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  • Writer's picturePhilip Ammerman


Yesterday (Saturday) was not a great day. Exhaustion caught up with me, as did the strain of having to make some major decisions. And work. I cancelled appointments and stayed home in front of the laptop, trying to prepare for the great tsunami of work that starts on Monday.

Around 16:45 I ventured out to a nearby café in Athens, which was empty. Sat down, took out the laptop, kept plugging away.

Twenty minutes into my adventure, an old man sits down next to me and starts giving orders to the lady running the place. She turns on a flat screen TV to 11 (the old man was, predictably, half deaf). To a sports channel. Featuring an in-depth analysis of Leivadiakos soccer team. Before which the old man settled down, rapt and unmoving, even unblinking. Like a malevolent toad on a log.

Now, no offense to Leivadia – a small town between Thebes and Delphi whose main attraction is the ring road around it – but I can’t help thinking that their soccer team is towards the bottom of our list of concerns.

In fact, I doubt most Greeks remember that Leivadiakos has a soccer team, or why it is important other than as a speed bump on the road to the national championship.

But then my attention turned to this poor old man. I can’t imagine the poverty of his existence when he spends his Saturday afternoon in an empty café listening to (but barely hearing) the travails of the Leivadiakos soccer team.

He could, after all, read a book. Or the newspapers. He could garden. He could walk. He could take his grandchildren out for a treat. He could go to a museum or to the Agora and walk amidst the ruins of giants, contemplating life. Maybe he did all that already.

If I go to a café elsewhere in Europe, I will see couples and friends talking, students studying, people reading books or newspapers. In Vilnius, I remember one café chain that would be flooded by young students with textbooks. In Barcelona, the cafes are multi-generational. In Paris there is a regrettable influx of larger Disneyfied café chains but there are enough brasseries and bakeries to keep the culture flinty and authentic, without ersatz. In Vienna, some cafes are actually temples. In Milan the cafes are … well … they serve the best coffee in the world.

Greece is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We have the combined wisdom of ages that we can learn from. There are so many needs we have which volunteers could support.

But all over Greece, at around 17:30 on weekends, you see flocks of sallow old men drawn to the blare of a large television in a cheap cafe in the company of … other sallow old men.

I suppose they are doing their families a favour by leaving the house. And the € 2.40 Greek coffee isn’t bad either.


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