otherwise it might not make any sense to those not familiar with Greece) of the anonymous article.

17 Reasons I’m Enjoying the Greek Economic Crisis! 

1. When I ask my boss for a raise, instead of giving me a dirty look, he busts out laughing. Not to mention that he fired two annoying coworkers.

2. A lot of my friends emigrated for a better future, so I’ll have new options of places to visit abroad, and they’ll probably even send me something for the holidays.

3. Gasoline is too expensive to buy, so I don’t use my car very much.  It will last longer, my heart health is improving, and I look flush in front of my friends when I suggest taking the car on the highway. And when we go to the beach in the summer, they chip in for gasoline, whereas in the past they would pretend to forget.

4. The cafes are full of unemployed scientists with two masters degrees, so while I drink my ouzo I can talk not about soccer but about black holes, at least.

5. As far as girls are concerned, you can be 100% certain that they don’t just want you for your money.

6. The man selling bagels outside the nightclub does a brisker business than the lady selling flowers to throw at the act, inside the club.

7. The coffee I win playing backgammon with my buddies makes up 2% of my salary which means that if I win 50 games, I’ve made a month’s salary.

8. They did away with social welfare.  Good:  I couldn’t stand waiting in line.

9. The future of our country is uncertain – we all need a little adventure in our lives.

10. I can be depressed without people giving me a hard time. They always said “What’s your problem? You have a job, a car, what else do you want?”

11. You never have to wait behind someone with two carts full of food at the supermarket. Or if you do, you can ask him to invite you to the party.

12. Everyone who saved money so carefully for years has lost it all, so I can feel better about myself for spending every euro as soon as I got it; instead of “profligate” I’m now considered “wise” because at least I got some use out of it.

13. There are no more weddings to have to attend, because when you elope, they don’t charge you for the decor.

14. Everyone has become an environmentalist, and they explain that they are spending less to “protect the environment.”

15. I like it when they say we’ll go back to the drachma, because I’ll finally be able to spend all those drachmas that I’ve been keeping as souvenirs, which drove me nuts when I didn’t have a penny and I figured that I had around €60-70 in drachmas, but the bank no longer exchanges them.

16. When I tell people I work two days/week, they look at me with sympathy and tell me to be brave, whereas in the past they were thinking “what a lazy ass.”

17. I will have a good story of suffering and misery to tell future generations about our country’s history, like we had to listen to about the military dictatorship and the German occupation. Otherwise they’d think of me as a total wuss.

river of cloudy water

I didn’t take any of these photos, as I’ve never been to Chios.  They are all by Giannis Misetzis, local politician in Chios and photographer.

Today I thought I’d share something special with you – by way of a film review.  The film is not new:  it came out in 1999 and played in a few theaters in Athens for a few weeks.  It received awards but soon disappeared from theaters; it never played much outside Greece as far as I know.  It became my favorite film as soon as I saw it nine years ago, and remains so to this day.  The English title is The Spring Gathering of the Field Guards (in Greek, I earini synaksis ton agrofylakon / Η εαρινή σύναξις των αγροφυλάκων), directed by the actor (and sometimes director) Dimos Avdeliodis, a Chian.

The film is set in 1960, in the countryside of the large Greek island of Chios.  The village of Tholopotami (which means ‘river of cloudy water’ in Greek) is a small, anarchic village gathered in a clump on a hillside, surrounded by fields of olive trees, wheat, and small gardens.

The village of Tholopotami. Photograph by Giannis Misetzis.

By today’s standards, the village is desperately poor, but it’s not particularly unique for the Greek countryside at that time.  The village belongs, administratively, to the larger town of Keramoti.  Keramoti has an Agrofylaki, a type of police force which, instead of protecting citizens and property, protects the fields and animals of farmers from theft.  The Agrofylaki is staffed by agrofylakes, or field guards.  These field guards are state employees charged with providing a sense of security, arresting thieves, and discouraging lawlessness among the villagers.  (The Agrofylaki Field Guard Service disappeared from Greece many years ago, but was brought back under prime minister Kostas Karamanlis in 2007; but as of December, 2010, the Agrofylaki has again been entirely disbanded and shut down.)

