- by irene Archos
My father has been dead for close to ten years, but I still have yet to get rid of the car he left behind. Why? Greek bureaucracy. In America, the saying goes, you can’t escape death and taxes; in Greece, you can’t escape death, taxes, AND bureaucracy. The Greek state, in its ingenuity to perpetuate its own existence, has devised a labyrinthine system of clerical requirements for each step in what in other countries would be a self-explanatory process. To get a civil thing done such as apply for a social security card, transfer title of an automobile, or even add a new member of the family to the civil registry, requires the payment of a fee or “paravalo,” a toll house system of sorts, in order to advance to the next step. To accomplish a simple task that in other countries might take a simple filling out of one document and uploading to a digital department takes at least three visits to the same office, a visit to the bank, and a wait of a week in order to complete.
According to state law cars belonging to the deceased pass to his or her spouse regardless if he or she has a license is blind or 85 years old. My ailing mother has not been able to travel to Greece since the funeral. So the car has legally passed to her but it cannot be official unless she registers and goes through the grueling process of submitting paperwork with its accompanying paravola.
Because of this lethal inhumane bureaucracy, I have not been able to do anything with the car. Each year I pay the teli kykliforias, the tolls for circulation, for a car that does not circulate. I could take the plates and surrender it but that too requires a power of attorney for my aged mother to give me permission to put it away; a signed affidavit that no one will move the car during the time it has no plates; the coordinates of where it can be found, not on the street otherwise it will be lifted by crane and impounded. So it sits every year on the curb collecting dust and pigeon shit until the summer when we can come for two or four weeks to mobilize it again. Every year change or charge the battery that has drained. Every year change oil and other brake fluids take it through the KTEO or emissions and safety inspection. Every year finagle some sort of insurance agent to bypass the scrutiny of the department of transportation (terribly underfunded) and insure it under a dead men’s name.
This year I am determined: I will give find some way to get rid of that car. It has become more of a burden than a convenience: taxes, insurance, teli kikloforias, storage issues—I am paying over 500 Euros for a vehicle that does not move for the majority of the year. This year I went to use it and I found its tires flat. . “It’s strange how three tires are flat but only one has some air,” noted the young man from Ladapardas tire service station. He came to save me the female without car knowledge on a small motorcycle. And then he figured out the reason: someone punctured three of the tires with a sharp rod. Someone must have gotten pissed off about an abandoned car in their parking space. That means even more cha-ching for servicing costs.
After five years of dealing with the convoluted bureaucracy I have gotten smarter: I am waiting on two lines with one body. I have left the car to be serviced at the station while I wait on line at the KEP, the Kentro Experition Polition, which translates to the Center for the Service of the Citizen. It functions like a centralized bureaucratic hand that at least keeps you from having to run around the different ministries for paperwork. The line, due to COVID social distancing measures, twisted around the block.
After a lovely dirty blonde civil servant in a red t-shirt and jeans checked my temperature with a digital thermometer, I went in to get the overview of the process. Behind a glass screen, looking like a sphynx with a scowl, the civil service lady grilled me but did not speak. Civil servants do not speak until spoken to. The bureaucracy is made even more unpredictable because you enter a game of chance depending on the civil authority you speak to. You could go into the same ministry or governmental office, ask the same question, and get as many different answers as there are civil servants. Many times they even argue among each other what pieces of paper are required to complete a task. The rules change according to mood, according to time, according to location.
“Good day to you,” I try to smile and be positive.
“What would be the necessary documents to transfer title of an automobile from my father who passed away to my mother? She does not drive and is 80 years old. Could I get it transferred to my name instead?”
She stone-faced hands me a photocopied paper with a list of all the requirements. They are:
-photocopy of the ID of the inheritor of vehicle
-AFM (tax number) of the inheritor
-license to circulate for the automobile (without any issues, otherwise a separate agency with its accompanying clearance forms needed)
-valid KTEO certificate (clean inspection certificate)
-paravalo 75 Euros (this must be paid in person or via transfer to one of the main Greek banks to the respective account number)
-verification from the tax department that the inheritor does not owe any back taxes and have paid the inheritance tax, signed and stamped by the appropriate tax department
-verification that the car does not owe any tolls with proof from the “print screen” along with notary stamp and seal from the corresponding tax department
Thank God I am on vacation and do not have a job. Someone in the family needs to be the full-time do-the-paperwork person of the house in order to be up-to-date with the Greek authorities. What makes this so grueling is that to get one paper from one department, a person has to dedicate a whole morning waiting on lines, finding the right person to talk to. Most of the offices close by 1:30 or 2 pm so it is quite easy to spend a whole week just to transfer title.
“Can I just donate it?” I ask.
She tilts her head back and rolls her eyes, Hellenic body language for “NO.” “You still have to transfer the title from the deceased to the inheritor.”
“You have to follow the procedure on the form,” she replies cold as a stone. “And one more thing– you have to have a power of attorney from the owner in order to act on his behalf.” (Thank God I did this at the Consulate General back in the States, after paying another paravalo of $125 and waiting outside on the sidewalk even with an appointment.)
“Eucharisto,” I mutter politely. “Good day.”
Here I am again. Another year, more bureaucracy. I stare at the paper and my head goes into a whirlwind. Maybe I could drive it off the cliff in Sounio and be done with it? Anything to face the Hydra of documents, one sprouts giving birth to two or more. Let’s see how far I can get this year as I face the monster of Greek bureaucracy.
Outside the line for the KEP has added another hundred yards. “If you don’t like it,” a bald-headed man screams at another one who has been cursing the Greek state as he shades his head from the intense afternoon sun, “get the hell out. This is Greece. Like it or leave it.”
