Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

February 2012

 

Greeks have a wish for every occasion, so Kalo Meena: have a good month. But I confess I find this a pretty tall order in February, which is my least favourite month in this part of the world. My eldest son used to refer to it as suicide month, and I could see his point. Cloud descends and walls the village off from the mountains, and serious rain sets in. So in answer to the time-honoured question: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? I usually utter a disgruntled YES!  The winter of our discontent, and all that.

And now: would you believe snow on the Parthenon?  I would. In any case, there are photographs to prove it. A scything wind has been blowing from Siberia (I’m sure it’s coming from there) for more than three days. Villagers have a verb for such a wind: it harvests, they say, and they’re not wrong. This bitter wind is coming from the East, yes, but cynical and disillusioned Greeks might be forgiven if they suspect it’s coming from Western Europe instead.

For the krisi, the Greek financial crisis, shows no sign of abating: a great many people are suffering, there is little confidence in the future, and the air remains thick with talk of the state and fate of the euro, the steady shrinking of the economy, the likelihood of default, and the possible/probable return of the drachma, the break-up of the Eurozone, and the likely consequences of that momentous happening. If the break-up happens: far greater intellects than mine, which, when it comes to  the dismal science of economics, resembles that of Stone Age man, say it could. Other experts say it won’t, but they may be whistling in the dark.

I’m told the harsh facts are these:

Greece is spending 10% more than it earns.

There is a steady drain on the banks, as so-called ordinary people continue to close accounts.

Money continues to leave the country: the super-rich moved many assets offshore at the first sign of trouble.

Greece is on track to run out of money next month, or in April at the latest.

Less certain are ideas about elusive ‘recovery.’ The pessimists gloomily predict it will take the Greek economy twenty years to get back on its feet, while brighter spirits talk in terms of ten years. Ten years, let alone twenty, is a long time when you are young, and trying to start some sort of professional life, and so many young people are repeating the pattern of the past, and emigrating: Australia is a popular destination. Most people of my vintage are worrying about their children, about whether they will stay or go, and about what the future holds for them; they are worrying even more about their grandchildren, while knowing there is very little they can do.

Still, life goes on, and people try to keep to their security-inducing routines: Greeks are nothing if not gregarious, and coffee bars throughout the land show no sign of emptying.

Today, February 2 (yes, I’m late again!) is the Feast Day of the Kalamata Cathedral, which is named for the Presentation of Our Lord. It is usually a very elaborate occasion with several bishops, and units from the armed forces in attendance, not to mention hundreds of parish priests, all dressed in different coloured robes. An ancient icon is usually paraded through the streets with considerable pomp and ceremony, but I cannot think that that will happen today, one featuring the aforementioned grey cloud and pouring rain.

Despite the bleakness, however, the wattles are blooming in fluffy magnificence. It interests me that I no longer resent this, but once upon a time I used to grumble inwardly about their having the nerve to do so well in the wrong place. Miniature purple irises peep from rocks, and jonquils parade along the banks and hedgerows. And soon the scarlet anemones, called paparounes, will appear among the olive groves. In the more open countryside of central Greece these flowers will eventually form veritable carpets, often unrolling for half a kilometre or more.

Slowly the weather will improve, and life will lighten with the Carnival period, a time of fun and masquerade, levity and (decorous) hi jinks before the austerity of Lent starts at the end of the month. That’s February for you. Well, for me.

Gillian Bouras

 

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