Here and Now

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The ancient Hellenic Stoic school of philosophy proposed that the only thing that one could control with any certainty was our own state of virtue. All else exists beyond our ability to control it.

This statement has enormous consequences for our perception of the world. It lays to waste most of what we are told or led to believe is true. Concepts that give us, or others, the power to control things are made redundant. Nothing is a given other than what we can give of ourselves.

It is a world view that erodes my illusions of solidity and stability. It reduces the past to a series of lessons, and the future to challenges yet to come. The past is only a memory, the future only a dream. The present is all that exists…

Living life in the present moment is difficult in a society that seems committed to making us dwell on the past or worry about the future. A society which remains focused on that which no longer exists, and that which exists only in potential. Almost nothing commands us to be fully conscious in the here and now. Yet doing so evokes an essential truth to mind. Everything that is living is dying as well. We are all living on borrowed time.

There is not a moment to waste. There is nothing too small not to take pleasure in. No single hour passes where a multitude of simple pleasures do not engulf us. Merely breathing is a gift. A splash of cool water, the vivid brightness of a flower, the touch of a loving hand, a ray of sunshine….

Life is full of the moments that we should be paying attention to. Moments that will move into our memories in the blink of eye, hardly remembered…hardly experienced.

It is only when things get bad that we remember the small things that made life good. Things we allowed to slip by without ever being truly present to witness them with every core of our being.

And slowly I start to become aware of how serene life is at this very moment in time.

A gentle breath of a breeze cools me down. The cats are sleeping peacefully outside in the shade. My family is healthy. In so many ways life is good. Some say we only acknowledge happiness in retrospect. Let it be our challenge to experience whatever happiness we may find, consciously and fully in the here and now…

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The dog ate my homework…

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Being a politician in Hellas must be an extremely hazardous profession. Perhaps it is the reason why their salaries are so high…danger pay!

Aside from the flying yoghurt, the heckling, the insults, and no longer being able to socialise in public, there is the threat of ill health that appears to strike at the most inopportune moments.

Imagine getting this important new job. Your boss is relying on you. He publicly emphasises the importance of needing you to attend a multitude of a meetings that will determine the future of the company. But the day after getting the job, and only days before two of the most important meetings, you book yourself in for the surgery you have put off for months, thus forcing your octogenarian boss (whose role in the company has always been symbolic) to go in your place…

Yeah, you know what would happen if you did that…hehehe

Fortunately for the new Prime Minister Antonis Samaras one cannot get fired from a democratically elected public office for taking sick leave at an inconvenient time. Admittedly he did have to endure some criticism from EU heads of state about having to cancel Monday’s Troika inspection to see how fiscal reforms have progressed. He also needed a doctors note to say he could not attend the EU Summit on Thursday and there was no avoiding the phone call he received from Obama (urging him to co-operate with the EU) when he got home from the hospital on Monday afternoon. The official version of why he simply had to have detached retina seen to this week is that he could not do it before because he was too busy campaigning to save the country in the elections.

Worse still is the terrible affliction that appears to prey on Greek Finance Ministers before important meetings. Remember last year when the then Prime Minister Papandreou had a wild idea for Greece to have a referendum on whether they wished to remain in the EU or not? Well, that was when FMAPS (Finance Minister’s Abdominal Pain Syndrome) first struck. Poor Finance Minister Venizelos was rushed to hospital after experiencing terrible pains in his stomach. He remained unavailable for comment from angry EU head’s of state for days afterwards, leaving everyone to speculate upon why he had suddenly taken ill. Some said it was a minor appendicitis problem, some said it was indigestion…no one knows for sure. The causes of the FMAPS can only be speculated upon too. It has been suggested that the pain was caused by his disagreement with Papandreou about holding a referendum. Others say that the thought of facing the EU after Papandreou’s announcement turned the contents of his stomach to stone.