You have to really like it to put up with the bureaucracy: a system of extortion for an endless labyrinth of paperwork and time waiting on lines.
My flight to Europe was canceled– twice. No flights allowed from the US to Canada. The sweet lady from PA whose house I wanted to rent for two months called and apologized, “So sorry, ma’m. Our governor does not want us to rent to New Yorkers for fear of the pandemic. I have to cancel your reservation.” The beautiful resort in Vermont told me to come I have to show a negative COVID result, but if I did return to NY, I would have most probably have to go through a 14 day at-home quarantine. What’s the point? Two weeks shut in for two days of escape? It’s the PAUSE. Not just in term of vacation, but of everything.
I am officially on house arrest. For someone with ADD and a concomitant wanderlust, staying put has been anathema. Since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, my struggle to stay sane in the same place while still making motions has been akin to Sisyphus pushing up his stone, while sitting on it. Ahhh, the PAUSE, the PAUSE.
Ok, I reasoned, I’ll make the best of it. I’ll take this time to be more “contemplative.” The PAUSE reminds me of an anecdote from the early Desert Fathers. When a young novice got antsy and ran to Abba Moses asking for permission to go to the city for some shopping or to go get water from the well, Abba Moses famously remarked, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Other Desert fathers coined lines like: “Go, eat, drink, sleep, do no work, only do not leave your cell.” Or, “Don’t pray at all, just stay in your cell.” Thomas a Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, famously wrote: “Every time you leave your cell, you come back less a man” (I’ll add woman, too).
I feel for that novice monk itching to leave his room right about now. I would do anything to escape home, what has become a prison cell. I am going to implode and explode at the same time. I do not do well with routine and monotony. It crushes my creativity. Like a cornered rat I am scratching for any way possible to escape. It is an agonizing punishment. It corresponds to a vision of hell the lone soul separated from God and his fellow creatures. To be in hell is to be in solitary confinement .
What to do now? How many times can you go to the corner grocery? How many times can I check email? How many times can I call the same friends? How to un-PAUSE?
Try as I might what I am scrambling to escape most is myself. With all my insecurities my hang-ups, my passions. I am sucked into the vortex of memories roads not taken so that I spiral around the sewer drain of eternal regret and despair. Why did I marry that boy? Why did I not take that opportunity? I shouldn’t have moved here or I should have gone there.
Confinement for such a long period of time summons lots of soul searching in everyone and its corresponding resistance. It reminds me of detention in high school. When you are sitting shiva with yourself, the demons that camouflage in the crevices of full schedules and deep sleep rise up to stare you in the face. You can’t escape.
One of my demons is exactly that— my inability to sit still my inability to just be. Always traveling, always searching, always doing something. I have a lot of potential energy; my mind races. Sitting still is insufferable. But there is nowhere to go, there is nothing to do. Even the garage has been cleaned out and the sock drawers organized. When you switch from operating at 150 mph on any given day to 15, the engine startles.
What to do? What to do? Where to go? My mind spins wheels like a frenetic hamster. I went out of my way to distract myself with tasks and projects until it was useless. I was left to the void. The silence. The nothingness. The PAUSE.
I sat with the nothingness long enough to feel the vanity of existence. My guts churned with the soul crushing sadness of my own nothingness. My own mistakes and weaknesses.
This tendency to do, to do, to do is a reaction to the overwhelming oppression of silence. The unbearable heaviness of being; a way to fill the void. In the modern world, I have become so used to noise, to chatter, to running around doing this and that, that I do not know how to handle the opposite–the silence, the absence of motion, so much empty space. These things make me depressed.
To silence the clutter is to pay attention to the deep nothingness that lies on the fringes of life, that might, gulp, be at the center of life itself. It might be that I am so afraid of this existential angst of confronting the void, that I create all kinds of artificial and distracting environments to stray my attention away from it.
What has happened during the PAUSE is all these distractions have been put away. So the dread emerges ,that existential dread of nothingness, in those listless blue hours when no one is at home. It attacks me like a wild panther on the open plane with no cover or underbrush to hide in. When I feel exposed and vulnerable–that void which I fear is at the center of life, emerges to scare the daylights out of me. Pre-PAUSE I would have filled my world with easy distractions–a money-making career, cell phones, Macy’s sale days, cameras, Facebook, contacts, BMWs, socially scripted ways of climbing up the social ladder, the ambition to receive some prize, a husband and two kids in a colonial in the suburbs. I would even distract myself with myself.
But no more—Whoosh! All gone. Nothing but me and the void.
Yet slowly, slowly it happened. The nothingness and the sitting still forced me to do battle with my demon– to perform, to achieve, to do, to do, to do. I surrendered to the silence and the stillness and became silent and still. I sat and sat and sat through the stillness.
I could not run away from myself anymore because there I was, there I always was. I was locked in my cell, day after day. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. There you are—here. Deal with it.
In that stillness I heard the susurration of God: “You do not need to be in motion to move mountains. You do not need to accomplish in order to be validated. You do not need to be needed to exist as a being valued in and of yourself.” Sitting still this long by myself had opened up the vistas of self -awareness, as I had been running around getting lost in so many trees.
I have learned to settle in the stillness. I have learned that just being is not a waste of time. It is the grounding and the centering of self; it serves as the springboard for jettisoning into righteous action. I have slowed down long enough during this enforced confinement to sense the seconds not just the minutes passing by. Sitting still has forced me to become acutely aware of every passing moment. To live in the space of this present time. Not trying to escape it by retreating into the regrets and nostalgias of the past neither by racing to new horizons, plans and fantasies of some untenable future. Sitting in stillness has taught me the law of NOW the power of the present. Sitting still is the opposite of wasting your life: it actually enriches it.