As the film opens, Kolokithias, the field guard assigned to Tholopotami, keels over dead from a heart attack while chasing Elisso, a young orphaned girl who lives with her aged grandmother, Kyra Vasiliko.  Although they have an old crumbling stone house and a horse, they have no field or garden of their own, and no income; they survive by digging up a few potatoes on the sly, or plucking a few fruits from a tree along the road.  Although Kyra Vasiliko tries to limit Elisso’s stealing to the food they need to survive, a field carpeted with bright red tulips catches her eye and she stops to pick a few.  Kolokithias, who has been following them in order to catch them at their thieving ways, chases after her, but a heart attack strikes him down and he dies in the tulip field.

The field of the tulips at Tholopotami. Photograph by Giannis Misetzis.

The death of Kolokithias at the height of spring, 1960, ushers in a year of upheaval as the village council requests a field guard be sent from Keramoti, but no one is willing to go; Tholopotami offers to pay half again the regular salary, and four men are found from among the agrofylakes who are willing to go.  The first one is sent at the beginning of summer.  He is undone by his gullibility:  the villagers crash his motorbike and ‘save’ him, but he thinks it was an accident; as a result, he finds himself guarding only one small garden of 53 watermelons for the man who ‘saved’ him.  When the Agrofylaki finds out, he is told to make an arrest or lose his job; desperate to arrest someone, he follows Elisso as she goes swimming in the sea.  When he falls from the tree where he’s spying on her and lands on a beehive, he’s driven into the sea by the bees, and Tholopotami is again left without a field guard.

The remains of the Catholic church of Agios Ioannis (St. John) in Tholopotami, a central point of the action in the film. Photograph by Giannis Mesitzis.

The second man is sent as autumn comes to Tholopotami with torrential rains.  Aware of the fate of the last two field guards, he decides to frighten the villagers, figuring that if they’re afraid of him, he will be able to control them; but his own aggressiveness is his downfall, as he marches the boys of the village, whom he has caught stealing oranges on their way to school, all the way to Keramoti to the Agrofylaki.  After a dressing down by the head of the Agrofylaki, where he’s told that “these boys walk 8 kilometers to school every morning just to learn to read and write, and you drag them here for stealing an orange?” – and just like that, he loses his job.

The third man is sent to the village in the winter.  Careful not to fall into the trap of the previous field guard, he treats the locals as friends, and quickly worms his way into a group of men who play cards together.  Betting with money was illegal so they did it secretly.  The field guard is a terrible player and manages to gamble away all his money and possessions and even a borrowed donkey.  Finally he is caught by the regular police and hauled off to jail, and thus ends the service of the third field guard.

The fourth and final man is sent to Tholopotami just as spring comes again to the village.  Unlike the others, he is young, fresh from the army; his playfulness and spirit put him at odds with the Agrofylaki, but he tries his best to catch Elisso as well.  As he chases her through the fields, she slips on a cliff and loses her shoe; although he has to abandon the chase, he catches her shoe and keeps it.  When his conscience works on him, he returns the shoe, ignores some of the excessive duties placed on him by the Agrofylaki, happily gives up his position, and chases Elisso off into the tulips where, this time, she lets herself be caught.

Disused Catholic church of Tholopotami. Photograph by Giannis Misetzis.

Is this series of guards – the first useless due to taking bribes in a clientilist system; the second a harsh dictator; the third a toady who throws away public money; and the fourth, a populist who throws his lot in with the people – supposed to represent four periods of recent Greek history?  Or perhaps they are the three great human failings:  fear, violence, greed; overcome by love.

The film’s music is roughly split between the Four Seasons of Verdi and the natural sounds of the Chian countryside, with a little local music.  The Four Seasons play perfectly with the changing nature of the village and countryside, and the varying natures of each of the field guards.  The film avoids oversentimentality – the death of Kyra Vasiliko doesn’t feature at all; we see her in bed; Elisso is simply alone thereafter.  Even the loneliness and desperation of the winter guard is shown without excess.  The only overt emotion we see is when Elisso falls to the ground sobbing after losing her irreplaceable shoe – a reminder of what life was like in Greece not long ago, and may be again; growing up, my father in law never wore shoes except on special occasions, and all boys wore shorts year round as fabric was too expensive.