And the FMAPS saga does not end there. It struck again on Friday. New Finance Minister Vassilis Rapanos (above) took ill only hours before he was due to be sworn into office. He, like Samaras, was expected to meet with the Troika on this past Monday to discuss how many bailout conditions had been implemented to date. Conditions that need to be implemented in order for the next tranche of bailout funds to be released. So too was Rapanos expected to attend the EU Summit, but…like Venizelos, he was rushed to hospital for unexplained abdominal pains and remained unavailable for comment from Friday until yesterday when he emerged from his sick bed only to officially resign from the post he had almost been sworn into.

Now calling in sick to avoid doing awful duties in one’s hated job is an old trick that has been used and abused for long as men have been employed to do anything. And sometimes we really do not want to face what needs to be done. Sometimes we really are sick and the dog really did eat our homework. Sometimes we delude ourselves into believing that we are justified in avoiding our duties. But are we?

Sadly and ironically, regardless of how ill these men were or how necessary these hospitalisations may have been, to the EU it certainly must seem like a convenient delay. An indirect way of buying more time and avoiding the inevitable confrontation. Just more excuses…

More importantly the recent spate of absenteeism from the cabinet leads one to ask some important questions. Is avoiding conflict a trait one would respect in a Prime Minister? Will his non-attendance of important meetings give him the strategic advantage he needs to renegotiate the terms of the bailout agreement?

These bailout conditions are affecting the health and well being of Greece and its people. Re-negotiation is vital. Re-negotiation is the campaign promise that the Prime Minister was elected upon. His successful intervention may well be the difference between life and death for some. Yet so far he has not put his best foot forward. His actions have not expressed the pressing need to confront the Troika to resolve the issues of the bailout conditions, one way or another. Surely his surgery could have waited a week longer? After all, he had waited for two months while campaigning to ‘save’ a country. Will his attitude save the country at all?

And the sudden abdominal pains that strike the new Finance Ministers do nothing to inspire any confidence in the state of the finance ministry either…

Maybe I am just being horrible…maybe the dog really did eat their homework, as unlikely and convenient an excuse as it may seem…

A Sea of Kindness

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In an effort to depress everyone a little less than I did with my last post, I thought that today would be a good day to mention something a little more uplifting.

Trying times tend to bring out the best in people. Hardship makes people kinder, more generous, and disarmingly honest.

It is wonderful not to have to hide behind the mask of status, or to conform to middle class standards. It is liberating to be freed from the expectations one may entertain in younger richer years about what type of life one should be living. Just to live, day to day…and see where the future leads you… It is liberating in a scary sort of way that makes one have to forget everything one knew about security, or about squirrelling things away for a ‘rainy day’.

For the first years of the recession I moaned to my husband about our inability to save money. I kept feeling as if the security of money in the bank was somehow a guarantee against hardship, a magical talisman that would keep evil far from my door. It is a fallacy, of course. Those who had savings are now in exactly the same position that we are. Their money only served to delay the descent into a frugal lifestyle for a short while. And strangely enough frugality is not the punishment that I seemed to think it was. It is actually quite fun.

Daily conversations feature supermarket specials and where one found the best deal on something. Everyone always has some new or remembered gem of wisdom to share. Tasty old, yet inexpensive, recipes are exchanged. New ones are found, tried, and then passed around. Costs of shopping at different places are compared. Failures are commiserated and successes lauded. Living as well as possible within a budget is the new black in Greece, and everyone wants to do it. And there is no shame in admitting that one does not have money. The ingenuity and creativity that is inspired by limited resources is fast becoming a source of pride.

A friend recently wanted to make a tray of stuffed peppers and stuffed tomatoes for her family. Now in the past one would usually go and buy a kilo or two of each with no thought for how many could actually fit in one’s pan…but this time was different. She actually took her pan to the greengrocer to make sure she bought exactly the right amount and that everything fitted perfectly. She did not want to waste a scrap or even a cent. It was an act that engaged everyone in the shop as they stopped what they doing to help choose the perfect selection of tomatoes and peppers for that particular pan. The old grandmothers argued about which were best in shape and size until a general consensus was reached. My friend says they chose better than she could have chosen herself, plus they all smiled and gave her lots of tips on how to make the traditional recipe even better. No one raised an eyebrow at her bringing the pan. The old people remember what it was to live in hard times. Their support, encouragement, and lack of judgement made my friend’s day.