The good that has come out of the PAUSE is the enforced reflection period. So many of us are thrust into the dialectic of meaning/meaninglessness. We have been forced to reevaluate our life’s choices and our goals. It has given us space and time to put the meanings in the centerpiece of our lives. When I consider how much fluff and nonsense, the minutaea and non-essentials that take up precious moments of every living day, I could scream. The PAUSE has allowed me to focus on the things that really matter—love, beauty, truth, creativity.
Strangely, I am starting to actually like the PAUSE.
This is an image of a practice in Africa known as female clitoral mutilation. It has been performed for centuries in Somalia and throughout Africa and the Middle East. It occurs when the female members of a tribe gather around a girl anywhere from infancy to 15 years of age, to essentially cut her clitoris with a razor, often not disinfected . Why? By taking away the ability to feel orgasm or any pleasure in the female, the theory goes it will lessen her urge to stray from her husband’s bed. To most Western viewers, this act is deplorable on most fronts. It displays the thick grip of patriarchy that would scar a just burgeoning woman in the flush of her sexuality from ever experiencing sexual pleasure in her life. It results in nullifying a woman’s sexuality save for her ability to bear children for her husband. She is reduced to a vessel, a container, a vagina, a place to sheathe the phallus. The practice belies the callous and cruel way the patriarchy blames women for sexual straying when the double standard bears the double-edged sword. It is men who tend to transgress sexually across societies but more so in those where the family’s honor is tied to a woman’s chastity. Never mind that this procedure unlike the Semitic practice of circumcision is extremely painful and results in more infections, can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. (For more facts read the fact sheet https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation)
Yet, what I find the most shocking in this practice Is that it is not men but women themselves who perpetrate it on other women. In many cases it is the girl’s own mother who yields the razor to her private parts. How does that happen? How can a mother bring pain to her own daughter? Why would a mother wound her own female child in the very epicenter of what makes her a woman?
This practice might not happen in Greek culture (you can cross yourself here). Only barbaric peoples resort to such atrocity. Not us. We are Hellenes. Civilized, logical children of the mind and the light. Yet, in many ways the patriarchy wounds Greek daughters and perpetuates cycles of conflicted motherhood in them. The Greek oppression and wounding of its daughters is less overt but just as harmful.
Growing up female in a traditional Greek house provided subtle yet screaming clues that registered a girl’s inferiority. Women are the ones who serve, not the ones served. My mother would run around like crazy taking care of the millions of details for huge family dinners. She would serve everyone first and be the last to sit down. She would always serve my little brother before my sister and I both older by far than he was. Even if I was the more educated and more mature, she would put stock in what my little brother had to say. Without words, she would not so much dismiss what I said as much as seek to reinforce it from a male’s opinion. When I was basking in my newly found independence as a young professor in Germany, she would call me hysterically on the phone guilt tripping me to come home. “There are so many dangers in the world that a young girl has no idea about,” she would cry.
Of course, mothers protect their young, but her constant prophesying for the worst made me doubt my own ability to deal with the challenges of life. The double standard was so clear in my house: my brother, a mere 12 year old, could frolic and play basketball, football and video games till midnight, while my sister and I were confined to cleaning the refrigerator. It took me till 18 to go out for a coffee with a friend. I came home at 10:30 at night to find my parents in a frantic state on the verge of calling the police because they could not get in touch with me. Yes, you can consider the family circumstances I grew up as extreme and not normal.
Yet, I do not think I am alone. Another woman of Greek descent explained that when her father was asked how many children he has, it was the custom in that rural sheepherding province to count only boys as children. “I have two children,” he would respond, “and one kopelli.” A daughter was less than a child; only sons counted.
Greek culture has praised and raised men to think they are superior to women; has raised a nation of women whose energies have fixated on child rearing and husband pleasing to the detriment of their own individuation. It rewards women who are self-sacrificing, all-giving; it elevates the icon of the good mother, the All-Holy Panagia, the vessel of a miracle. It expects its daughters to be like her.
This makes the mother-daughter relationship fraught with conflict. I have been gaining deeper insights by reading Of Woman Born, the classic feminist text on the subject by Adrienne Rich. She has taught me a new concept: matrophobia. “Matrophobia can be seen as a womanly splitting of the self, in the desire to become purged once and for all of our mothers’ bondage, to become individuated and free. The mother stands for the victim in ourselves, the unfree woman, the martyr.”
I look at my own mother. I have a love/hate relationship with her. I love her for the very same things I hate her for. She is so self-defacing, so giving, all sacrificing. She traveled to foreign countries to raise my daughter while I worked; she dutifully prepares meal after meal after meal, whether ill or tired or overwhelmed, whether we are hungry or not. She is patient and long-suffering. She was there to see me through a brutal divorce. She has been the rock, no matter what. She tried her best to shield us from the madness of my father. Yet at the same time, I hate her groveling, her victimizing herself, her tragic outlook on life. While she has provided material support basically through the basics of food and childcare, she has never been able to provide the emotional support. She has provided the schema for woman that I have internalized: to put others first even to her own detriment, to serve herself last at the dinner table. I have internalized her fatalism, her lack of self-regard and her self-hatred.
Whenever I let someone talk down to me, whenever I give up to my feelings of inferiority and helplessness, I am becoming my mother. All the parts of myself I hate I have mirrored from her. The weak defenseless vulnerable woman who is dependent on others. Whose only power lies in being needed. She suffocates with her love so that you want to cross three oceans to get away. I revolted in young adulthood by consciously and subconsciously moving as far away from the type of woman my mother modeled for me as I could. She was the dutiful homemaker; I was the wild spontaneous traveler. I swore from witnessing her negative example never to be dependent on a man for anything. I made my life harder by stubbornly refusing help.
