Saturday 1 October 2016

Athens is where it all began - and where it might be about to end

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

'The Greeks have the choice now. The future is in their own hands. Yes or no to the last deal.
There will be a democratic vote in the cradle of democracy'
'The Greeks have the choice now. The future is in their own hands. Yes or no to the last deal. There will be a democratic vote in the cradle of democracy'

I was in Greece only the once. It was back when I could still remember school lessons. The holidays started off in Athens and being a noted Ancient Greek scholar I did the Acropolis and a wonder it was. There I was in the place where drama and democracy began. I was walking on holy ground.

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I have this image in my head of a thirsty hummingbird flying in the one spot by a thousand-year-old spouting water fountain. The scene was timeless and yet there were those who told us the study of Ancient Greek and Ancient Greeks would be of no use to us. Well ye couldn't be more wrong. And the removal of History from the list of compulsory subjects is an act of gross negligence.

Not only have we exposed our children to the subjective and the manipulative interpretations of history, but the past always repeats itself. And so it is the great civilizations come and go. The might and splendour of the Acropolis must have seemed invincible back in the summer sun of the ancient world .

Our EU is no more than the current model for the rule of great expanses. And, as civilizations go, it has worked reasonably well even if it is but a baby compared to the longevity of heyday Athens, the city state of Ancient Greece.

That was the reign and that was the time when the genius philosophers and the brave soldiers made democracy. It wasn't perfect. No system of government ever is.

A coming-together of Athens and Sparta beat the Persians and had the battles of Salamis and Marathon been lost, the map of our world would be completely different.

There was another day on that holiday. We were up high over the resort of Stalis in Crete, in a small village by the name of Mohos. The old farmer was herding his goats down to a new pasture. An old lady, all in black, was making white linen table cloths in the door of her home and in the Taverna we were welcomed like the Gods of Olympus, so few were the tourists who ventured the bare few miles to the villages perched above the coastal necklace.

There was a square and an old church where we said a prayer. The people were warm, generous and without guile. It was Ireland in our grandparents' time.

Our taxi driver was a local man and he once sailed in to Foynes, just down the estuary from us. We visited his home and met him for drinks on his night off.

For a while, we wrote to each other but back in the days before Facebook, the friendship got lost in the minding of more than just ourselves. On the last night there was a toast. The fiery local poitín warmed the tips of the toes. We swore we would go back every year. We never did.

Kids, jobs, money and school holidays in late summer when Greece is too hot for the small ones put paid to that.

I often think of Stalis, which I hear is a thriving resort, but so little news comes out of Mohos.

I wonder if Mohos has become touristy or has it stayed the same. If the heart was the sole arbiter, I would immediately forgive Greece all of her debts. But I'm not the boss and the head says all countries must be treated equally.

Ireland has been through tough times, so why then should Greece be given the concessions we were denied at enormous cost to our people?

The facts are all the other countries would take liberties. There is no plan B for the world economy.

It's a lot easier to make tough decisions when you leave the welfare of the people out of deliberations and make every big call based on a lab review of the cold facts.

Most Irish people would object to a million refugees flooding our country but then again most of us would fight on our backs for a refugee family whose story brings out the tenderness in us. So it is with memories of Mohos.

There are more deadlines, threats and last chances. It's as if a besotted wife is trying to save the marriage but the husband keeps on at the philandering. Greece is out on the edge of a precipice where even the gannets get vertigo.

I was only a young lad back then on that wondrous visit to Greece. There had been riots. About what I cannot remember but I would guess that it was left versus right. There was a hijacking drama at Athens airport just a week before we flew in.

Five lethargic policeman guarded the water cooler and I remember thinking Greece is fecked. There was a scramble for the plane to Crete. Chaos ruled, yet the people were still friendly and very generous. Chaos, by the way is yet another Greek word. Chaos was the time of before time. The time before economists. Forecasting economics is about as risky as backing horses. The only safe way is not to bet at all or to bet small.

The Greeks are taking on giants, yet again. There is no doubt but the capitalist system has failed us time and again but then so have all the alternatives. It may be the best we can do.

There was a fictitious satirical and political party in our town back in the fifties and one of their big aspirations was "every man should have more than the rest".

That impossible task is a new labour for Hercules. As long as every man wants more than the next there will be trouble.

In the meantime we have no choice but to make do and reform what we have in the here and now. The Greeks have the choice now. The future is in their own hands. Yes or no to the last deal.

There will be a democratic vote in the cradle of democracy.

Maybe the young lad who first set foot in The Acropolis on this very day 30 years ago might have thought differently. But the older man's opinion is more cautious.

A fast revolution is far too risky.

Irish Independent

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