The world outside Athens

Spring time countryside in North Greece

This weekend I took a trip with my family outside of Athens, to the city of Larissa.

Larissa lies about 350 kilometers north of Athens, about 3 and a half hours by car. It’s where my husband’s grandmother grew up and where he spent most of his childhood summers. Incidentally, Larissa has a rather scandalous reputation. The housewives of the city are rumoured to have voracious sexual appetites, to the point of tragedy when a couple of years ago a young soldier stationed in the city is said to have died of exhaustion during a threesome with the city’s famous cougars. I can’t establish if there is any truth to this, though my husband is adamant that it happened.

Half of Greece’s population lives in Athens. It’s easy to get caught up in Athenian life and to forget that outside of this sprawling city lies the rest of Greece. This is the biggest mistake that the Troika make too. They don’t take the time to see what’s going on in the rest of Greece, and this is important, because the rest of Greece is nothing like Athens.

Mainland Greece a few hours out of Athens is like a different world. People are more insular here, though still friendly enough. If Athenians like a good conspiracy theory, then the rest of the country not only indulges in these theories, they actively believe them. That’s not because they are stupid. It’s because outside of Athens, an information vacuum exists, and Greeks here feel that they have been forgotten by the bigshots in Athens. They’re not exactly wrong.

Some of the more fantastical ideas I have heard is that the authorities have been spraying the atmosphere with a chemical that pacifies the Greeks so they don’t cause trouble. This has obviously not worked. The other one was that a political party was going over the areas with a helicopter and throwing snakes into the fields. I can’t remember what justification was given for this one. The evidence was that certain breeds of snake didn’t exist in certain areas, and after a few flyovers by mysterious helicopters, they started appearing.

As we were leaving Larissa, an old neighbour who has known my husband since he was a little boy came to say goodbye. “So you’re leaving then. Back to the city of 5 million thieves and liars” he said. And that’s what it seems the crisis has done to Greece, created an atmosphere of Athens and the rest of the country. When the Troika swan into Athens, demanding this and that, they have no idea what is going on in the rest of the country, how different the pace of life is there. Greece’s much lauded return to the bond market is good news, but I’m afraid it will most likely only be good news for Athens.

Beyond the metropolis, the country is a riot of colours and sprawling countryside. Balconies overflow with flowers and greenery in contrast to Athens, where no one has time to tend to their plants. My husband’s uncle asked him about his work “12 hours a day? You don’t come home for lunch? And you work most weekends? You people in Athens are crazy.” he said. Outside of Athens the cities and villages are suffering from a lack of new life. The young have abandoned the rest of Greece either for the capital or for foreign shores. It’s a pitiful reflection on the country’s government that they pumped so much investment into Athens to the detriment of the rest of the country.

As we drove past the cherry groves outside Agiakombo, I watched property owners working on their seafront buildings and cafes, getting them into shape for the summer. Most of Greece makes its money in the tourist season, and they have to make enough in one summer to get by for the rest of the year. Such a pity, considering the resources, the ski resorts, the hiking trails, climbing trails and brilliant countryside that could so easily be marketed to the outside world.

There are unique cities with unique resources spread throughout the country. It’s a pity that they have, for decade upon decade, just been left to go to seed.

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