The magic of the countryside is such that the appearance of the ghost of Kolokithias – while terrifying or unsettling – doesn’t seem particularly hard to believe.

When I first saw the film in 2003, I was taken by the nobility of destitute Elisso, who silently demands respect and whose ethic doesn’t require an apology for stealing a few potatoes from a landowner.  When I saw it again in 2009, I was taken by the cyclical nature of the film:  the seasons, the Four Seasons, the death of Kyra Vasiliko and the blossoming of Elisso – I had spent enough time on the islands to understand that life there is entirely cyclical.  When I saw it again last night, I was taken by the severity and hopelessness of life for the public servants who were sent to perform an impossible job with no resources in a place utterly empty of family, friendly faces, a newspaper, a radio – a place which tried to thwart them and even threatened their lives.  The summer guard tried to fill the void with his beloved dog; the autumn guard by being overzealous in his job; the winter guard with the friends to whom he gambled away everything he owned and eventually his freedom; and the spring guard with love – only the last was successful, or so one hopes.

With each of those viewings, I was affected by a different aspect of the film because of my own life at the time:  in 2003, I identified with lonely Elisso; in 2009, I identified with the island itself; and now I identify with the struggling public servant thrown into a bizarre and hopeless situation, and then held responsible when it inevitably fails.  Every time, the cinematography and music held me spellbound for the entire three hours of the film.

Α still shot from the film.

If you’ve seen it, or have a chance to watch the film, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I bought my DVD of it at the Mastiha Shop, a chain of stores in Greece (including the Athens Airport) that sells products from Chios.  The DVD has English subtitles.  You can also watch it online here, although there are no subtitles.

a little lesson from my father

I haven’t seen my father in over two years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about him all the time.  He’s a very brilliant and accomplished man, but also the type to overwhelm you with his expectations, which are almost impossible to meet.  So I spent my childhood (and let’s be honest, my adulthood too) kind of in awe of him.

Newspapers, radio news programs, and television news always wanted to interview him about various things:  as the expert in his field, getting an interview with him was valuable to them.  But he always turned them down.

“Never talk to the media,” he told me, when I was about twelve, in his way of giving us advice decades before we could possibly have any reason to use it.

He had been interviewed once, I think in the ’70s, and his words were quoted in such a way that they seemed to say the opposite of what he actually meant to say.  It was something as bizarre as him saying “I do not agree with this” and the paper quoting “I do… agree with this.”  He wrote a letter to the editor and that was the end of his involvement with the media.

I think it’s good advice.  With all the drivel coming out of the media about Greece – drivel I’m in a prime position to identify confidently as drivel, rather than ‘suspected drivel,’ or even ‘possible drivel’ – remembering my father’s advice makes me feel even more strongly that no one writes without bias, and many people are not above altering facts, quotations, even photographs to make the point that they want to make.  Suppressing different opinions is one of the obvious signs of this.

My bias is the following:  I love Greece deeply.  I started wanting to live in Greece when I was still a pre-teen.  I am married to a Greek man who is very accomplished and competent, and has none of the negative qualities assigned to Greeks by the media.  I am not blind to the bad things in Greece.  I have broken down in tears when dealing with the Greek bureaucracy.  The Greek government has reduced my husband’s full time wage yet again, to 588 euros/month, which is not enough to live on, and yet somehow we live on – these are not blindly pro-Greece concepts.  I don’t have an urge to ‘sugarcoat’ things to make Greece look better.  But I have natural optimism and years of experience living here and I feel very strongly that the Greeks I’ve had the pleasure of knowing are not ‘bad seeds.’  I will call b.s. where I see it, and I see it all the time, but I will not contribute to the stereotyping and generalizing trend in the media response to the Greek crisis.  My bias, and as my readers you deserve to know this, is love.

