Saturday, June 16, 2012

All I want is dignity

Kavala.  1960.
For Greece
As I write, about 8 hours later in Greece, the people I love best besides a few of my own are voting.  I have known Greece since 1959, and I speak the language well enough that after about 48 hours through Customs I think in Greek, except when I am among other English speakers.
I have no specific political allegiance in Greece, except that I didn't like the Colonels and I would not have liked it if after WW II the country had become permanently Communist, like Albania.
For most of my life, whenever I traveled in Greece, I conversed with all sorts of Greeks.  I heard the stories of women who had to give up a baby for adoption, knowing only that it was in, e.g., Texas; I heard, as still vivid personal memories, stories of people discarding out of the KTEL bus windows fistfuls of paper money with lots of zeroes but no value, though by the late 1950s the Bretton Woods plans had fixed the drachma at just about 30 to the dollar.  It was fistfuls of aluminum lepta that one left on the taverna table for the paidi who cleared the tables and was otherwise unsalaried (with 100 lepta to the drachma and 30 dr to the dollar...).  In the country some of the children were obviously very, very poor, but every time I went to other Mediterranean countries I noticed how clean and self-respecting Greeks were compared with anyone else with equally little money.  And so forth; I could tell you detail after detail to the same effect.
I do not want to suggest that I ever thought Greeks perfect.  But the way people have been talking in the media and generally north of the Alps is very grievous to me, though I am not myself Greek.  I know they are tax-averse, but as an American what have I to say about that?
Only yesterday, from John Psaropoulos on NPR (I also read his blog), I finally heard him talk plainly about the psychological effect on all the older half of the population of the post WW II trouble and poverty.  Just as I can, barely, remember the 1930s recession (my father earned $12 / week in a grocery when I was born), so Greeks who grew up pre-Euro and, especially, pre-Bretton Woods and Marshall Plan (not that that was perfect, but it did make a difference) have a pride in being Greek (because of their whole history, not just antiquity) that is grounded in self-respect based on what one truly is.  The last years have been horribly, cruelly painful for them, but we can trust Greece to keep its children in school and keep them close to the family.
Yes, of course, I know that there were professional beggars and that they used their children, but there were many, many more who sold combs and Chiclets from trays at the bus stations and who polished shoes (luckily, shoes were still made of leather) at almost every street corner, and trays of koulouria (rings of bread with sesame), for example.  Again, images keep coming to mind, of all the little goods and services that eked out a living.
Yes, I did notice that with the preparation for the Olympics, which Greece wanted so much, with the year when Athens was the Cultrual Capital of Eurose, with the importance of Greek fruits and vegetables as a cash crop, with the cultivation of viniculture for very good wines and the oenology to maintain their excellence, with the disappearance of the donkey for the most part, with the replacement of the buses sold to Greece when nearly worn out by other countries with Mercedes-Benz ones, most even with AC, and the beautifully banked and faced highways (not autobahn or freeway, but...), such as that which made the trip along the kaki skala en route to Corinth so much less hair-raising, that joining the European community did fairly rapidly bring the standard of living to the lower margin of "respectability" in transalpine Europe.
And it is true that Greeks (barring shipping barons and such, who are few) do work harder than most other workers, and certainly not less.
And it is true that Greeks are profoundly democratic, it being, for example, normal to see the best dressed persons on a bus or train or ship talking politics or philosophies or almost anything fit for discussion with the shabbiest of their fellow passengers or, of course, with everyone else in a kapheneion or a koureion.
So I hope the outcome of the election will be beneficial for Greece, because I also firmly believe that a Europe that abandoned Greece would somehow have lost its soul.
I don't know enough about international banking to have an opinion of my own about its responsibility (though I shall never forget how Enron tried to deprive California of sufficient electricity).
I guess that in about eight hours from this posting we shall begin to hear at least speculation about polling.