Nestled under the Acropolis, snug and safe among the ancient ruins of a long-ago grandeur, Plaka is the only remaining protected area of Athens. Greedy developers are as welcome there as a certain Minnesota dentist would be at an Aspinall Foundation animal sanctuary, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. I see signs on old and battered but beautifully classical houses asking for bids ‘to develop’. No harm in trying, I guess. With the economy in the toilet — a horrid word but necessary — anything can happen, and Greek law has never been sacrosanct when the loot’s right.
Never mind. It’s 40 degrees Celsius, probably 50 on the marble stones on the hill across from the Acropolis where I’m training. It is the hill of the Muses, where the monument to Philopappos, a Syrian prince, an Athenian citizen and a Roman consul, was erected in around 100 AD. He was a benefactor to the city and the marble monument to him was used by the wily Venetian Morosini as a gun emplacement to fire on the barbaric Turk dug inside the Acropolis and using the Parthenon as a powder keg. Just below the monument there is a beautiful Byzantine wooden church where my parents were married in 1933. I train just above it: 50 mae geris, 50 yaku tsukis, and so on. The sweat pours down, the heartbeat races, at times I feel I am about to pass out from the heat. But I survive it day after boiling day, and feel refreshed for some after-dark hell-raising.
The best moments are at twilight, when the old-fashioned street lamps come on, forming a haze of dusky powder that illuminates the sacred rocks. More often than not I find myself in a roof taverna drinking chilled white wine. It is one of life’s very rare and precious moments, though nowadays mostly ruined by the tourists and the migrants scrounging a living in the shadow of the most perfect edifice the world has known. Migrants are the latest nuisance to invade Europe, as if the old continent didn’t have enough problems. The paper that only reports the news it sees fit to, the New York Times, recently had a front-page story about burglaries in ritzy Athenian neighbourhoods. The reporting seemed fine until a lady who lives in Athens all year round pointed out that it was all true except for one important fact: every single break-in that had been solved by the fuzz turned out to have been perpetrated by foreigners, mostly Albanians, with a good mix of sub-Saharans and Romanians thrown in. (But don’t expect the NY Times to report that.)
The only thing that stands between them and utter anarchy in the poor neighbourhoods are the youths of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is referred to as a neofascist political party, instead of a nationalist one, because it will not play ball with those who have reduced the country to the state it is in today. A few of Golden Dawn’s followers have made some extremely unfortunate remarks, which has made it easy for the jackals of the media to paint the third largest political party in Greece as neo-Nazi. Take it from Taki: the party’s strength lies in its youth movement and its incorruptibility, and it’s as neo-Nazi as Ukip. Greece has never been an imperial power, and so it owes nobody nothing, as they say. We are a small country with very few natural resources and we need more uneducated migrants like Monica Lewinsky needs a cigar advertisement.
Which brings me to the clowns that pass for the Greek government nowadays. They are a mix of arrogance and false pride, and think that a T-shirt slogan is the equivalent of a well-thought-out policy. They came to power on a lie — that they would stand up to the bully of Brussels and the ‘Bitch of Berlin’ — but caved in after wasting six months showing off their bad manners around the capitals of Europe. Now they have fallen out between themselves about whether to accept the latest bailout. The ideologists of the Syriza party, veterans of corner-café wars for 40 years, espouse Marx and Trotsky as if this were 1922. Once Tsipras caved in, and accepted terms that were even worse than those previously on offer, the extreme left of the party revolted. With the banks shut tight and the clock ticking, the economy simply stopped dead in its tracks. But the men without ties and certainly without manners continued to talk, and talk, and talk some more. As I write, they are still talking, just as they used to in the corner cafés they grew up in. (In the meantime, last Sunday a long programme on German atrocities in Greece during world war two was aired during prime time. It was on the government-controlled network, but I suppose that was a coincidence.)
Between 2010 and 2013, 218,000 Greeks migrated, including 6,000 doctors. I’d hate to see the present figures. But the most preposterous and the most phoney has stayed, and continues to stay, the man with that large proboscis, shaved head, and a motorcycle as a prop — no speedster he — the ex-finance minister Varoufakis, now reduced to advising tired old Marxists on colonoscopy and its benefits. What can be done to encourage this ludicrous narcissist to emigrate is a mystery. But I’ll keep trying.