a visit to a Greek hospital during the Crisis

This has been a rough winter for S and me, health-wise.  He’s been sick with various colds and flus five times since October.  As his loving, small-apartment-dwelling wife, I’ve managed to avoid only one of those.  Back on New Year’s Day, just as he was getting over an annoying but not particularly serious week-long stuffy nose, I came down with it.  At first, it was just annoying.  But after the first month of it and somewhere around the six-week mark, it started to get really tiring.  It had no other symptoms, so I didn’t go to a doctor.  Then S got the flu.  Then I got the flu, combined with my now two month old stuffy nose.  Suddenly other things started to happen, like me going deaf in my right ear.

So, today, we decided to have me looked at.  I had never been to a doctor in this city and as it turns out, only two doctors in the whole city accept our insurance, and neither of them sees patients on Wednesday afternoons.  So we did what all Greeks do:  we went to the pharmacy instead to ask for advice.  Usually the pharmacist will just give you whatever the doctor would have prescribed.  Greek pharmacists are extremely well trained and are very knowledgeable about a whole range of medical problems.  They are far more involved in patient care than pharmacists in the US, who often never even come into contact with patients at all, preferring to send their assistants to deal with the pesky customers.

However, pharmacies aren’t open on Wedneday afternoons either.  So S got online and found where the ‘duty’ pharmacies were, the two pharmacies that are open during the time when all the others are closed.  So off we went, to ask for their advice.  The pharmacist asks me what’s wrong.  “I woke up deaf on my right side.  I’ve had the flu since Saturday….”  The pharmacist looked at the other pharmacist.  “You need to go to the hospital.  That could get ugly.”

So, off we go to the hospital, to the Emergency Room.  Only the patient – no spouses, no friends, no nobody is allowed to come with you into the ER.  I fibbed and said I needed S for translation purposes, so the gate-keeper let him come with me.  There were about 3 chairs and no desk, no nurse, no nothing.  S found a security guard sitting in a wheelchair and asked her if there was a ENT doctor on staff that day.  She hailed a nurse who happened to be passing by, who said she’d call someone and ask.  S trailed off after her.  Good news: there was one!  So we were able to get out of the ER and go to the External Clinic, which is basically doctors’ offices at the hospital, which are usually only open in the morning.

We wandered the labyrinthine halls of the hospital – narrow, dark, dingy, no signs anywhere, equipment scattered around, overflowing garbage bins.  We pass a shrine with lit candles and a heavy smell of incense.  The only sign of life is a fully-stocked mini-market selling packaged junk food.  We come out into a long, teal-painted hallway.  There are patients trying to sleep in some of the rooms.  The hallway is cold.  At the end of the hall there’s a sign for the ENT Department.  A pleasant resident notices us walking down the hall and invites us in.

As I explain my symptoms, the doctor sends S to the Hospital Bureaucracy Office to get a paper stamped and signed.  The doctor does an exam, gives me a professional ear cleaning with no warning, and then starts asking me if I have pain, headaches, and various other things.  I don’t.  He’s not satisfied.  “You don’t have the symptoms of a sinus infection, but I still want to do a cranial x-ray.”

S is back with the stamps, so he sends us to Radiology.  We get lost at least three times trying to find it, but eventually we do.  When we get there, S explains briefly what we’re there for.  The radiologist sends him to the Hospital Bureaucracy Office to get a paper stamped and signed.  While I wait for him to come back, I read a small piece of paper on an office door, announcing that “the staff of the Hospital has not been paid since the 3rd quarter of 2011.”

S comes back with the stamps, and I’m taken to get my cranial x-ray, which of course takes about a second.  Then S and I wait for two minutes while it’s processed.  The radiologist gives us the x-ray and the bureaucracy paper.  We make our way back to the ENT Department.