My mother whether through her own person or the patriarchal scepter she carried in her has brutalized me. She reviles me and insults me. She scathes at my accomplishments. She has always held my brother in higher regard just on the basis of his sex, even if I was the more intelligent, the more mature and the more competent. She has eroded my confidence in myself by limiting my freedoms, by doubting my achievements. I have no real ally in her, not the kind that would genuinely support me unconditionally. She does not believe in me because she does not believe in herself, or any woman for that matter. She has been conditioned to think of herself as weak and defenseless without options. Her only way to survive is to act coy subservient to a male.
I do not like my mother because she of all people has enforced the oppression of patriarchy unto my psyche. This is the most heinous crime that a mother can inflict on her daughter: to teach her the written and unwritten codes of the patriarchy whether consciously or unconsciously. She is supposed to buttress me against the harm by a society that deems me inferior by virtue of my sex; instead she has added weight to the grinding stone of oppression. It is because of this that women grow up wary of other women. They cannot be trusted. They will betray. Like Cassiopeia she will sacrifice you to the monster.
I have so little in common with my mother. She dropped out of fourth grade; I pursued a doctorate. My matrophobia is so stark I would consider myself a failure if I turned out to be like my mother. I want nothing to do with her. I want her to be well, to live her curtailed existence of food shopping, laundry washing, food preparing. I sit with her sometimes to keep company, but there is nothing there. There is no deeper substance; I cannot say I do not love my mother. I do. She is lovable; I just am so different from her that I cannot find any connection. The type of woman I wanted her to be for me—independent, courageous, sharp-tongued, a fighter—she was not. It is this I most resent, her inability to provide an example for the type of woman that I needed to be.
But, wait, Rich explains, this is not her fault.
What Rich argues in the chapter “Motherhood and Daughterhood” is that to recognize that it is the stamp of patriarchy that damns women both as mothers and daughters. The best thing a mother can do for her daughter is love herself: “The nurture of daughters in patriarchy calls for a strong sense of self-nurture in the mother . . . a kind of strength which can only be one woman’s gift to another, the bloodstream of our inheritance. Until a strong line of love, confirmation, and example stretches from mother to daughter from woman to woman across the generations, women will still be wandering in the wilderness” (245-6).
The psychologist Rosjke Hasseldine has made a similar argument in her books The Silent Female Scream and The Mother-Daughter Puzzle. Here are snipets of her thoughts: “We see how life events, restrictive gender roles, unrealized career goals, and the expectation that women should sacrifice their needs in their caregiving role all shape how mothers and daughters view themselves and each other and how they communicate. . .In the second insight, I explain how patriarchy’s way of silencing and denying what women need is the root cause of most mother-daughter relationship conflict in different cultures around the world.”(https://ct.counseling.org/2020/01/uncovering-the-root-cause-of-mother-daughter-conflict/)
Rich explains again, “Many daughters live in rage at their mothers for having accepted, too readily and passively, “whatever comes.” A mother’s victimization does not merely humiliate her, it mutilates the daughter who watches her for clues as to what it means to be a woman. Like the traditional foot-bound Chinese woman, she passes on her own affliction. The mother’s self-hatred and low expectations are the binding rags for the psyche of the daughter . . . a daughter can feel rage at her mother’s powerlessness or lack of struggle—because of her intense identification and because in order to fight for herself she needs first to have been both loved and fought for.” (244)
Rich explains that in order to break the conflict with our mothers comes from a larger systemic splitting of the mother/daughter role in society. But mothers were daughters once and daughters will be mothers. It is not an either/or but a mirror and an organic unfolding. We have to work to accept and love both the victimized mother and the vulnerable daughter in ourselves in order to strengthen both relationships. Here is Rich again: “To accept and integrate and strengthen both the mother and the daughter in ourselves is no easy matter, because patriarchal attitudes have encouraged us to split, to polarize, these images, and to project all unwanted guilt, anger, shame, power, freedom, onto the “other” woman. But any radical vision of sisterhood demands that we reintegrate them.” (253)
“Women are made taboo to woman—in breaking this taboo, we are reuniting with our mothers; in reuniting with our mothers, we are breaking this taboo.” (255)
The older and wiser I get, the more I love my mother. I have come to terms with her, or rather the patriarchy instilled in her. I cannot expect her to be the mother I would like, that would be a wish fulfillment. I stopped expecting and started accepting. The older I get the more I have empathized with her position; she was poor, uneducated, beaten down from early on; she started working as an illegal child laborer at 11 to support her mother who was unable to work and provide for the family as she was bound by the strict roles of women as homemakers of her time. I have started to forgive my mother for not being the superwoman that I would have wanted her to be. She has been a hero in her own way. She endured. She loved in the ways she knew how.
By accepting her, I have started to accept myself. We are part of a greater systemic erosion of our psyches and by extension our lives. I have started to contextualize and not take everything so personally.
By uniting the daughter and the mother inside of us, we are breaking the taboo that no woman can be trusted; that she is an enemy disguised in nurturing clothes. By coming to terms with the deeper roots of our reactions, we can find a way to heal the mother-daughter relationship. And the mother-daughter relationship is the foundation of all relationships between one woman and another.
I am sorry to state the obvious, as I have stated many times before, the patriarchy still holds a tenacious grasp on the daughters of the Hellenes. Greek women do not support each other, really support each other and not in a superficial, scratch-my-back kind of way. They might be power brokers, they might have Hermes Birkin bags, shitloads of money, and beautiful bodies, but they do not support or aid each other (except when it can benefit their own advancement in which case it is an alliance based on masculine rules).