And one kind act usually inspires others. Like the ‘Potato Movement’ here in Greece.  It is a farmers’ initiative that seeks to sell fresh produce directly to the public at cost price.

So every week the farmers load up their potatoes into their truck, and drive or take a ferry to a different location where for 10 euros one can buy a 25kg bag of potatoes. The supplies are limited. The queues hideous. One has to be strong enough to carry the bag, and everything is sold out within the hour of the farmers’ arrival. Doesn’t sound good for those who could not or did not manage to get a 25kg bag…not so however.

The downside to actually buying a bag is that one ends up with more fresh potatoes than one family can cook or eat before they go rotten. The solution is to share of course…and at such low prices no one is going to ask for any money in return.

Which means FREE POTATOES for anyone who did not buy a bag…

For two weeks afterwards everyone is always offering everyone else a share of their potatoes along with detailed recipes of the latest potato dishes. It is actually amazing how versatile the potato is. We have had the farmers here twice in a month and our family alone has bought 50kg of potatoes. And I learnt how to cook at least 5 great new recipes just from asking the question ‘what on earth do I do with all of these potatoes?’

Need I add what an incredible saving it has been for all of us? Plus having so much made it possible to be generous with others too. Its really nice to be able to give away a weeks worth of potatoes to those whose pensions have been reduced, or to families who live a hand to mouth existence. And you have to give them away quickly because its damn hot and the potatoes get softer every day. So one grabs an old supermarket bag, fills it with potatoes and gives it to whomever does not have any…and if you give extra to them, they in turn get to give away to those they know are in need too. And all before the race to eat the potatoes before they rot is finished

A single act of goodness, such as the farmers selling at cost, becomes a sea of kindness that spreads out to engulf everyone in need. A single helping hand that becomes a chain of support until one realises that if any country can survive this economic crisis, it will be Greece. Families and friends help one another here. Even strange farmers help…

 

Vicious Cycles in a Bottomless Pit

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What a week! I have been trying to finish this post for days, and I am still battling to.

At first I tried to blame the heat. And it is hot…so hot that sweat pours as freely from the body as it would in a sauna. It is great for the skin but the constant stickiness and discomfort of clothing makes one want to swim naked in a crystal clear cool stream somewhere way up in the mountains.

But in truth the heat is not the problem. Nor are the ton of things I have had to do this week. It is just the anti-climax of the elections that has left me somewhat disorientated. For the past month I have hung suspended in a state of limbo.  The possibility of an anti-austerity government coming in made me feel somehow as if the lowest point of the economy’s death spiral was in sight.

Now hitting rock bottom proved too terrible a thought for most people, but past experience has taught me that it only gets better after the worst is past. It is not knowing how bad things will get that kind of robs me of my breath at inopportune moments. It is not being able to see how far we are going to drop that makes me worry. And logically speaking…the contraction of the economy has to stop at some point, and begin to expand again. Right? This is what the EU keeps assuring us will happen if we just bear on and co-operate with the austerity measures.

If only I could believe them…unfortunately I have read enough articles by prominent Nobel laureates and respected economists to know that austerity is not working. The contraction of the gross domestic product (GDP) combined with the new loans negates any reduction (imposed by austerity measures) to the budget deficit.  And the bailout money only goes to prop up the banks while the reduced salaries and mass retrenchments only serve to contract the GDP more. Which, in turn, leads to more loans and the inevitable new austerity measures that are a condition of bailout funds.

It is a vicious circle that has made us into a bottomless pit.

The surprise ascension of the anti-austerity parties during the May elections, and the inability of the pro-bailout parties to form a government back then offered a glimmer of hope that the end of the pit was in sight.

