Πέμπτη, 20 Μαρτίου 2008



There is still a lot of catching up to do, so I'll try to condense things.

First of all, I don't think I mentioned what the strikes (still going strong by the way) are about.

From what I could gather through all the general yelling on TV and with people whenever I broach the subject in public, the Greek government is trying to make the pension system more efficient by reducing the number of pension plans through various mergers. Namely, we currently have about a hundred pension plans, and after they have been merged we should have about 14.

To be honest, this sounds like a rather reasonable plan to me, a good way to simplify things and reduce costs. But of course, many people complain that this will make things worse instead of better, and that those who have good pension plans now will have worse ones. Since I usually tend to root for the underdog, I am thinking more of all the people for whom this might be an improvement, but it is true I do not have a pension plan here, so it's easy to be generous with other people's money.

But I digress. I also forgot to mention that during the strikes, the trash does not get picked up. At all. We now have piles of stinking trash rising steadily all over town. Thank god it's not summer. I have included a couple of pictures in this email, so you can see what the city is starting to look like. I especially like the 2nd one. Notice how the Greek flag is slowly being swallowed up by trash? Clearly, the European flag is next. Maybe it's just me, but I thought this was a highly symbolic picture.

I shouldn't complain, though. A few weeks ago, the same thing happened in Italy. In Naples, the piles of trash had apparently reached the second floor windows. So overall, I'd say we're doing pretty good, here in Greek-land!

Now, I don't know if you heard, but back in January/February, it snowed quite a bit in Athens. Not only that, but the snow actually held, reaching about 7 or 8 inches deep for a couple of days - even in my usually warm Southern suburbs! (I'm including a picture of my balcony.) I'm sorry I don't have the picture to prove it, but the beach was actually covered in snow. It looked a little like Greenland, except with palm trees.

Of course, the Greeks used the opportunity to close everything down again: schools, public services, post offices… I don't remember getting one single day off from school during the much harsher winters in Belgium, when there was snow up to our knees. But in their defense, Greeks hate being cold, and the schools are apparently terrified that the pipes might freeze over and the little cherubs might catch their deaths. Knowing what an angry Greek parent can look like, I rather understand them.

As for my nationality, I went back to the town hall, and they did register me [the strike apparently relented for 1 day, so some worker was bored enough to stamp my paperwork]. All that remained for me to do in order to obtain an ID card was go to the police station [by appointment only]. I had to bring the town hall's paper, the government's paper stating that I am Greek, 4 black & white photos and my poor grandma as a witness - to WHAT, I'd like to know. Clearly another case of the Greeks not trusting their own government, yet trusting the word of a total stranger, and a biased one at that.

So to the police station we went with my little grandma, whom I practically had to hoist up a very steep flight of stairs - for who needs an elevator in a police station? Probably an economical way of keeping their police officers fit. I should also mention that police stations in Greece usually have a guard armed to the teeth stationed at the door, asking you what your business is before letting you in.

I'm not kidding. These guards are literally dressed in full combat gear, with a bullet proof vest, combat boots and a giant firearm to match. I know strictly zero about weapons, but to my untrained eye it looks rather like a Kalashnikov. I do not know exactly what vicious attack they are there to prevent in my peaceful suburb, but it certainly makes one feel less safe to see them armed like that, wondering where the threat is coming from. Probably other would-be terrorist photographers such as myself.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this either, for I am not risking imprisonment AGAIN for you, guys - remember my little adventure with the DANGEROUS PHOTOGRAPH??... For those of you who don't, there now is a blog with all my newsletters, complete with photos AND your comments too! [http://atouchofgreece.blogspot.com/]

Anyway, we got into the IDs office and the guy made me fill out a couple of forms. Which is when I realized that Laura Neri was apparently too foreign a name for the town hall people, and I had been rebaptized Lora Nerh.

Short history of Greece and names. About 99% of the population in Greece is Christian Orthodox. Priests/churches supposedly will only baptize your child if his/her name is a recognized name, a.k.a. in the Bible. [Although that is rather flexible, since most ancient Greek and mythological names aren't, yet have been extremely popular lately.] Clearly, whoever registered me at the town hall decided that Laura was too pagan a name and decided to change it to a more acceptable one. The 'h' is just the Greek way of writing 'i' in this case.

Did I mention that the Greek way of pronouncing that is LOR-a, pronounced like the last 'OR' from 'horror'? I hate that name. I really do. For those of you who don't know it, my name is Italian and should be pronounced something like 'Lah-oo-rrah' - but only by Italian/Spanish speakers. The rest can stick to Laura.

The police officer very seriously suggested I return to the town hall to have this corrected, but picturing another 3 months delay because of the undoubtedly inextricable complexity of altering something that had now been officially recorded in the Greek registers, not to mention more strikes and a new appointment at the police station + hoisting of grandma up the stairs, I declined.

I would be LORA in Greece forever, he warned. Gritting my teeth, I said that I would live with it.

One more thing before I run off to play badminton: the city apparently intends to repave the streets in my area. I say "apparently", for about 6 weeks ago, they stripped our street of tar, along with a couple of other random streets in the area [don't ask me why they don't do an entire block together - I'm sure there is a Greek reason for this] - but the workers have since then disappeared, never be seen again. My street looks all forlorn, naked like that.

Hopefully they'll repave it before I leave the country.

PS: I should have sent this yesterday, for now this last point is moot: as though they'd somehow read my complaint, the workers magically reappeared yesterday and covered my street in tar once more. I was so grateful I didn't dare ask what took them so long.
Christophe N:
Bon, ben au moins, t'as ta nationalité grecque ma chère lora. non?
Gavin K:
I'm so glad to see that the bitingly humorous observations/commentary of the Laura Greek Chronicle emails are back again!!! Love those trash pics - wow. Can only imagine the pleasant smell that goes with them...!

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