Lost smiles and happiness in Greece?

I met up the other day with a teacher friend from Thessaloniki.  She was here in the UK to take part in a talk at Newman College so we met up briefly in Birmingham New Street station for a coffee.  I had warned her the weather here was like something out of Genesis and that Noah had begun to build a new ark!  Water, water everywhere, especially in Worcestershire where the River Severn is prone to flood.  And true to form it was pelting down with rain all day long and the streets of Birmingham were running with rivulets of water down the slopes towards the station.

We talked about the situation in Greece over our coffees.  My friend said that it seemed as if the ones bearing the brunt of taxation were as always, the unfortunate middle classes; business men always managed to get away with it on the assumption that they had to have some incentive to keep their business afloat. (or their yachts)  ‘We ordinary people work and work while heating and other prices go up and we just about manage’ she said sadly. She had considered taking on another job as well though already very busy. ‘We seldom see smiles any more on people’s faces, they look miserable and worried.’  And we both agreed that entering the European community was not the best thing that had happened to the Greeks who just don’t deal with life the sombre way we do in Germany, the UK, France and so on.   They were muddling along nicely in their own time honoured, Levantine way and yes, there were problems but the EU wasn’t going to fix it, though many obviously hoped it might. The apparently endless grants and handouts from the European Union coffers proved too much and some Greeks just got greedy.  Now they are afraid to return to the drachma and are imprisoned in the system.

Is all lost?  Have the Greeks lost their spontaneity, their merriment and joy of life?  I hope not.  It made me recall seeing a woman in the square at Monasteraki in Athens when I was there a short while back.  Music was playing in the square and a charming middle aged woman stopped and began to dance in a slow, curvy rhythm to the music, snapping her fingers and just looking and being happy and abandoned.  People gathered about her and began to clap in time until the music ended and then cheered her.  She just smiled and moved on.  I was so taken with this that it has been written into a scene in my latest book Dying Phoenix.  Greece should never become too European and lose something of its underlying Orientalism. even its slightly dubious ways of paying and managing things. The  European Union is becoming a rigid structure where all are expected to become the same, with the same laws and conformity and it seems slowly, slowly, all those delightfully diverse countries are losing something of their own unique culture in a soup of misplaced wandering, confused humanity.

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