The doctor herds us back into his office.  He puts the x-ray up on the light.  “You have a sinus infection.  See that white area?  That should be charcoal black, like your mouth.  You have it on both sides, but mainly on your right side.”  He goes on to explain in great depth what this is and what we can do about it.  He writes me a prescription for an antibiotic that’s not on the list of things I’m allergic to, steroid ear drops to help with the deafness, steroid nasal spray to help with the stuffiness, and tells me to flush my sinuses with sterile saline four times every day.  He also says that when I shower, I should soak cotton balls in olive oil and put them in my ears.  The olive oil will prevent water from entering my ears.  He reminds me to bundle up and not go out with wet hair.  He spends about ten minutes entering all the numbers and codes necessary for the new government mandated prescription drug program, which requires all drugs prescribed to be entered into a national database.  This is supposed to reduce prescriptions and waste, but it is clearly time consuming for a hospital doctor.

The doctor says to come back in 3-4 days if my hearing doesn’t improve, but in any case, to come back in 8 days so he can evaluate my progress.  He’s spent about forty-five minutes with me, providing me with a full exam, an ear cleaning (kind of neat – never had that done before), a cranial x-ray and reading, and a very in-depth explanation of the problem.  We paid 5 euros for his services.   There was no waiting at any point, unless you count the one minute for S to get my x-ray paper stamped, and two minutes for the x-ray to be developed.

As we walk out of the hospital into the snow, a young man walks in carrying four heavy blankets, apparently for a family member who is in the hospital, and who isn’t able to stay warm with the hospital blanket alone.

We go back to the duty pharmacy, and I hand the pharmacist my prescriptions.  “Well, what did they say?”  “Sinus infection.”  “It’s good you went – he’s prescribed an antibiotic.  Definitely the right thing to go to the hospital.”  She fills my four prescriptions plus the syringe.  “12 euros and 84 cents.”  As I leave, she and the other pharmacists tell me they hope I get over my sinus infection quickly.  “Stay warm!  It’s cold out” they say, as I go back into the snow.

My conclusion:  things are not always as they seem.  The hospital is ugly, drafty, dreary, and in some ways downright unpleasant.  But there was no waiting, the ENT spent as much time as one could possibly ask, the x-ray was performed and read immediately – and I didn’t have to “insist” on having one done (I had an illness go undiagnosed for 3 years, leading to ultimate organ removal, because no American doctor out of the dozen I went to was willing to do an ultrasound or x-ray).  I was given a well-rounded treatment, involving not just pills but a whole series of topical treatments as well.  And I was invited back for hearing tests and tympanography in three days if necessary.  There were no appointments, the doctor did all the paperwork himself, there were no nurses involved – the doctor took my history and covered my allergies, etc.

It is easy to jump to conclusions when you see a Greek public hospital.  It is easy to say “this place looks like a dump!”  It does look like a dump – but it isn’t one.  It’s a hospital, with well-trained (if unpaid) doctors, with no wait, with no struggles to get services.

You could look at the papers, and the running around for stamps and signatures, and say “what a lot of useless bureaucracy!”  But you would be forgetting that there’s no need to make an appointment, no need to ‘fight’ to get your instant ear cleaning and x-ray.  If you have your paperwork in order – and there is no reason why you wouldn’t – it’s not particularly difficult:  if it were difficult, I’m sure it would have taken S more than a minute each time.

You could look at the full trash cans, the dark hallways, and say “this place is unsanitary.”  But it isn’t.  The trash that’s overflowing is the mini-market trash, not biological waste.  The bathrooms are old and very, very ugly, but they are clean.  The hospital had no smell at all – not the ‘hospital antiseptic’ smell, nor any other.  It just smelled like nothing at all.

You could look at the man bringing blankets, and say “the care here is lacking.”  But you wouldn’t know the whole story.  I didn’t ask him why he was bringing those blankets.  Maybe he was donating them.  Maybe his relative wanted his or her comforting blankets from home.  I didn’t find the care lacking at all.  And I can only speak about the care I received.

You could look at the international media, which talks about how if you visit a public hospital in Greece and want a doctor to treat you, you have to give him money under the table, the so-called “little envelope.”  The five euros we paid?  That’s what it costs on our insurance plan to see an ENT.   The little envelope?  I’ve never seen that in real life.  Neither has my husband, who has lived here for 33 years.  I don’t presume to speak for anyone else, but I can speak for us.