Until they can support each other instead of tear down each other, until they can see each other as sisters, victims of a patriarchal hierarchy that deems them inferior and only subservient to their brothers, until they look deeply within themselves to uncover the damaging effects of their own internalization of insecurity, they will never be empowered enough not to feel threatened by another woman’s achievements. They will never break the cycle of damage done to women at the hands of other women, even to their own precious daughters. As that saying that is widely circulating on the Web goes, “Empowered women empower other women.” I would add, “The daughter is mother of the woman.”
All quotes from Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Tenth Anniversary Edition. New York: Norton, 1986.
By now, you must be feeling like a felon on house arrest. Sure some states and countries have lifted restrictions, but let’s be honest, it feels like you are stuck. I have made the argument before about the advantages of moving to Greece, but COVID-19 just gave me another. People might be skittish about traveling for vacation or holiday to Greece, or anywhere, but this post is about helping you make sense of the facts to allay your fears.
WHY A GREECE VACATION?
- Greece has the lowest fatality rate due to Corona virus in all of Europe. The press has sounded the surprising success of this small nation to beat the pandemic rate, recording 166 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,850 confirmed cases. For a nation of 10 million, and close to 30% of those categorized as elderly, that’s not bad. In all probability, you will be going to a place where there is less likelihood of your contraction the contagion than if you stayed behind.e
- Greece is making it easy for you to visit. Contrary to what was happening until April, you DO NOT need to isolate and self-quarantine for 14 days as was the case. Greece is opening up for travel by changing protocols for travelers. Up to June, travelers coming into Athens Eleftherios Venezelos Airport will be swabbed in booths and watched for 24 hours. They will be hosted in quarantine hotels, compliments of the government, for one day and then be allowed to go free. However, Prime Minister Mitsotakis told the world in a televised speech that the swab test for Corona and isolation will not be done after July 1st. Greece has been vamping up its efforts to unroll its tourist season as 20% of its GDP relies on this sector. It has the most to lose out of all the European member states should its tourism plummet due to the pandemic. So far it is leveraging its success in the health front to upend what might be disastrous consequences to its economic front. Greece has the leg up on its neighbors Spain and Italy that were hit hard by the virus. As a result it is opening up for the season officially on June 15th. It will prove a test case of how well it can manage the pandemic as a holiday destination. It is a tight see-saw: it can win on the health front but can it win on the economic front? You can help balance out its precarious situation by visiting.
Mr Mitsotakis said that Greece had shown by its handling of the crisis that it was a “passport of safety, credibility and health . . .”It’s a great reputation,” the prime minster said, adding that the country had provided a “hygienic shield in every location of hospitality… our passion that is always inspired by Xenios Zeus”. The Greek god Zeus was god of xenia or hospitality, among many other things.
3. Greece is making it cheaper to travel. Greece is also making travel cheaper by temporarily reducing value added tax (VAT) on all transport – flights, bus journeys and rail travel – to 13% from 24%.
WHY TAKE A FLIGHT?
No one wants to get sick while in transit to their holiday destination. Many people feel unsafe taking air travel for a short summer jaunt and have decided already it is not worth the risk, especially since this virus is so novel and unpredictable.
I cannot lie the CDC has put out a statement saying that unless it is essential, we should forego our beach vacation this year. With that being said, airlines are putting in precautions to make the lessen the ease of transmission in a confined space such as an airplane.
Seating will adhere to at least the six foot distancing required as evidenced in scientific studies. The World Health Organization defines contact with an infected person as being seated within two rows of one another. A study by Emory University’s Vicki Stover Hertzberg and Howard Weiss, tracked infection transmission on flights from 3.5-5 hours in 2018. What the study showed is that most passengers left their seat at some point which circulated the air droplets for possible infection. This activity helps pinpoint the safest places to sit: by the window. This means that if you have to travel, choose a window seat as you will have the least chance of coming into contact with an infected person.
Take PPE with you. There is no restrictions on wearing a Hazmat suit, N95 masks, gloves and other equipment. Because the virus can survive on surfaces, there is nothing stopping you from disinfecting (the probably sterilized) airplane with your own Lysol spray.
Contrary to what people believe, the recycled air in an airplane hold will probably NOT get you infected. The filters for cleaning out the air in an airplane are some of the most advanced and super-effective known as HEPA filters. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air [filter]” and is supposed to filter out at least 99.97% of microbes, dust, pollen, mold, and any airborne particles that are 0.3 microns (µm) in size. That’s keeps out cooking smoke, but viruses measure in at .01-.001, they are tiny tiny suckers that might be able to pass through. But again, viruses can only travel so far. It’s unlikely they will get sucked into the air filter and rehashed through the cockpit. On a flight, your source of infection is going to be the guy who coughs next to you.
Another preventive measure is what Emirates is doing. (That’s the carrier I will be taking from Newark to Athens on a direct flight). They are testing all passenger to board their planes. In a test that takes 10 minutes, you will know if you are or are not COVID-19 positive. If you are, they do not allow you to board. That grants some sort of relief knowing that most of the other passengers on flight have tested negative. Granted this practice sparks all kinds of civil liberties and surveillance questions, it is what it is.
No one can tell you to travel or not to travel to Greece in summer. It really is hard to give a blanket statement for all. It is especially hard for those over 65 and with those with underlying medical conditions.
But if you choose to, you will be helping Greece’s economy and giving yourself a much-deserved respite from a world of lockdowns, shut-ins, and fearful hiding. Set your soul free by coming to Greece. Have a safe flight.
