in Greece 2015

Who’s conducting?


Chatzimichali Ntaliani Street, in the old city of Chania, 10 July 2015. 

συναυλία (seen-av-LEE-ah) – n.: concert

CHANIA, July 10 – The heat, even in a town which banks on warm weather, dictates everyone’s behavior. Spending any time out in it requires calculation: how sweaty do I want to be when I get there? How much can I carry? What are my options for getting back? 

Because it gets so hot that stores close and people nap for part of the afternoon, Greeks tend to eat dinner late, and shows tend to start late. Tonight my teacher treated some of her students to a concert that started at 9:30 pm, a time I think of as when 20-somethings’ rock shows “begin.” 

It was a concert of λαϊκή (la-ee-KEE) music in a thousand-seat amphitheater. Λαϊκή, a cross between what Americans might call country and old-time square-dance music, is the definitive “folk” music of Greece, along with ρεμπέτικα (sort of like old-school Delta blues). The place was full, and half the time the crowd sang along. Here’s a poor bit of video

Greece has evolved quite pragmatic methods for coping with physical heat, from the structure of their daily schedules to the open, flat-roofed stucco apartments that dominate their modern residential architecture. When it comes to political heat, though, Greece has proven to be nowhere near as resistant. 
Facing the abyss of economic collapse, PM Tsipras’ last-ditch composition is a capitulation to the Eurozone, offering more in concessions than was voted down in the δημοψήφισμα just last week. It’s not even clear as of this writing whether he’ll get the one clear victory for Greece that Syriza was so good at highlighting the need for: debt restructuring and/or reduction. If they get $50+ billion written down, perhaps the €13 billion (up from the €8 billion rejected last week) in new concessions will have been worth it. 

Many Greek words that you would think would mean what they sound like in English mean something else entirely. The word for “agreement,” for example, is συμφωνία (seem-fon-EE-ah). But “symphony” is not what the Eurozone finance ministers are offering  at this point, nor are there plans to work in “concert.” The Greeks are now the audience. 

On a Friday night, the streets are bustling with activity after the show. The street life of Chania, a city of 55,000, feels like that of an American city ten times as large. Yet everyone has an eye on the doings in Brussels and Strasbourg. We’ll all know soon enough – by Sunday – what music Greece faces.