Athens, an op­pres­sive city

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS VATOPOULOS

The other night, I was notic­ing the crowds of for­eign tourists in Athens. Ar­eas be­tween Mona­s­ti­raki and Syn­tagma were packed, and I had to jos­tle through crowds on the side­walk. The restau­rants on Mitropoleos Street were packed. Some of those tourists may like to visit the Acrop­o­lis or the An­cient Agora on Thursday and to do so at mid­day. Sure, it’s a tough time of day to do that sort of thing in the sum­mer, but maybe that’s how it fits into their sched­ule, or maybe they’re 20 years old and aren’t too both­ered by the heat. As para­dox­i­cal as it may sound given Greece’s his­tory, Athens does not do well when it comes to free­dom. There is more gov- ern­ment in places where it is not needed, and less gov­ern­ment in places where it is needed. There is a pre­vail­ing dis­tor­tion of bound­aries. The Min­istry of Cul­ture has or­dered ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites to re­main closed from 1 to 5 p.m. be­cause of high mid­day tem­per­a­tures. It claimed that this was a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure. A pre­cau­tion against what? Some­one faint­ing? Or maybe the min­istry be­ing pres­sured by the unions? You can be sure that staff work­ing at ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites will be hav­ing a siesta from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nev­er­the­less, any for­eign tourists who want to spend some time at those sites have been for­bid­den and must sim­ply change their plans. This sim­ply does no make sense. Sites will be closed at 4.30 p.m. but open again half an hour later when there’s no big dif­fer­ence in tem­per­a­ture. Not to men­tion that tourists will be forced to walk up and down the blaz­ing-hot Adri­anou Street be­tween Thi­seio and Mona­s­ti­raki, un­able to wan­der through the green­ery of the An­cient Agora, be­cause the tem­per­a­ture is “too high” and the Greek state has locked them out so that its em­ploy­ees can take a paid siesta. On the metro sys­tem, mean­while, dis­play pan­els show con­stant de­lays in trains. What do you ex­pect? It’s sum­mer in Athens and things slow down. You see tourists wait­ing around with their lug­gage to get to the air­port, or to travel just two or three sta­tions away. They could be go­ing from Omo­nia to Acrop­o­lis, for ex­am­ple. And rather than putting our best foot forward to im­prove our ser­vices with ef­fi­ciency, safety and a smile, we re­mind them that they are on the bor­der of Europe. On which side is not clear, but tourists find them­selves on a cusp where any­thing can hap­pen – such as walk­ing down Er­mou, the cap­i­tal’s most com­mer­cial street, and hear­ing al­most daily protests against shops open­ing on Sun­days. The only thing that doesn’t take long to hap­pen in Greece is the re­minder that logic sel­dom comes to visit.

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