As we headed to the June elections it felt like something was going to break…finally. And then we would know what was going to happen. There would be some chaos, some food shortages, inflation, maybe a new currency…and then slowly things would settle and we could begin to recover. I, along with some others, had braced myself for the sudden crash. It seemed more desirable than the slow motion free fall into the bottomless pit. But others felt differently, and as a result the new prime minister and his cabinet were sworn into office.

I barely noticed. I have been too busy taking note of how badly local businesses are doing, and trying to calculate how much longer they can possibly hold on with few to no customers. All I hear is stories about how many people are not getting paid for working any more. How no one can afford to pay for their taxes or staff benefits such as the state pension fund or medical insurance.

And this in turn starts a new vicious cycle. The lack of benefits paid into the state cause a further budget deficit. Worse still…between the growing deficit and the austerity measures imposed to curb Greek State spending on healthcare a massive new problem has been created.

A few days ago I heard of a local woman with stage 3 cancer whose chemotherapy has been cancelled due to a down-grading of her medical insurance. She is but one of a growing number of those affected by restriction of medical services and drugs. Hospitals are now running on empty; being forced to cut off vital medicine to critically ill people, limiting operations to only those absolutely necessary, and doling out even the most basic medicines with extreme care. And the problem does not end there.

Medical insurance companies are broke. They cannot afford to pay the pharmacists for the subsidised medicine that has already been given out to patients. The pharmacists and the hospitals cannot pay the pharmaceutical companies and the patients must now pay the full price in cash for medicine or walk away empty handed.

Now this would be all well and good except that austerity-reduced pensions and salaries plus 22% unemployment makes paying cash for anything really difficult. Some patients have been allowed to order their medicine and pick it up at a later stage. Others have been reimbursed months later for MRI’s and other medical services paid for directly by patients but these are the luckier ones. For most it means doing without or borrowing money to buy…

And even when there is money often the medicine is not available because pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying due to non-payment. Aid agencies who usually send to places like Burkino Faso and the Gaza Strip are re-directing medical supplies to Greece. Three of the five offices of the Athens branch of Doctors of the World are closing in Africa to assist with the growing humanitarian crisis at home.

People queue for food at the soup kitchens. They queue at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies for medicine and treatment. No one can believe how bad it is becoming. And the end is still not in sight. The pit still appears bottomless. The vicious circle bites deeper and deeper.

It was a bright sunny afternoon when the new prime minister arrived in a convoy of sleek black Mercedes Benzs at the Presidential Palace in Athens.

He wore a custom tailored suit. He was clean shaven with neatly groomed hair. He stood in his leather shoes upon a hand woven persian rug and swore his oath on a bible of gold. Then he and his elegant wife made their way to the Maximus Mansion that is now their official residence.

How much he and his cabinet of successful and wealthy people will relate to the plight of the ordinary men and women is something that only time will reveal. All I noticed was how calm and cool they seemed to be in their dark suits, even in the midsummer heat. Their air-conditioned splendour saved them from the sweat of the common man in the street.

One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them…

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“One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them…” JRR Tokien

 I do not have much to say about the election results. Last night I lay quietly on the couch and watched the numbers flicker on the screen while on-line the rage at the outcome began. This morning I quietly read the newspapers hailing the results. They seem filled with apparent relief…statements like ‘breathing room for euro-crisis’, ‘Greeks choose austerity’, ‘Greece saves Europe’…

Statements that illustrate how far removed the rest of the world is from the reality of what the average person in Hellas must now face. Results that illustrate how divided this country and its people are. Some awoke this morning to celebrate what has come to pass. They share the relief of those who wrote the morning headlines. Others awoke to yet another day on the Titanic, heading directly for the iceberg. The hope of jumping ship is gone, for now…

And try as I may I cannot find any common ground with those who would find joy or relief in Greece having to uphold the Memorandum of Understanding.