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 50
When I was about 8, my father, a native of a small Cycladic island and obsessed with the sea, would take me to Jones Beach for swimming lessons. Looking at the wild waves of the Atlantic frothing in fury, I was overwhelmed by dread. In between the lull of one white cap surging and the other, Baba forced me to float, the first step in the swimming process. But I would double up, contort and squeeze my stomach tight, which acted like a deadweight, the complete opposite of what was required to float. I was terrified of drowning. The sensation of heavy water pushing me down to the depths of which I had no control. I struggled within myself to trust the directive of my father—to relax on the water, to open my body like an open palm. The more I focused on my body and my fears of sinking, the less I was able to ride the waves. It was only when I trusted in my Baba’s hand, a thick, muscular working man’s hand, to a buoy me up, underneath the waves; it was only when I let go of my need to control my body and became one with the sea that I was able to allow the ocean to take me where in wanted. I was only able to swim when I surrendered to the sea. Even as the rush of rushing waves returned to assault me again and again.
The Governor of New York has issued a warning that we must be ready for a tsunami. What we have lived up to now will only get worse in the next two weeks. Understandably, I have freaked out. The terror of death confounds me—tightening up every sinew into chicken wire. I have made sure my will is in order. I am scrambling to find a priest to take a virtual confession. Mindful of death in my middle age, now I walk around with the hour glass of sand trickling at its last quarter inch. I believe that every day will be my last. Like a chicken without a head, I shed the virus of fear to my family around me. “Calm down,” my daughter says, “You are driving me crazy! Stop freaking out!” “Maybe you should smoke some weed,” my brother says. “You are not really a Christian if you are so full of anxiety and not trust. Your religion goes out the window when you face a crisis,” my older daughter digs in. “You are a hypocrite.”
My normal mode of survival is “flight.” To escape my self-prophecied fate, I rented a small apartment in the upstate NY college town of Oneonta.
I spent the day listening to the life of Saint Mary of Egypt whose memory we commemorate today, the 6th Sunday of Lent, and scrubbing, sweeping, scouring with a potent brew of cocktails of chlorine, Windex, Great Value bathroom cleaner and other disinfectants. The drive through Delaware County was deliciously beautiful. Even though the spring has not ascended yet, the birch trees huddled in their fantastic fractal frenzy against a backdrop of blue sky; cumulative clouds hovering over rolling mountains casting moving shadows over swaths of pine and fir; red barns sentinel against chestnut lines scratching in fine lines the receding majesty of green. It was utterly beautiful, not a soul was on the highway. I spent the day in silence and solitude. These wide open spaces humble me allow me to remember that I am nothing, have little control in the grand scheme of things. This is where I kick myself. It doesn’t really matter that I have not accomplished this or that, that I have fallen short of my dreams and grand expectations for myself. Because in the end, it wasn’t much in my control anyway. My life has manifested in its own course, and I must accept it for what it is. The anxiety over life comes from our need or rather delusion that we can control it.
Funny, when I do a lot of housework ,my mind roams through the backcountry that normally I do not tread, just like the drive through the mountains.
As I scrubbed deep the surfaces of the visible life, eliminating the dirt and grime and this invisible mortal enemy, I was overcome by a bittersweet peace that comes with acceptance. It feels like I am waving goodbye to my life (even though I do not know if I will survive this plague). I am so grateful for it. I have lived a long rich life. I know many people will lose their lives today and every day after that. However frail the human condition is, we must accept it as it is. We must have the humility to accept that certain things are beyond your control. The younger you are, the more you think you can control the circumstances of your life. The older you get, the more you realize the limits of your control.
Mopping the old carpet, another thought fluttered through my mind related to the gravity of simplicity.
By paying attention to the simple act of cleaning the nooks and crannies of a grease-filled apartment, wiping away dust, bringing cleanliness to what was filthy—it is this simple act that brings meaning. Indeed, the act of cleaning and organizing relegated to women throughout the ages has become a heroic feat in this battle against the virus. What was once devalued and meaningless is elevated into the highest act of courage. The minimum-wage cleaning lady, or the harried unpaid housewife, is more important now than the 5-star decorated general or the high-powered lawyer. The simple acts the women who have slaved at for millennia, putting things away, ordering and organizing, making sure life is livable—how infinitely powerful and valuable. In the end it’s not what we do, but how we do it that really matters.
With the tsunami coming, the grim reality of hundreds of thousands of deaths eminent, I try to relinquish control. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and my sin, for my sin is ever before me. I am trying to come to peace with my soul and the God in it. They say that prayer is the conscious presence of God in the deep heart, not just words rattled off the lips. Prayer is a condition of the heart. I am praying for this prayerful condition, so I can acquire it before it is my time to go.
I have always tried to escape in my life, never satisfied with what I am doing and where I am standing at the moment. I have been searching and wandering for a utopia that does not exist. I am starting to understand that what I am searching for is not some physical place, but a spiritual space. I think God has given me the wisdom to realize that right here, right now there is beauty, there is light. Heaven and hell can reside on the same pinhead. I am struggling with my fear and anxiety, asking God, to have mercy on my soul, and if it is my time to die, to give me the peace to accept it. That is all we want really, peace, isn’t it?
Strange, but this is exactly what the circumstances have been pointing to. This PAUSE allows for the reflection to find our peace. I am going to be alone in this house in the mountains. Away from my family who has refused to follow me. (Sometimes it is our very families that we need to separate from to find our inner peace). I’m going to use this experience of being separated from my family, just my soul and God, to see if I could endure the solitude. In a way this is enforced monasticism.
