Posted by: sibyllemeder | October 24, 2011

Travels in a country in crisis – part 3

The Island Bus is on winter schedule now which means in plain Greek: never on a Sunday. Apparently the petrol is too expensive.

I hadn‘t noticed because I‘ve got the car but as I arrive in Livadia, everything else seems to be on winter schedule, too: three out of the four cafés at the square are closed. Maybe they run on petrol. Or everyone is at the primary school listening to the Olympic champion who is visiting the island today giving a prep talk to the kids.

In front of Giorgos‘s kafenion right by the bus stop sit bus driver Pavlos‘s brothers Nikos and Stelios, the fishermen, together with another Stelios who works for them and two more friends who are fishermen and yet another Stelios who was on one of the earlier research bus trips I filmed.

Everyone is happy to see me again, maybe because there is so little else to see in the square.

There is this long-standing joke – in fact it‘s so long-standing that it might well be a custom now – that whenever I meet these guys after a long absence they ask whether I have been on Chalki, the neighbouring island. It‘s got something to do with a ferry I once boarded and… Hard to explain really and, in fact, you had to be there and so on… But the particulars of how the joke came about and how it grew into what it is today – a standardised greeting formula they use when they see me – don‘t really matter, apart from the fact that my customary reply – don‘t ask for the story behind it, this is taking too long – my reply is supposed to be: „Egypt.“

So I say: „No, not on Chalki. I was in Egypt.“
And we all pause.
„Better than Libya, I suppose“, says Stelios the Fisherman finally. And Stelios who works for him asks: „What‘s actually happening with Mubarak now? Is he in jail or have they shot him, too?“
And for a moment, in this sunny, empty, peaceful square in „Remoteland“, as a friend of mine termed it, which is supposedly cut off from what‘s going on in the „real world“ – or so people in that „real world“ like to think – for a moment the fighting and the struggle in Northern Africa are as close as they are in Germany or the UK: an upsetting news item on TV.

Only here, the really are close. As my friend Judith from Tel Aviv keeps reminding me I live just around the corner from the Middle East, and in southern Crete people used to point towards the sea and identify anything lying vaguely south as „Gaddafi“.

„What about this story that they have recently found oil south of Crete?“, I ask. „Have you heard that, too?“
„Do you think that‘s a good thing?“, asks Stelios the Fisherman.
„We could do with a bit of petrol“, says someone.
„Yes, and a Gaddafi!“, Stelios quips.
„I‘m not sure that‘s something the Greek government needs at the moment: having to hand out oil drilling licences.“
„Well, there is oil in Cyprus.“
„No, I‘m talking about Greece“, I say. „Cyprus isn‘t Greece.“
And everyone goes: „What???“
„Well, it isn‘t“, I insist. „It‘s a separate state. And we were talking about the government.“
They nod. True.
Stelios who works for Stelios grins at me and adds: „They‘ve found oil just off Tilos, too.“
Now it‘s my turn to go: „What?“
„Yes! Out there“, and he points in vaguely south-eastern direction. Towards Libanon, so to speak, or: „Miqati“.

We all look at the sea, sparkling in the bright October light, towards the purple outline of the Turkish coast in the distance.
Right in the middle of yet another crisis.
I wonder whether there is anyone in Libya right now, looking at the sea, pointing north and saying: „Papandreou“ or maybe „Merkel“.

The Sea - same sparkle for thousands of years already.

The Sea - same sparkle for thousands of years already.

Another fisherman comes on his motorcycle – he seems to have money for petrol – around the corner and shouts: „Where have you been? Chalki?“
„We‘ve just talked about that“, I say.

There is still no bus so I meet Marta at her home and we have a chat about life, her family and spinach pie (well, we don‘t chat about the pie but eat it).

There is Libya on the large TV in the small living room and Marta murmurs: „It‘s not nice. No matter what he did, you don‘t let someone lie around on a mattress and take photos when they are dead. Don‘t they feel that it‘s wrong?…“
„It‘s revenge“, I say. „People are so worked up from the fighting that…“
„I suppose, we were like that, too, after the fall of communism. Albania back then…“ She pauses.
„That‘s the past“, she says. „Have some more spinach pie.“
And after a while as the autumn light seeps into the room she adds: „I love leaving the doors open. I never close them unless it‘s really belting down with rain outside. Very rarely. It‘s nice to have the air and the sun come in.“

Very true.

The TV shows now a report from Greece. From what I gather without the sound turned on, a group of Athenians in a „Reclaim the Streets!“ action are planting flowers and trees on a derelict square in the capital that was neglected by the local council for years. A young man in a blue t-shirt gives an interview and sunlight is filtering through the leaves above – and plenty of air, too.


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