How can an ordinary person, battling to survive or seeking employment, possibly be relieved at what the Memorandum has reduced them to? People, stripped of their humanity, reduced to being referred to as ‘units of labour’ in their country of birth. People whose salaries have and will be cut are referred to simply as ‘reductions in unit labour costs’. The thousands of ‘units of labour’ who will be retrenched are merely ‘improving the competitiveness of the public and private sector’. The reforms to the labour laws that will allow employers to dismiss their ‘units of labour’ without due cause or due notice simply become an ‘elimination of rigidities’ in the lingo of Memorandum.  The state (i.e. the Greek collective) owning key assets in their own country is ‘an obstacle to the private sector’ from the perspective of those who wrote this heinous document.

And I could go on and on, point by point…showing how the Memorandum is the modern method of raping and pillaging a region. Indeed maybe I should go on and on, but I actually physically cannot.

So let the world be relieved. Let them celebrate this ‘great victory’. Party on, Orcs of the world…I will be the one with my head in the toilet, trying to purge myself of the foul taste left in my mouth…

Polls, Fires, Power-Failures,Capital Controls (and a dash of joy)

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With the polls open and the first exit poll expected at 7pm, one would expect voting to be the main topic of discussion, but actually there are so many things going on… many of which are more pressing to the average person.

A lot of people will not even be voting today. More may have voted had the elections been last week. Some say no political party has the best interests of the people of Hellas at heart. Others are just generally apathetic and would rather go to the beach than the polling station on such a glorious sunny day. Then there are those affected by the 30 fires that are raging in Greece at present.

Forest and brush fires are common in summer, and are especially dangerous during high winds. A spokesman near Athens today says that the strong winds are actually rekindling the fires that were put out earlier in certain places.

Late yesterday afternoon on television I watched a trail of fire burn its way towards clusters of houses. We got to watch burning cars and buses, heard of a library burning and were shown the smouldering remains of the houses the fire had already claimed, and all I could think of was how losing a home and one’s possessions was the last thing anyone needed at a time like this. Crippled by an economic crisis and then finished off by a fire… More homeless people. More businesses lost. More unemployment. And today it continues burning…

A real shame, and often a real crime considering that many of these fires are the work of arsonists who burn the forests that are protected from development by conservation laws. Once burnt, the developers move in. Needless to say, voting and the outcome of these elections is a secondary concern for those who have lost the last of what they had or are fighting to save their homes and towns from the fires.

And of course everyone has been moaning for years that Greece does not have enough water-dropping planes to cope with the amount of fires it has. What a bad time to have to ask the European Union for help…so far only Italy has sent planes. France and Croatia were ‘looking into the request’ at the time I wrote this. Maybe they will send…maybe they won’t. France was usually the first to help but I guess that is a part of the price to be paid…

Power has had to be cut to the affected regions to enable the planes that are available to drop their water safely. These people are thus, for all intents and purposes, cut off from the outside world until power is restored.

Mind you, we have all been plagued with power failures as of late.  Another price to be paid… Our electricity producers are broke, of course. Over half a million households can no longer afford to pay their electricity bills, and the providers now need emergency funds to purchase fuel. In Mytilene we had four power failures on Friday alone. Thankfully they did not last very long. 30 minutes at the most, and were no inconvenience at all.

Capital controls is another problem we face, or may already be facing. There are all kinds of reports, some confirmed and some denied, that the European Commission is planning on using the Article 65 loophole in the European Treaty of Unity to impose capital controls on Greece in the name of ‘public order’ and ‘public security’. These controls in effect hinder the transfer of money across borders…which makes me wonder….

Yesterday I tried to use my PayPal account (which is verified and attached to a verified credit card) to purchase online gaming for my son. I have not ever had any problems using it in the past, and I order various things from the US every few weeks or so. Yesterday however it would not verify my payment for some reason.

I saw a report this morning stating that it was getting more difficult to transfer money outside of Greece but it was not exactly clear as to how or why…and there is absolutely no problem with our PayPal account. It may just be a glitch in the online billing and I sent an email to the service provider querying the problem. Unfortunately their customer service dept. operates during business hours only so I will have to wait and see whether ‘unofficial’ capital controls have already been placed on Greece as a temporary emergency means by which to prevent a possible run on the banks.

