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Update on Greece

Our relatives in Greece seem to be breathing slightly easier.  Pakis’ brother George, the iconographer, went to Trikala to take measurements in a church that had commissioned him to do some work about 15 years ago.  They want him to give them a quote for some additional iconography.  It didn’t seem there was any point in making the drive (8 hours round trip) a few weeks ago, but now George is ready to submit his ideas and costs.  And Nikos, Pakis’ surgeon brother, seems to be getting on with work and life, too.  It’s a relief to be able to talk with them about ordinary life again.

On the other hand, the outlook is pretty terrible.  Joseph Stieglitz’s column “Greece, the Sacrificial Lamb” convincingly presents  the bleakest view I’ve read yet.  Or maybe it just gives more detail.  As one commenter on the article pointed out, detail has been sorely lacking in the news coverage of the Greece-EU deal.  Stieglitz discusses milk as an example commodity, and it happens to strike a chord with me.  When I lived in Athens in 1983, milk was generally purchased in pint-sized plastic bottles.  It wasn’t generally consumed by adults, but it tasted very good to an American who was used to having it on cereal and in coffee*.  Unrefrigerated boxed milk from The Netherlands, etc. became available in subsequent years as EU commerce took off.  My experience matches Stieglitz’s assertion that it had far less appeal than locally produced, fresh milk.  It would be a pity if Greek producers were put out of business without even a price reduction to consumers (which is what Stieglitz forecasts).

Prospective taxation is another topic he addresses.  I had heard about it from Pakis, who reads the Greek press, but I could hardly believe it.  Stieglitz says, “The troika is demanding that Greek firms, including mom and pop stores, pay all of their taxes ahead of time, at the beginning of the year, before they have earned it, before they even know what their income is going to be.”  It’s hard to imagine a provision that could be better designed to ruin small businesses.

Joanna Kakissis’s story from this morning resonates with me: “Covering Greece: When It’s Not Just a Story, It’s Personal.”

*I often tell students, in the context of teaching a particular set of vocabulary words, about an encounter with a shopkeeper around the corner from the apartment where I lived in Athens.  There was no fresh milk in the cooler, and I asked when he might get some.  “Ειvαι αγνοστο,” he shrugged, meaning it is agnostic, or unknown.   I had never heard that word in such a mundane context, so it stuck with me.  This is one of many examples of words that are routine in Greek but, brought into English, become scholarly and intimidating.

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