Saturday, July 1, 2017

Athens and Mykonos: For Better or Worse?


Two classic literary lines come to mind as I hunker down this Friday afternoon inside a friend’s naturally cool guestroom, squirreled away from the 105 degree F (41C) Athens heat, contemplating how to survive an even warmer Saturday attending the outdoor college graduation of my close Mykonian friends’ sons.  But I shall persevere and overcome.  Which brings me back to those two lines, and what’s on my nearly fried brain…make that poached.

“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” is the first (thank you, Bill), and the second is, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (kudos to you, Chuck).

They come to mind because I’m honestly not sure if what I have to say is intended to bury, exhume, or praise two places I truly treasure, or whether it’s their best or worst of times.

First, Athens. 

There is no need to go into detail describing all that’s rocked Athens as a result of the worldwide financial crisis. Unemployment is still at Great Depression era levels, it faces insurmountable bailout obligations, and though reports of its death may be greatly exaggerated (a bit of a borrowing from Mark Twain), likely just as exaggerated are reports of its imminent recovery … certainly economically. BUT, there is a distinct new upbeat vibe taking hold in the city, one that I’d missed until now.

Yes, the Athens garbage collectors are on strike, and protestors in the Exarchia part of town are tossing petrol bombs at police, but that’s pre-crisis business as usual activities. 

What’s different is a noticeable lift in the spirits of the Athenians.  As if they’ve come to accept that times aren’t going to get better anytime soon, so they’re going to do what they must to make the best of it.  The art and culture scene is in robust revival, hotels are packed—with new ones coming on line or being refurbished—and the young are looking for innovative new ways to make things better for themselves and their country. 

That’s the sort of diehard entrepreneurial Greek spirit which stands the best chance of propelling Athens and the nation out of these dark times—and with just a little help from their friends (tip of the hat to the Beatles) in government, they just might pull it off.

So, is this the best of times or the worst of times for Athens?  That’s not for me to say, no more than can I for the second place on my mind, Mykonos.

Twenty years ago 

As many know, I call Mykonos home, and have felt that way for thirty-five years.  But just as Guest Blogger Lisa Alber observed here earlier this week, and others agreed, hometowns inevitably change. Mykonos is no exception.  If you go back to World War II, it was a place of starvation and struggle, but for purposes of this comparison, my baseline is just a couple of decades ago, after the island had already established itself as a tourist paradise. 

Today, it’s catapulted itself into a completely different orbit, one where Mykonos stands as an international symbol of tourist hedonism and 24/7 glitz.  I think it’s safe to say (despite Santorini’s anticipated objections) that there is no more profitable a place in Greece to do tourist related business than Mykonos. Inevitably that has attracted a myriad of investors looking to outdo one another in projects aimed at attracting and maximizing as big a share of that high-end market for themselves as they can. 

Does all that development better or worsen Mykonos?  Again, I have no answer, but one thing is for certain: As with so many other "hometowns," the old Mykonos of my contemporaries' recollections is long gone.

For example:

Paraga Beach 50 years ago (courtesy Dimitris Koutsoukas)

Paraga Beach 45 years ago (courtesy Dimitris Koutsoukas)

Paraga Beach today

Perhaps Shakespeare or Dickens can answer those questions, but at the moment what really matters to me is only one thing:

Congratulations, Nikos Fiorentinos and Spiros Apostolou on your graduations from college.  May you continue to make your communities and the world a better place!



  1. I wonder what the ancient Athenians thought of all of these stupid buildings being thrown up above the town, ruining the view for everyone, desecrating the natural mount over the city...

    I feel safe in declaring that these are neither the best nor the worst of times. After all, there can only be one of each, and all others fall somewhere in between, so what are the odds...?

    On another front, I ran across a line in one of Tim Hallinan's books today, where one of the characters claims that another (vastly disliked) character is "hung like a mosquito," which then led me to wonder if perhaps Pres Trump's tiny hands were indicative of anything else...

    1. As always, EvKa, you cut to the quick in your observations. Thank you...I think.

      Though I must point out a minor correction to your otherwise astute observation: the question was, are the changes for "better or worse," not the superlatives best or worst. Some might even say that was a very savvy Presidential way of altering the question to suit the answer you want to give. But that would be wrong.

    2. No correction needed, you merely needed to realize to which question I was replying. You said (and I quote), "So, is this the best of times or the worst of times for Athens?" Clearly (based upon my previous paragraph) that was the question in question to which I was responding with my response, NOT the later question (and I quote once more), "Does all that development better or worsen Mykonos?"

      Had you not been thinking like a mosquito, you'd not have been confused, and so would not have insulted me by maligning my answer as, in any way, being Presidential in nature (OR nuture).

      Alas, we know that blood flows away from the brain, toward nether regions, once foot is placed firmly ponst Terra Mykonos, so all is forgiven.

    3. EvKa, you're sounding more and more Presidential with every tweet. Now, if only you could confine yourself to 140 characters (as opposed to being 140 characters) all would be right with the world.

      Mika and Joe, filling in for Jeff.

    4. Loving #GreekGeeks #AtHens #MyKnoses. Staying at MyKnoses-A-Lagos. Fixed up a rundown island. The best. EVER.

  2. Gosh, what has happened to Paraga Beach is a "crime against nature." How can these developers just ruin a world treasure? Why are they allowed to do that? People go there to see the beauty, but then buildings and all sorts of structures cover up the beauty.
    This world's gorgeous sites are being ruined.

    1. It's really a matter of balance, but if things are left to take their own, unchartered course, matters can get drastically out of whack.

  3. Loved this post. It speaks of so many places in Greece where residents are struggling with the success of tourism. But it also speaks to the issue of development in general. . .in 'our' area of The Mani there is talk of installing wind machines along the ridges of those beautiful postcard picture perfect Taygetos Mountains. Needless to say, there is strong opposition to the proposal by those in the area but some developer somewhere is still promoting the installation. Who will win? Stay tuned.

    1. It is a battle that requires eternal vigilance and realistic perspectives...two difficult commodities to find these days.