The joys… I understand why such things may be necessary but my teenage son who has already had all this election drama happen in the middle of his final exams is not so open to understanding why yet again the crisis has thwarted him.

The effects of the crisis on the youth is immense. They face a future of no employment, limited funds for university expenses, and having to deal with the cuts to education that the austerity measures demanded. At the beginning of this school year they did not have books for the first few weeks, and now re-elections changed their exam schedules to allow for the schools to be used as polling stations. Most of my son’s friends have unemployed parents and the lack of cash has had an enormous impact on the social life that teenagers should enjoy. At least they are not among the kids who faint at school from hunger or like the kid from Crete who collapsed at school on Thursday and had to be rushed to hospital to be treated for malnutrition.

The younger kids can be protected from the harsh reality of this crisis in whatever ways it does not directly affect them, but its different with teenagers. They watch the news. They talk with their friends. They can see what it is going on, and they feel hopeless and talk of leaving the country. What they have witnessed has radicalised them politically. They are afraid of what the future holds for them.

Yet last night, for a brief moment, they got to forget all about the troubles of day to day life as they watched the Greek National football team beat Russia 1-0 to get through to the next stage of the European Cup.

It was exactly what everyone here needed, and it was glorious to listen to them roar with joy. And that joy has lifted everyone’s spirits; despite elections, fire, power-failures and possible capital controls…

 

Votes for Sale

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Have you ever heard of the president of one country addressing the nation of another live on prime time television 4 days before crucial elections?

Well, that is not exactly what it was but it is what it added up to being.

In an interview on Mega TV Channel at 8pm last night, new French president Francois Hollande got an opportunity to inspire a fresh wave of fear in Greek voters.

He specifically said that he did not wish to influence the elections but simultaneously warned that certain EU member states would wish to be rid of Greece if it rejects the conditions of its bailout. President Hollande asked for Greek citizens to have confidence in him and declared that he would ensure that funds for development were channelled into Greece if it held to its agreement.

Now there are only two parties that would hold to the agreement, i.e. Nea Demokratia and PASOK, and there is only one party who could win the elections that wishes to reject the bailout conditions. Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left.

Surely Hollande did not mean to imply that one should NOT VOTE FOR SYRIZA? Did he really offer assurances that the EU will give Greece more money if it should vote for one of the two parties who crooked the books in the first place?

But wait…no, I am sure that is not what Monsieur Hollande meant. He said that he did not want to influence the elections. And if he said it then it must be true.

So what do I think? I think it is a good thing that Mr Hollande did not intend to add to the mammoth pressure on the Greek electorate not to vote for Syriza. Because if his interview was a well-timed and charmingly delivered threat then I am not surprised that fascist neo-nazi parties like Xrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) have entered parliament. If you cannot vote for the corrupt centre left and centre right, and one cannot vote for the far left…only one heinous option is left. Far Right.

No one likes to be bullied or intimidated into doing something regardless of how graciously it is done, and even a well-intentioned person who offers money in exchange for votes is still doing exactly what he seems to be doing. Bribery.

Any honourable person would be morally and ethically obliged to decline a bribe. Although there can be no doubt that some people would react favourably and look to line their pockets in the future. European funds always ended up lining someone (and their friends’) pockets. Others would react with anxiety to the accompanying consequences of not accepting the bribe and obey out of fear rather than greed. A percentage of the population would be paralysed by what catastrophe disobeying would bring. They may not even dare to vote, as if abstaining would somehow render them free from both the taint of corruption and the responsibility for a potential calamity.

But not everyone would be afraid. Especially in the country that gave birth to and raised philosophers and Spartan warriors alike. A country where each year we still honour the 300 men who stood against the might of the Persian Empire at Thermopylae…

In such a country one could expect some to have a different reaction. To reject the shame of fear regardless of the personal cost. To make a stand against those who threaten their national sovereignty. To oppose those who would make debt slaves of them. A country of good, free people. People who understand that when the centre of anything is corrupt, good people are pushed to extremes.

