Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ruthlessly at Play With Our Destinies and Moods


Shortly after submitting my July column chronicling coronavirus for Greece’s Athens Insider Magazine, I received this email from its publisher: “When I suggested a monthly column, I really didn’t expect this invisible virus to play with our destinies and moods as ruthlessly as it has!”

And I thought I was the writer.

In a simple phrase she’d summed up the universal impact of a worldwide catastrophe on every soul on the planet … from pauper to President.  

That sort of insight on our times continues in this month’s issue of Athens Insider as it “kicks off the glorious Greek summer, rife with stories about how the way we perceive travel, fashion, the environment and freedom has been transformed forever.”  No wonder it’s been honored in its 20th year of publication by its hospitality industry peers with “The Best Travel Magazine Award.”  Congratulations.

And now, on to my column, as introduced by the publisher and titled, “The Fate of Nations at a Covid Crossroads.”

In his fourth chronicle since Covid took over our collective destinies, Jeff Siger, the American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years, ponders on how countries like Greece have to balance conflicting goals – letting tourists in without jeopardizing national health. At issue in 2020 is whether Greece will emerge from the year with its reputation intact as a place where tourists and locals value one another, and the health of all is paramount. Siger believes that what will keep tourists flocking back is a sense that in Greece they’re safe, amidst a world seeming less so every day.

This is the fourth of my monthly chronicles on living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years. My wife and I are in lockdown mode at our rural New Jersey farm, and expect to be here for the foreseeable future. New York and New Jersey have done a good job at battling the crisis, but by and large the situation in the US is an unmitigated disaster.

Even the bear that wanders across my property seems adrift these days. Yes, it goes through the paces of what was once its normal life, scratching its back upon a fir tree, flopping into the pond to briefly escape stifling mid-day heat—but it does so without enthusiasm, as if by rote more than desire. A post put up by a South African friend of mine on Facebook, railing at her current circumstances, could just as easily have been written by the bear. Here it is: 

“I think that perhaps, finally, I am losing it. What is ‘it’ you may ask? Well it has something to do with the brain, with expectations, with disappointments and with a gross suppression of anything that made our life what it was. I am without enthusiasm, hanging on to a modicum of humour and too many times in a day think ‘WTF.’ I suspect about half the world's population feels similarly, but that doesn't help. What to do. What to do. I'm confused. I'm sad. I'm fed up and yes, I'm thoroughly pissed off. At something I can't see!”


I’m starting from an indisputable medical premise: Covid-19 is a highly contagious, multi-organ destructive virus unlike any medical science has ever known, with long term risks to those exposed who survive that are still not understood.  That reality has hundreds of millions in our world wandering around muttering to themselves Laurence Olivier’s famous line from the film Marathon Man, “Is it safe?”

 As I’d feared in earlier chronicles, the US and several other nations (notably Brazil) have politicized public health issues, muzzled respected healthcare professionals, and jettisoned sound scientific advice in pursuit of selfish political agendas.  But enough about the US and its sorry state of affairs.  Nothing is likely to change for the better there in the foreseeable future.

What I wonder is how Greece will fare now that it’s out of strict lockup and welcoming back tourists. Of course, there are still rules and restrictions to follow, and categories of tourists (e.g., Americans) barred from entering Greece (or the EU), but Greeks are understandably desperate to do business. Financially, 2020 will undoubtedly be depressing…following a decade of the same.

Greece faces a momentous month ahead, entering into the very heart of tourist season.  At risk is its battle-tested reputation as a worldwide leader in successfully confronting Covid-19. The question is, how much of its newly gilded international stature is the nation willing to risk sacrificing in order to meet increasing domestic pressure from its distraught summertime tourism industry?

What is needed is a vision that will serve the nation best in the long run.  I don’t have one. I write fiction.

What I do know is that in the hard-partying tourist parts of Greece (and no place knows how to throw a better party than Greece) it’s hard to imagine social distancing and face covering efforts succeeding without uniform strict enforcement. The US certainly hasn’t been successful on that score. And it’s paying the price.

Friends tell me that some islands are reminiscent of the 70s and early 80s, sparse crowds, umbrella-less beaches, more intimate experiences.  Some see that as a sign of a new dawn.

But let’s be real.  There’s no going back to the 70, 80s, 90s, 00s or even 10s.  Greece is a tourist goldmine, with monied interests having established a massive presence offering every facility and service one can imagine for those willing to pay to be part of it all. 

At issue in 2020 is whether Greece will emerge from the year with its reputation intact as a place where tourists and locals value one another, and the health of all is paramount. What will keep tourists flocking back is a sense that in Greece they’re safe, amidst a world seeming less so every day.

So far, the international media has largely showered praise upon Greece for how well it’s handled the pandemic, barely touching upon other matters facing the nation. But the media is fickle, and if things should turn around, so will the news coverage. Determination, faith in science, and broad national pride has rightly elevated Greece’s position in the world, but along with that inevitably comes the unwelcome companion role of target for those poised to pounce on a fall.

I’m rooting for Greece.  So’s the bear; it knows what it means to be a target. 



  1. What a post! Three cheers for Greece for handling the pandemic well; at least, the government and public health system are pro-science. That's 180 degrees from what is going on in the White House, where they might recomment leeches and blood-letting next, after disinfectant. (That is so maddening; some people actually took it; some died.)

    Don't lose heart. Stay hopeful. At least you and Barbara are in a beautiful, calm setting. It's time to read, write, watch old movies and TV mysteries.

    Let's cheer for science and medicine.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, we're cheering right along beside you! Stay safe.

  2. I"m watching so much MSNBC and CNN news is coming out of my ears. But this White House is horrifying in all respects. And people are suffering medically and financially.

    Am reading Michelle Obama's memoir, but I should get back to crime's more of a diversion.