Walking up here i passed a lot of trucks parked waiting for a ferry. The truck drivers had gathered around with their buddies and set up ad hoc barbeques. I would like to have a job where i never spend longer than a night anywhere, but when i do get some downtime i can have a picnic. Picnics are grand.
I just remembered when i was together with M one of our "things" (every couple has a "thing", right?) was to have indoor picnics. Put down a blanket and just get lots of picnic-type things like cold cuts and pickles and enjoy.
Though, i guess truck drivers don't get to walk much. I would miss walking.
I just met one. J from Thessaloniki. He has been driving for almost 30 years. He came up to talk to me because he said i looked Greek. Perhaps i do, like an Amazon, or Xena. "Italians are so small!" I think he might have been trying to pick up - or at least flirt - at first. "Don't mind i keep touching you, this is how Greeks talk, we are very close!"
He was thrilled to hear about my adventures. "I drove to Vladivostock once. It is hard, no one speaks English until you get to the coast. Stay on the coast." He had spoken to two French girls on the same ferry crossing a couple months ago who were backpacking to China, but they were going over land. He seemed relieved i was taking a boat - much safer. Well, as long i don't run into Trump's armada on its way to start WW3. The Greeks think Trump is awful too.
I have a vague memory of something Paul Theoroux noticed about Greece during his Pillars of Hercules trip. He said they looked back to the past a lot. J didn't disappoint. He said i shouldn't stay in Patra - go straight to Athens and see the Parthenon, then go to Delphi. And i should take a tour bus to see the historical sights of the Peloponnese, like Argos and Olympia. He explained i should make sure to get on deck tomorrow so that i can see all the famous islands from the Odyssey. We will be passing Ithaca. "People used to think it was just a myth, but it is not, we will pass it."
He also spoke of "the Great Alexander", and how he made it all the way to China. How the Philippines is thus named for his father, Philip II of Macedon. [It was in fact named for Philip II of Spain, 2000 years later.] "He didn't conquer the world, he was welcomed, he brought civilization." I remarked skeptically that the ancient Greeks "spread democracy", with the implication that this is the sort of imperialism present-day America is hated for around the world. J gave a knowing smile so i took that as a cue to talk politics.
"Is it really democracy if it is only for the rich?" J didn't think so. A true democracy would neither be like ancient Greek times nor like our modern so-called democracy where the rich manipulate the system to their own ends. What about the current situation of Greece in the EU? He didn't believe it was Germany's fault. He's a truck driver, so all he does is drive from factories to stores. "You look at every small town in Germany, they all have a factory. There are no factories in Greece any more, so there are no jobs in Greece any more." Apparently all the factories moved to Bulgaria and Romania, since they joined the EU in 2007.
I actually know someone who works for a company with several factories in Romania - my father. They're a poor country too, and the industry there is terrifically polluting. I asked J what he thinks could bring jobs back if there were no factories. "Hotels!" He explained that Greece is paradise ("you will see when we sail past the islands tomorrow") and that it was on the same latitude as Florida. "We should be the Florida of Europe!" I have never heard of anyone speak of Florida so highly, though it's possible his image of Florida - much like mine, to be honest - is pretty much just based on Miami Vice. So, you know. Rich. Fashionable. Not a giant swamp full of mosquitos and gun nuts. Anyway, back to J. I said i thought that Greece already was the Florida of Europe. "No, no, it is too hard to make tourist trade here. People try to open a hotel here but there is so much paperwork. They wait and wait and then they open a hotel in another country instead." I didn't ask because i didn't want to push too much, but i suspect Croatia joining the EU in 2013 had an impact. Croatia is the new, hip beachfront destination of Europe.
But the idea that there is a lot of paperwork was interesting, so i asked further on that. The discussion went back to the rich. The rich are in the government. They create bureaucracy to make themselves richer. No one wants to share, it is not a true democracy if only the politicians are getting rich. He joked that the EU should come in and install an EU government in Greece to replace the Greek government. "Maybe a German government! The Germans are not the problem, you see. They loaned us money, they want it back - of course they want it back, wouldn't you? No, the problem is the Greeks who keep putting money in their own pocket and don't share."
So how to fight this? What can you do to change things? He thinks the only way is to make good money yourself and then give independently. Buy someone dinner when they can't afford it. Give them money when they need it. When you get older you can spot the people who need it. There is no point owning things. "In Greek we have a saying: 'Do you have money, or does money have you?' You might think you are free walking the world in your backpack, but you are not really. Do you have a bag, or does the bag have you? Maybe you forget it somewhere. You always need to worry. I bought a BMW once. But then i woke up at night to look out the window to check it was still there, that no one had stolen it. Then i thought to myself, do i have a BMW or does the BMW have me? Ha! Ha!"
I woke briefly when we docked at Igoumenitsa. Then i woke again a few hours later. The boat is almost completely empty now. Just a tour bus of Italian school kids and truck drivers. Who wants to go to Patra? It is not next to a famous Greek holiday island. It is not on the way to Eastern Europe. I guess most people who come to Patra are trying to get to Athens without taking a plane, which - due to low-cost carriers - would be both cheaper and faster. So who? Truck drivers and me.
The sea outside is like soup. The air is still. It feels amazing we are making any headway at all. In antiquity, surrounded by mist, you could hear a siren and row round in circles for days.
I saw J again this morning as we sailed through turquoise waters and past Lefkas. "See, here! Right here! Imagine a grand hotel in this beautiful place. We could be the Florida of Europe!"