Can The Euro Survive? A Sceptical Postcard From Athens
Behold the Future of International Journalism
Editor’s Note: Since launching AMG we have had many requests for collaboration/involvement. One such demand came from a brash, young, ambitious, creative writing student drop-out who insisted we put him to work. AMG is apparently his stepping-stone to journalistic greatness, so we threw the kid a bone. We bundled him off to Europe for an expenses-only gig without parameters. Below is his first instalment. Please excuse its roughness, he’s a little green, and down on his luck, but let’s see what he’s got.
Ha, nice trick boss, sending me to Athens via Scoot. I can only assume this is the cheapest airline in the sky, where robotic stewardesses wake you every half hour to see if you wish to “per-chayse” anything from the snack cart. I will not be leaving the country again unless it’s on an airline that provides free glasses of water and has more than 32cm of legroom. One meal, a tiny serve of either spicy chicken or non-spicy chicken served at dawn. Zero stars from me. No free water for 11 hours. My name is not Karl fucking Pilkington.
Idea for future article: Companies that make enemies of their customers. Case study: Scoot.
It’s hot. The tail end of a Europe-wide heatwave that almost felled a shaky Angela Merkel (the Euro empress), twice in one week. Euro notes look fake – they appear photocopied. How do you build an economic empire on flimsy banknotes?
Traffic is pure chaos. Motorbikes and scooters everywhere. Scoot, scooters, gotta stop writing that fucking word. Red lights are an gentle suggestion to slow down, helmets optional accessories. Crossing the street is like playing Russian roulette. Cars drive on the right, pedestrians walk on the right, these constants remain rigid. Get out of the way Vlakas. Do not hire a car in Athens under any circumstances. I’m hauling suitcases and people are asking me for directions like I have any clue on navigating this searing maze.
Do not edit my words boss, they are chosen carefully. It’s called sharp prose. If you start paying me, I will be more expansive, switch to flowery and verbose, thesaurus stuff. I know the AMG tone. I’m familiar with your work.
Decent digs. Small but clean and walking distance to the Acropolis. Lacks a washing machine and stove but contains a coffee maker that requires a stovetop. Glorious Athenian irony. Contains air-conditioning, taking the good with the bad and keeping a positive disposition always. The day has gone forever. Chased the sunrise all the way from Singapore. Thought we would be approaching the destination, the sun had been up for hours, spirit crushed to discover less than halfway there. Anyway, feels like dinner time but is only 10 am. Decent omelette, coffee – the primary fuel for this entire assignment. Eyes are heavy but gotta make it till dusk. Wander around checking out some ruins. The whole city is beset with ruins, some are thousands of years old, some hundreds, some tens. Collapsed buildings randomly appear on every block. Suburban streets are lined with fruit trees, citrus and mulberries, food for the poor after houses collapse maybe.
If you don’t like the photos boss, you should have given me a better phone. Run them anyway.
Not sure how many tiers of government exist in the birthplace of democracy but seems several have dropped the ball. The following departments can be assumed to have utterly failed in their charter: traffic cops, building inspectors, lung cancer awareness people, parking inspectors, motor vehicle inspectors – half the cars on the move look desperately un-roadworthy, and taxation officials, every transaction is logged as no-sale, the till opens, change is given, the whole country is one big black economy. The security business is booming, guards are everywhere – see photos. Most are scrawny young men. They all wear bulletproof vests, most seem to be missing the Kevlar, many are a few sizes too big, ceremonial at best. Saw one guard at a multi-national department store rearranging clothes, industrious, multi-talented lad, destined for greater things.
The city seems to be missing a generation of tradespeople. Painters, tilers, asphalters, plumbers, roofers, structural engineers. Another governmental failure to report, career guidance counsellors in high schools. The men who should be qualified to repair the more recent ruins are all running minor hustles, spruiking restaurants, parking cars in vacant lots, ferrying paying passengers on un-roadworthy motorbikes, driving taxis. Spotted one guy fixing one broken pavers, drop in the ocean, good work son, he’ll never struggle for employment.
Most tourists are American. There is little economic activity to report other than fleecing tourists, then avoiding tax on the proceeds, a scam upon a scam. Some of the receipts I sent through that had to be demanded from waiters and the like contain a 24% surcharge, initially thought is was a weekend price hike, but turns out that is like GST, seems a bit hefty, doesn’t appear on the menu, but hey, enjoy, AMG finance department.
Research reveals that a recent Greek election brought a far right political party to power. Yes boss, I’m researching this magic. The story appeared in the Guardian, so is probably fake news and the winner was slightly right of the dearly departed Hugo Chavez. Perhaps the new team can kickstart some kind of Greco revival.
Sunday morning, only so much inspiration can be drawn from decrepit Athenian buildings so headed South toward the Aegean Sea via train and then bus. No fares appear to have been paid by any commuters, the swinging gates held open for the next guy while officials look the other way. The city virtually closes on the sabbath. After a brief dip in the open water spent a very pleasant afternoon at Lake Vouliagmeni, an aquifer-fed body of liquid shrouded by towering cliffs – see photo. Water was a pleasant 29C, air temp of 36C, small ‘spa’ fish helpfully ate the dead skin from my entire body a curious tickling sensation. The experience mellowed my feelings toward the Greek experience.
In closing, Athens is a city of striking contrasts. A city ruins and ruination, of derelict structures and gross dereliction of duty.
Next stop Rome. Stay tuned.
PS. Share my work. This is my big break.