Thankfully this is just wild speculation. After all, Mr Hollande said specifically that he did not wish to influence elections, and if he said it then it must be true.

Besides…most households probably did not even watch his interview. We certainly did not. Nor did anyone else we know. There was Euro cup football on another station.

High Noon

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Last week I moaned about the odd unseasonal rain, then I got happy when Helios stormed through the clouds with his sun chariot, now we have a heatwave…until Friday. Great news for tourists but for the rest of us it signals long days of tempers frayed by the heat culminating in….ELECTION WEEKEND.

And I am already annoyed. I wanted to upload a video from YouTube of Marilyn Monroe singing Tropical Heatwave to accompany this post, but I canned that idea poste haste when I saw that the little advert that pops up for those of us in Hellas is to promote the pro-austerity PASOK political party. And well…I am NOT advertising Venizelos. So alas…perhaps the gorgeous pic below by aramismarron from deviant art will help you imagine Marilyn’s curvy hips gently swaying as she huskily sings “we are having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave…the temperature is rising…” 

And the temperature is rising in more than one way. The foreign media continue to speculate about a ‘Grexit’. The EU and pro-austerity parties still insist on trying to frame the elections as an ‘in or out of the EU’ scenario. Just hearing pro-austerity dynastic parties insisting that to vote for anyone other than them is to vote for leaving the EU is enough to make many people’s blood boil. Especially considering that there is no mechanism to evict Greece from the EU against its will. A little fact that does not seem to concern Angela Merkel at all. I can almost hear the words to Irving Berlin’s song…

The temperature is rising, it isn’t surprising, she certainly can can can. She started a heatwave, by letting her seat wave, in such a way, that customers say that she certainly can can can.

Ha!

Local headlines are just a collection of intimidation tactics combined with carefully worded (not so subtle) threats and innuendos warning people not to vote for the Radical Left Coalition, Syriza.  They are selling ‘The Hope’ that, after recent indications from Brussels, the terms of the infamous memorandum may be up for negotiation if the correct parties are voted for. No one seems to want to talk about how this ‘miraculous about-face’ happened after Spanish banks got bailed out with no austerity conditions.

Ha!

The sun is beating down. It is as hot as hell out there. It is almost time for a ‘Mexican stand-off’ at High Noon.

More on Zorba’s philosophy – talking oneself down from the ledge

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Another suicide took place this morning…

“Life is trouble. Only death is not.” Nikos Kazantzaki, Zorba the Greek

So many suicides. So many people searching for an end to the trouble that is life. Why did we ever believe that life would be different to what it is?

I understand suicide. Twenty years ago I attempted suicide for pretty much the same reasons that have prompted the current suicide epidemic in Hellas. Debt…debt and hopelessness.  I can understand just wanting to end it all, but in truth I am really glad I never succeeded.

Twenty years later I realise that the desperation I felt back then was transitory. A brief period of an otherwise wonderful, colourful and interesting life. In all truth my life was vastly improved by my earlier hardship, disgrace and defeat.

So why does one do it? What thoughts go through a person’s mind in those days, hours, minutes and seconds before one commits suicide.

One feels intense anger. Anger at whatever caused the problem combined with the notion that one’s death will speak in louder volumes than one’s life would. As if in death, one could defeat the enemy that one never could in life. Today’s suicide was no different. His note directly mentioned the economic crisis and his subsequent debt as the cause of his death. As did some of the other suicides.

Suicide is the voice of futility. It is the sound of crushed dreams. It is the swan song of the disappointed idealist and optimist who at some point believed that the world was filled with goodness, and that all people were essentially good. Now although this innate goodness may be true on higher levels, one is heading for a crash to walk through life as if one’s well being is a given or that one is invincible.

“Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, grandfather!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned around and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’
Which of us was right, boss?” Nikos Kazantzaki – Zorba the Greek

To live with the conscious knowledge of one’s impending death or to live believing that nothing will ever mortally wound us…which is wiser? Which life philosophy is designed to make you cautiously tend to your own survival and value your life? Which prepares us better for the harsh realities of a post modern society?