When I first entered the dilapidated cabin, window screens punched in, storm door rusty not able to open but half way, I shook my head and said, “No I can’t do this. I can’t live all by myself without anyone. I am going to die all alone in the mountains.” And then I entered into the space; in the solitude and silence I could hear God’s whisper: “Use this time as an experiment.” I will pray more here, I will struggle to be in communion with God more. I can manage the loneliness because I can be at peace with God in my heart. That’s all I need God. St Mary of Egypt kept quarantine for 47 years in the desert. She became saintly because she focused her attention on the Holy.
I will use this time to get closer to God; I will learn slowly to trust in God, really trust, not just when things go right. I will have to struggle with the dead weights of my fears and anxieties. I will have to learn to let go and trust in God, the universe, so I can float along its Will.
This is what we all must do now: surrender to the coming wave, float on the surface of the sea with our Father’s hand underwater, even if it is a tsunami.
As the cloud of the coronavirus has darkened most media outlets, it has eclipsed the coverage for #International Womens’ Month. This is a repost of the champion of Hellenic women’s rights: Kalliroi Siganou-Parren.
Lets face it, if you had been born in a backwards village in the backwaters of Greece in the 19th century, you would have faced marriage in your teens to a man you had never met or met for a brief coffee that was twice your age. You would have been beaten if you did not follow his dictates. Your destiny for marriage partner, the decisive factor for your life, would depend on your dowry. Think about it– a big pine chest with a few linens and silver cups–would determine your future. You would live “kept in line” by the tyranny of the honor code: you could not walk outside the boundaries of your rigid gender role, not be seen walking by yourself or speaking to outside your immediate kin by fear that you would be spoiling your family’s reputation. You would probably be illiterate or have an elementary education, because women could not attend university like their brothers. You would be relegated to a life of raising children, shackled to the sink and stove. If this state of affairs resembles too closely a “Nightmare in Saudi Arabia” documentary, take a deep breath of relief that you as a Greek woman living in the Diaspora has more freedom than some of your counterparts back in the Old Country.
What you might not realize is that the freedoms Greek women enjoy only recently came about. The dowry system was banned in 1983, that’s in your lifetime. Greek women earned the right to vote in 1952, almost 40 years after the women in the US. Arranged marriage still happens in Greece and Cyprus, and even in the US (Callinicos’ classic text of growing up female in America American Aphrodite documented the practice in late 1970’s New Jersey).
In patriarchy oppressed Crete, where the “extreme” men have taboos of engaging in “female” domestic work such as cleaning up after their meal for fear of losing their masculinity, a forward-thinking woman rose up to champion the rights of women. You have never heard of her, Kalliroi Parren, but this is her story.
Kalliroi Siganou Parren (1859–1940) is remarkable as the founder of the Greek women’s rights movement, the first Greek female journalist with an international following, publisher of the first journal dedicated to women’s rights, political reformer and philanthropist.
Kalliroi Siganou-Parren was born in 1859 in Platanias, a village in the Amari Valley near Rethymnon, Crete. She was the first to introduce feminism to Greece, mainly through her weekly ‘Ladies Journal’ (Εφημερίδα των Κυριών) and therefore she can also be regarded as the first female journalist in Greece.
During the last half of the nineteenth century the Greek nation was trying to define itself as a modern European state but also as the bearer of ancient Greek customs, traditions and lore. The question of women’s rights and the role of women in society influenced this cultural process and was reflected in the arts and the cultural life of the time.
Kallirroi Siganou-Parren advanced her feminist ideas through her writing and her political work on this background of a state trying to find its cultural identity. At first her family lived in Rethymnon but due to events during one of the many Cretan uprisings against the Turkish occupation of Crete (1866-1869) the family was forced to flee Crete and settle in Athens. Here, in 1879 she graduated from ‘Arsakeion’ – a private institution that trained female teachers run by nuns.
For a while she worked as the headmistress of a girls school in Odessa until she met her husband, the Anglo-French journalist Jean Parren. The couple moved back to Athens and the journalistic milieu she met here inspired what she called her ‘mania for writing’. She was foremost occupied with women’s emancipation through education and work.
The ‘Ladies Journal’ that were soon to become an intellectual forum for scholarly women she founded in 1887. It became one of the most successful periodicals of the time and until 1917. In her articles Parren brought forward the first coherent ideas about a women’s liberation programme in Greece redefining traditional gender roles within the framework of the Greek nationalist ideology of the time. Moderate, as it may seem today, it provoked an outcry in those days.
Apart from journalism, Parren also wrote translations, interviews, travel journals, biographies, novels and plays. In one of her most well-known works, the trilogy ‘The Book of Dawn’ (1899-1903) she described the emancipation of women as a process of self-discovery gradually releasing women from the restraints of social conventions leading towards equal relations between male and female roles in society. She describes her vision of women as educated and independent but also maternal-capable and the nationalist sentiments of the time is reflected in the idea that women should raise citizens that are willing to sacrifice everything for the security and social progress of their nation.
In 1896 she also founded the ‘Union for the Emancipation of Women’ and the ‘Union of Greek Women’. She educated women in reading and writing, founded hospitals and homes for widows and orphans. It was through her influence that women were permitted to study at the Universities in Greece and women doctors were appointed to women’s prisons. She also campaigned for a legislation to protect women in paid employment.
Because she was opposed to Greece participating in World War I she was exiled to the island of Hydra in 1917 and therefore had to close down her newspaper. But on her return the following year she immediately took up her work again. In between the two world wars she presided over the ‘Lykeion ton Ellidon’ (Lyceum of Greek Women) but other women’s organisations had been formed and gradually she became a representative of the more conservative position among the women’s liberation movements in Greece. Her organisation mainly engaged in philanthropic work.