This is not the first time I’ve been in a Greek hospital – that organ removal I mentioned up above?  That was done in Greece – a week after a doctor insisted on giving me an ultrasound for something I didn’t even tell her was bothering me.  There, again, the care was stellar; but that was in 2010, before the crisis was as intense as it is now.  I want to concentrate on this experience:  in the depths of the crisis, a hospital whose employees haven’t been paid since the 3rd quarter of 2011, working in a hospital with obvious infrastructure problems, in a working-class city.

Last night I was thinking about all the things that have hit us and those around us since The Crisis began.  Poverty, hunger, unemployment, illegitimate government, police violence, the end of “green” programs for the protection of the environment, increase in sales tax, income tax, property tax, increases in electricity costs, doubling in heating costs, 40% increase in the cost of public transit, gas for $10/gallon, constant strikes, every citizen being treated by the government like a criminal, foreign technocrats writing our laws, an unelected banker for a prime minister, a terribly corrupt media, the selling off of public assets for a penny on the dollar, insulting anthellenic propaganda from “allies” in the Eurozone, homelessness, suicides, ‘cultural clinical depression,’ the closure of public television channels, the disappearance of textbooks from schools, the end of fellowships for qualified postgraduates, the drastic reduction in the minimum wage and non-minimum wage scales, the furloughing of public employees, the sharp reductions in retirement pensions, the constant inflation in the price of basic food items like flour and sugar, the cuts to the health system, the constant political scandals and bickering and finger-pointing…

out of everything we’re all experiencing, the thing that is bothering me the most today is the unbelievable surface coverage by the international media of the Greek Crisis.  They are covering the Crisis, but they are covering to a depth of several millimeters.  One reason I translate articles on this blog is that I know that many – if not most – English-language articles about the Greek Crisis include mistranslations.  I saw a video of a major European news network announcing that the Greek Parliament had passed the most recent deal a full 24 hours before they even voted on it.  I saw the BBC show video clips of the riots in December, 2008 for the shooting death of a teenager by a police officer, labeled as “Athens Riots” during 2011 – as if they were current.  I’ve read multiple articles where politicians are given the wrong titles.  I’ve read many mistranslated quotes.  I’ve read about how Greece called for a Parliament vote “at midnight to reduce the effect on the markets,” ignoring the fact that the Greek Constitituion requires votes of that type to be at midnight – and always has.  I’ve read multiple articles freaking out about Giorgos Papandreou’s ‘decision to hold a referendum,’ when Papandreou, as prime minister at that time, didn’t even have the constitutional right to call a referendum.  But what bothers me the most isn’t these examples of ignorance.  Ignorance is forgivable, even in journalists, because they’re human; none of us can be an expert in everything, and there happen to be very, very few journalists writing in English who are experts in Greece.

What bothers me is the lack of depth.  The acceptance that one need not scratch the surface.  One can develop an entire story around a single weak anecdote.  One can mention several things about Greece that are certainly different than in other countries, and draw the conclusion that things must be wretched and wrong here, just because they are different – not for any other reason.  One can ‘shock’ one’s readers with pictures of dilapidated hospitals, with schools with no textbooks, and so on.  One can walk around the center of Athens for a week, and presume to speak for a country of 11 million people, spread out over mountains and plains, coasts and farms, islands and cities, urban metropoleis and microscopic villages, men nearing retirement and newborn baby girls, Greeks and immigrants, and so on.  One can take a picture of a person throwing a rock and draw conclusions about this person’s political beliefs.  One can write entire stories about “life in Greece” and “this is what’s wrong with Greece,” without ever having visited the country.  All of these things are considered acceptable by the English-language media-consuming public.

Well, no.  I don’t accept that.  That is crap.  In a time when newspapers and journalism as a whole are under threat from new media, the only thing professional journalists have to offer is their professionalism, their ability to go deep into a subject and to pull multiple sources of information together, weigh them, and draw reasonable conclusions.  But they aren’t doing that.  They aren’t even coming close.  You, who consume the English-language media, are consuming garbage.  And you have the right to know that.