Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Decade to Come for Greece, the Decade Past for Mykonos

Greece is back in its national election cycle.  September (probably the 20th) will have Greeks to the polls for the third time this year. Once for a parliamentary election in January, another for a referendum in July, and now for a coronation…or so the “resigning” head of Greece’s predominant SYRIZA party hopes.   I’ve no doubt that is precisely what he’s expecting in calling two days ago for new general elections in September. Say what they may about him, he’s shown himself to be a savvy politician.

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

In January, the then far left candidate for prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, promised to end austerity if his party were elected, going so far as to denounce those who’d brought about Greece’s first two bailouts as traitorous. Once elected, his party’s tactics so antagonized its Eurogroup colleagues that the only deal left for his party to make was far worse than what he’d promised to “tear up” if elected. 

Then came bailout #3, passed last week only with the votes of opposition party members stepping in to fill the breach made by defecting radical left wing members of the Prime Minister’s party, including two outspoken former ministers and the speaker of Greece’s parliament.

Zoe, Yani, and Panagioti, aka The Three...

In other words, everything is going strictly according to plan. The only question is, whose plan? 

The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA’s formal name) did all the tough talk it had to do to get elected, and once in power as a government (in coalition with a right wing party) it fired up national pride with months of tough talk and harsh gestures tossed (literally) in the face of the nation’s “bullying” creditors.  But when the creditors didn’t blink, Greece’s negotiators caved rather than say bye-bye to the developed world.

One would think that would also be bye-bye to running a nation. But this is Greece, and Greece has its own Teflon Don…or in this case, All-clad Alex.  Nothing seems to stick. 

Now he’s claiming to have saved the country from suicide and, by resigning and thereby forcing snap elections, he’s seeking to cleanse his party of the “rebels” who dared to stick to the principles that got them elected.  Still, with the disorganized opposition he’s likely to face in the election, I would not be surprised to see his “refreshed” party gain a clear majority. (There is the constitutional right of each of the existing three largest parties in Parliament to try and form a government to avoid elections, but that seems remote considering the players.).

In other words, the darling of the far left will likely soon be at the head of a center left party—a more palatable form for the Greek polity—and if the International Monetary Fund is successful in convincing Greece’s other creditors that a severe debt reduction is the only way for Greece can get back on its feet (either through direct forgiveness or an extended payout schedule—like to the year 7575), he will be THE MAN.  Perhaps for a decade.

But while you wait to see how that political theater plays out, permit me to introduce you to something a bit more fanciful, about a decade just past.

In early May, I was in Athens’ Venizelos International Airport waiting for a flight to Mykonos when I ran across an old friend, Petros Bourovilis.   He’s the publisher of an annual summer magazine chronicling the past, present, and future of Mykonos. If it’s glitzy or serious, historical or questioning, spicy or fun, and runs to the heart of what makes Mykonos tick, there’s a good chance it’s made it into the stories, features, and photographs of Mykonos Confidential.

Gracious as he is, Petros asked if I was working on a new book.  I said yes, and he pointed out that I’d started writing my first book on Mykonos at about the same time as he started out with Mykonos Confidential. Then he said it’s been ten years for us both, and asked if I would like to write a piece for the magazine on how much the island had changed in a decade. 

I asked if I could write under an assumed name. We compromised on him picking the title. For those of you who may be interested here is my, “The Island of the Rising Sun” from the Summer 2015 issue of Mykonos Confidential:

We have entered a different world.  We no longer exist as we once did.  We are separate and apart.  We are imagination and fantasy, dreams and aspirations, a place in the sun unlike any other, fulfilling the great expectations of our planet’s buyers and sellers.

We are Mykonos ten years later.

I first came to Mykonos more than thirty years ago, and for the past ten have lived here longer each year than any other place on earth.  I’m not suggesting that shared decade entitles me to any credit or blame for what’s transpired, any more than does the tin (not a misspelling) anniversary of Mykonos Confidential charge my colleagues there. We’re just observers, each having chronicled in our own way events over those ten years that loom so dramatic in hindsight, but passed inconsequentially at the time—much as an unprotected beach slowly vanishes under the relentless pressure of gentle waves or the encroaching hands of determined appropriating man.  

Ten years ago I began work on the book that changed my life. I’d given up my position as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to live among my Mykoniate friends and write about the island’s people, culture and politics.  I titled that book Murder in Mykonos (Mystirio sti Mykono in Greek from Aikaterini Lalaouni Editions) having settled on a mystery format as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory.
This was how I described old Mykonos town back then:

“Mykonos was famous for tantalizing tourists with brightly lit shops, colorful restaurants, roaring bars, and freewheeling dance clubs, but this still was a town where people raised families and shared strong traditions. Down the less traveled lanes, children played their games oblivious to the occasional tourists squeezing through their four-, five-, or maybe six-foot-wide playgrounds. Pairs of grandmothers, all in black, did duty watching the children. They’d sit on stoops in front of their houses or, if a shop occupied the street level, on brightly painted wooden balconies outside their second-floor homes; balconies with gates guarding pets, pots of geraniums, draping bougainvillea, and—if rented to tourists—clothes left to dry.”

I don’t think I could say that today, as every nook and cranny seems converted into a profit center.  Much the same is happening at the island’s beaches.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that, for Mykonians have the right to decide their own fate.  Yes, admittedly I don’t agree with all that’s happened, but one thing I do agree with is that there is no place in Greece that’s done it with better style, taste, and appreciation of its past, as is reflected in the annals of Mykonos Confidential, a publication I’ve been honored to contribute to over those years.

One experience stands out in my mind. The world’s best photographer, Yiannis Dimotsis, was scouting for a place to take my photo for a story and settled upon a church next to the sea, but he wanted me up on the roof.  Artists.  So, there we are when a quintessential black clad ya-ya spots us up there and starts screaming at us to come down.

Unflappable Yianni smiled at her, “It’s okay keria, we’re from Mykonos Confidential.”

With that her shouting stopped, she nodded, and continued on her way.

Another fan of Mykonos Confidential.  Just like me.



  1. Mykonos Confidential made a good choice for its futuristic retrospective. You are in a unique position to provide such a perspective. Well done!

    1. Thank you, Stan. It was write that or pose in a bikini. I decided to spare the world the latter.

    2. I know someone who . . .

  2. I don't know, Jeff, that lady in the bikini arched over the rock looks quite comfortable to me (although it doesn't look like she's in a particularly comfortable position). Maybe you SHOULD try that bikini-on-a-rock position. I hear yoga takes YEARS off...

  3. Sometimes, your ability to laugh and make us laugh makes it all bearable.

    1. I generally view it as a matter of available alternatives, Lil. :)