She was awarded the Silver medal of the Athens Academy, the Silver Medal of the Red Cross and the Medal of the Municipality of Athens. Kalliroi Siganou-Parren never had any children. She lived with Jean Parren until her death in 1940. She is buried at the First Cemetery in Athens.
If it was not for her foresight, you and your sisters would not be the doctors, lawyers, corporate professionals that you are allowed to be today in addition to the mothers and grandmothers you have always taken as a given. A new wave of reformers must come up through the ranks especially in the wake of the Eurocrisis where women’s work has been devalued (I heard of a neighbor, a single mom, working for 12-hour shifts in a bakery in Athens for 400 euros a month) and many of the social services allocated to women and children have been cut.
Now more than ever we need to support women and the institutions that help them gain economic independence, counseling, professional networking, and the ability to live fulfilled lives.
If you are reading this post, chances are you are very close to the elder members of your family. You might Skype and call them every day, you might live in the same neighborhood, maybe even in the same apartment complex, or like me, you live with them in the same house. This is a blessing. But now with the coronavirus outbreak, living with yiayia will become a nightmare.
Why? Because Greek grandmothers suffer from what I call “xerokefalia” (hard-headedness). You try to reason with them, you tell them about the dangers for their population specifically, and what do they do? The same old thing they are used to—take their karotsaki (carriage) and hobble to the grocery store on the main avenue, to do their daily food shopping.
I caught her this morning—just….as she was about to go out wearing her mandili, holding her umbrella.
“Α πα πα πα,” I screamed, “που πας αγαπη μου”
῾να αγορασω φασολακια από τη συπερ μαρκετ᾽
“Are you crazy!” I yank the karotsi out of her grip. Do you not understand that you are on quarantine?’
Ἀσε με, καλε῾ δεν μπορω να κατσω σπιτι. Den eine zoe afti. πρεπει να μαγιρεψω.
She gets livid with me. Sweet little old ladies can get nasty very quickly if you do not do what they want. “Leave me alone, leave me alone, mou echeis fai tin zoe me tis aidies sou.”
Giagias try all the tricks to get what they want—first is the drama usually focused around death.
“Δεν με ενδιαφερη, “I don’t care,” she goes on in machine rifle Greek, “let me go outside and let me die. I can’t live like this.”
“But Ma, this is only day 5! You have to have patience.”
It’s like reasoning with a toddler except with wrinkles, no teeth or fake ones. But she is adamant like a mule.
Then I use a different tactic.
“Please, mama, se agapame, we love you,” we don’t want you to put yourself in danger.”
“Παρατα με, What’s going to happen to me if I walk to the kineza to pay my phone bill—
῾Τo the kineza! I shout even louder. She is not even afraid to have contact with the Chinese lady at the corner phone store.
“Min stenachorgese,” she assures me, I’m not going to get sick. Δεν θα παθω τιποτα.῾
I have reasoned with her over and over. But it’s no use.
“I am trying to save your life, kakomira mou. You are the weakest link in this house!”
Did you hear in California they demanded that anyone over 65 to stay home?”
What I get in return is vriksimo! She has the kotsyia to tell me, I’m the one driving her crazy. That this is the worst situation she has ever lived through.
“Really ma?” I remind her.
You were born during the height of WW2.
In the deep cold of December.
7 months prematurely without an incubator.
With Nazi bombers overhead.
With no food except for bird seeds.
In a bombed out section of Athens.
With a bad case of pneumonia.”
“When it’s your ora,” she says, “it’s your time.” Moira—that’s it.
How to get into that fat skull that you while you can’t escape fate, you do not want to go and rub up next to her either.
The challenge to keep yiayia put in the house for another month, two, three? is as stressful as this whole coronavirus thing.
Each life stage has its own hangups. I live with a 20-something. She’s another one I have to keep on lock down. In the last five days, I had to counter the following quips from her—
“I got to get croutons for the salad” (Don’t you get it? We are on lock down. You don’t need to create a 5-star chef salad. Use what we have.)
“This is all bullshit to scare us; I’m going for a jog in the park,” (I am not going to jeopardize the life of my mother for your workout! Do the poor man’s workout and go up and down the stairs inside the house.)
“I have an appointment with my girl from the DR Belkis on Dykman to do my nails” (You can survive without doing your nails for one month. Do it yourself).
This quarantine business is going to play out as a Greek tragi-comedy in my house as we like good Greeks live in a multi-generational household: three generations share the same house, even if on separate levels.
For the last two years, we have managed to share space without choking each other. But now that we are in such tight quarters, θα γινει της τρελλης, to not use a worse word.
So far I have failed to drive sense into both generations.
My 20-something sneaked out with her friend Michael for a late-night walk to the park. And yiayia, well, she sneaked out from the basement stairs. And where did she go? To the dry cleaners to pick up the poukamisa for her adult son. Ironically, he does not need them now as he is working from home.
You go reason with the stubborn old lady in your house.
So I tried another idea. If she has trouble listening to her daughter, an inferior role to hers, maybe she will listen to an authority?
I tried calling the social worker, a gentleman from Cyprus, at the local senior citizen center. “Do you find that senior citizens are having a difficult time following guidelines to stay home?” I wanted to ask him. “You should put out a special PSA just for the Greek elderly community.” But alas, the office was closed.
Is my yiayia an isolated example or in general do the Greek elderly not listen but do tou kefaliou tous?
I do not know how I am going to survive this thing.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is the English saying. In Greek it should be, “You can’t keep yiayia in the house.”