Thursday, 8 November 2012

Pitch dark (Πίσα σκοτάδι)

As I left the house with my daughter last night to take her to basketball training, I noticed how eerily dark the streets looked without any street lighting. Random strikes by the public power corporation were taking place all over the town, due to action taken by employees over salary cuts and loss of privileges. The basketball coaching session was taking place in the school gymnasium of a semi-urban semi-rural area, with low housing and large open fields with short olive trees. The only lights came from the few cars that passed through the blackness, and a fire that was lit by the side of a large empty square by a convoy of travelling people (to use the euphemism for politically correct reasons - τσιγγάνοι describes them as they would know themselves). 

It was pitch dark when we got there. Driving on rural roads in the dark is quite unnerving, especially now that more cyclists are on the road. They use tiny lights that make them stand out on a reasonably lit road - but barely visible on an unlit one. The school, being part of the public grid, was enveloped in darkness. There were no emergency lights in the gym, only the school buildings next to it. The coach got the girls together near the doorway. It was a very warm night. She gave them a pep talk and held a discussion about the hows and whys of being part of a team, playing competitively and fairly, and making a good impression wherever they played. This continued for 40 minutes, until the coach finally called off the training session. She had done her best, but I could tell that even she had felt beaten that evening. The girls didn't notice - they were too busy watching the loiterers outside the gym, who were chanting 'Δεύτε λάβετε φως' while shining their mobile phone torch lights at the gym entrance.  

Arriving back home, I found my husband fumbling in the dark trying to find candles. Then I heard him swearing as he tried to find a lighter. Not being smokers, we couldn't remember the last time we needed to use one ourselves. He'd been varnishing shutters all day in 30C heat - despite it being mid-autumn - while he too was on strike - and he really wanted to take a shower, but found the darkness overwhelming.

My mother never used her silver. It was purely for decorative purposes. I inherited this candelabra with the original candles (red) she had placed in it when it sat on one of the nestled tables in our New Zealand living room. In Greece, it found its calling.

The family gathered in the living room, the only room that I allowed them to use candles, out of fear that the children would see them as a toy and set fire to the house. I brought out some potato chips to life their spirits, as junk food usually has that effect.

"Bloody bastards," my husband fumed, "couldn't they at least warn us where and when the power will be disconnected, so that we could at least plan to do something else?"

"You expected to be warned?" I laughed sarcastically. "This is Greece, and you expect to be given a schedule?!" I remember doing evening lessons in both Athens and Hania, teaching children by the flame of a gas light. Lessons were never cancelled - in the private sector in Greece, the show always goes on.

It's at times like this, when he acts like he doesn't know his own country, that I feel like telling him that if he doesn't like the country, he has only two choices: either he helps it to change, to he leaves it: 'Να η πόρτα! Harsh words, especially coming from someone who wasn't born here. But he is not alone in losing patience with Greece:
"It is not possible every time you make a privatization in Greece to go on strike. It is not possible that public transport cannot collect fares and services will not be able to collect revenue... If we cannot say these things in Europe in a friendly way to each other, and instead, when we do say them, we are regarded as Martians, it will be impossible to make progress."
This comes from a woman who showed patience with the Greeks on a number of occasions. Perhaps she's had enough too. But she really ought to know better - those Greeks never stop surprising people with their resilience, even if seems misguided to others.

By 7.30pm, the lights had all come back on. We had our showers, I cooked the next day's meal - μακαρονάδα - and the television began playing, so the disconnection was completely forgotten, and it will stay forgotten until the next disconnection takes place. And there will definitely be another one, and this cat-and-mouse game will continue for as long as it takes. And we won't get any warning, either. Remember: this is Greece, and Greeks are pretty predictable. They don't need a hurricane to destroy the country; they're pretty good at getting the job done all by themselves. But even a hurricane has its good side: after total destruction, you can only start from ground zero, and what you build will be better than what was there before.

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