Saturday, February 9, 2013

Once Upon a Time, There Were Gas Deposits in Greece.

When on book tour in the US, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”  I usually respond with something along the lines of, “Since the last Woolworths closed I’ve been forced to rely on epiphanies.” 

If that doesn’t raise at least the hint of a smile somewhere in the audience, I’m not discouraged.  Eternal optimist that I am, I take it to mean the assembly is from a generation unfamiliar with institutions once the backbone of American life, and not as an indictment of my sense of humor.  Before me I see an audience of fresh minds, waiting to be dazzled and enchanted (syns: baffled and bamboozled) with surefire magic tricks, tried and true crowd-pleaser lines, and a bit of the old soft shoe (that’s a dance).

In other words, I get to behave like a politician.

Vaudeville died out eighty years ago on the legitimate stage, but its world of separate independent acts grouped together in a common venue still runs strong in the political arena.   Magicians, jugglers, impersonators, comedians (of both the intended and unintended sort) fill their countries’ seats of power, mesmerizing audiences with more and more of the same.

What inspired this “thought” of mine was an article written two months ago for Greece’s newspaper of record, Ekathimerini, by Pantelelis Boukalis titled, “Pipedreams.”  I’d dropped it on my computer desktop and forgotten all about it until today.  It’s a rather sharp article suggesting “[Greeks] are being sucked into a frenzy over how [they] can be saved” from their financial crisis by reports of natural gas deposits capable of generating “enough money to pay off all of Greece’s debts, as well as those of Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Ireland to boot.”

Mr. Boukalis point is that this sort of panacea cure for Greece’s debt problems has come up before:  Salvation in the form of a 670 billion euros loan from Russia or a Middle East country (never happened); salvation in the form of 600 billion euros from a Greek American who wanted to rename Athens’ most famous square (never happened); salvation in the form of Greek ship owners willing to buy up a part of Greece’s debt (never happened); and salvation in the form of uranium and other mineral deposits capable of allowing Greeks to “live in comfort and bliss for the next 20 generations to come” (ain’t happened yet).

According to Mr, Boukalis, the gas discovery has been heavily hyped in the media since December as Greece’s new way out—coming at the beginning of a winter with so many Greeks unable to afford heating oil that not a tree or spare bit of wood is safe. Even the 2,400 year-old olive tree under which Plato is said to have lectured his pupils fell to someone’s quest for warmth.

Plato's Tree, before and after 
But to me, the most remarkable thing about the gas discovery salvation scenario is that the gas reserves are not a new story. Those gas deposits have been openly talked about among politicians for years. Whether they actually exist, their extent, and to which country they belong is a different story.  And speaking of stories, I once even considered writing a Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery tied into those deposits.  Hmm, perhaps it's time to pull out and dust off those old notes.

So, is all this talk of gas just the latest quick-fix palliative dangled before an audience in desperate need of hope?  Let’s hope it’s the real thing, but after a while one can’t help but think of applying an old adage to both the tales and their tellers: “Old wine in new bottles,” or the more modern, “Same old same old.”

For example, tell the West what it wants to hear in English (or French or German), and the Greeks what they want to hear in Greek. And never the twain shall meet. It’s worked before…to the great profit all who run the show.

As for the audience transfixed by the song and dance, who knows how long that state will last; after all, they’re still paying for the price of admission to the last show.



  1. It never fails to amaze me that people are more eager to find solace in dreams than action. I never knew about the gas saviour - and I hope it is more than a dream. What do the Turks have to say about it?

  2. Good question, Stan, though why should I be surprised:). Turkey's main attention these days is not on the gas fields I wrote about as they lie between Crete and Libya. What has Turkey rattling sabers (or kilig to be more precise) are the Leviathan gas fields on to the east of Cyprus. Those fields have Israel and the Republic of Cyprus working together, and Turkey laying claim through its occupation of Northern Cyprus. There are also claims by the Lebanese and Palestinians. Who knows how it all will end up in that part of the world. Those finds--heralded by some as capable of changing the balance of power in the Middle East gas/oil world-- will undoubtedly add "fuel" to the fires always burning in the region. Lurking in the background to all of this are the ecological effects of an oil rig disaster in the Mediterranean ... where not just accidents, but premeditated attacks are a very real risk.

  3. It seems to me that dreams of a savior come when people feel helpless and anxious about their lives. The area of the world you describe is a precarious one in terms of turmoil, and people really just want to live their lives in a beautiful setting. The sadness is that ordinary folks are the sacrifice when those so-called leaders indulge in their game. I'm sad about about Plato's Tree. It and the visions it evoked can't be replaced.