Unfortunately people have high expectations. They want to believe that everything means them well, only to they find themselves knee deep in the muck and gore of a dog eat dog world with a thousand mongrels at their heels. It is enough to make anyone panic and make mistakes. So they tilt at windmills, and maybe one day something happens that makes death seem preferable. Oh, why do we feel the need to cling to our expectations? How can we not feel powerless when trying to control the world within our minds?

Give up on illusions and unattainable ideals but never give up hope that you will survive hardship, like a tree that survives winter. Give up on status and what polite society deems respectability but do not ever be defeated by failing to meet up to your own high expectations. They were impossible dreams anyway. There will be so much joy and more pain in the five, ten or twenty years from the time you felt desperate enough to consider taking your life but living will be worth it all. If you allow your despair to be the death of your illusions alone, nothing will ever hurt you as much again.

“When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! An invisible and all-powerful enemy—some call him God, others the Devil, seem to rush upon us to destroy us; but we are not destroyed.” ― Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

But sometimes we are destroyed. Destroyed long before we took our lives. Destroyed by the mortal wound left by what reason can no longer us allow us to love or believe in. Destroyed by alienating ourselves from those who will mourn us when we are gone. And even strangers will mourn, as surely as today I mourn for the pensioner who shot himself in the middle of the road in Kifissia this morning.

I understand why he felt the need to fight with his last breath. I only wish he had seen a glimpse of the future triumph that living would have been. Living defiantly in the face of hardship says a lot too.

RIP

What would Zorba say?

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“Life is trouble. Only death is not.”.

“I do not believe in coincidence. I believe in destiny. This bas-relief divulged the secret of my life with astonishing simplicity, perhaps the secret of Zorba’s life as well. It was a copy of an ancient tombstone carving. A naked warrior, who has not abandoned his helmet, not even in death, is kneeling on his right knee and squeezing his breast with both palms, a tranquil smile flitting across his closed lips. The graceful movement of the powerful body is such that you cannot distinguish whether this is a dance or death. Or is it a dance and death together? Even if it is death, we shall transform it into a dance, I said to myself, encouraged by the happy sun falling upon the warrior and bringing him to life. You and I, my heart, let us give him our blood so he may be brought back to life, let us do what we can to make this extraordinary eater, drinker, workhorse, woman-chaser and vagabond live a little longer – this dancer and warrior, the broadest soul, surest body, freest cry I ever knew in my life.” Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco, 458-459

The Greek word for song ‘tragoudhi’ is aptly and profoundly associated etymologically with the same root as the word ‘tragodia’ (tragedy). And indeed Life is the bitter sweet music that makes us put one foot in front of another every day.  Our experiences are the notes and melodies of our song. We dance our pain and our joy with equal passion. None knew this better than the modern Greek symbol and myth Alexis Zorba. We all long to be able to transmute pain and pleasure as he did. We too wish to dance life. And be vagabonds in the face of convention. This is a modern myth whose wisdom we need to heed during times like these.

What would Zorba say of how Angela Merkel’s much denied proposal to Greek President Papoulias to hold a referendum on the EU along with Sunday’s elections has inspired pro-austerity politicians and media alike to falsely frame the entire elections as a vote on whether to remain in ‘Europe’ or not ?

Alexis Zorba would probably have sadly shaken his head and answered “If a woman sleeps alone, it puts a shame on all men.”

Now I wonder what Zorba would say about the fact that Kasidiaris from the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn is now suing the two female deputies from leftist parties that he attacked on live national TV last week.

Maybe Zorba would shrug his shoulders and declare that “On a deaf man’s door, you can knock forever!”

And about the Greek crisis in general, the reply of Alexis Zorba is perhaps the only wise one to have. We could all learn how to dance to the tune of life from him. I can see him standing on the beach laughing, already dancing to transmute the pain into serenity. “Did you ever seen a more splendiforous crash?” 

Keep dancing with your soul Ellada, and always remember how to cry the freest cry…