Athens and Kifissia

I have been curious about how Greece is doing, given the economic troubles and the refugee situation. So I was pleased to accompany “he who is tired of being called Mr. France” to a conference in Kifissia, an affluent suburb of Athens.

The short answer is, they are doing as well as can be expected.

You can see that before the downturn gracious old homes were being sold, to be demolished to make way for apartments.

Gracious apartments? No, unfortunately not. Developers were following their usual pattern of squeezing the biggest, cheapest building possible on a lot, preferably with the fewest possible parking spaces. Street parking in this area, even given the number of vacant buildings, is already at a premium. Traffic is already congested. Honestly I hope the squatters who must surely live in these buildings render them uninhabitable, that permits expire and that whatever eventually goes in is scaled for the area, including the area-standard one-lane streets.

It looks like the greedheads lost a round. For everybody else, it’s just plain tough. Good people went under too. Many businesses located just outside prime locations went under and have not been replaced. Many beautiful restaurants went whole meal times with maybe just half a dozen tables filled. I was delighted to find Greek designers with shops alongside the usual Italian and French ones. I was less delighted to be the only customer in many of them. Whatever remains, such as the church and park above, is beautifully maintained.

I’ll let this healthy little guy stand in for the scrawny, barely weaned kitten I fed one lunchtime, so hungry he forgot he was supposed to be feral. He filled up and finally did run away before I could get too serious about rescuing him.

Above is the temple of Hephestos. Many temples and other monuments seem to have been restored as part of philanthropic and academic archaeology programs.

American money built or rebuilt this stoa for use as a museum. These efforts continue, of course. In general I got the feeling that education, philanthropy and tourist money are keeping people coming and ordinary businesses afloat. Tourist places were pretty busy. The rest were either shuttered or just hanging on.

If you can, consider going to Greece. Consider visiting cities and towns, rather than just rushing to the beach. Have a nice stay and throw some money at the locally owned businesses. They need it and there is still a lot to like.

11 thoughts on “Athens and Kifissia

  1. Ah, Greece. It was shameful what was done by its politicans and the EU to make it a member. Cooked books. Greed all around. Some years ago, there was a report about how only 300 swimming pools had been declared for taxes, just one example of evasion. But as you say, ordinary people are hurt, too. Planet Money had some good podcasts about how people were dealing with losing jobs. I’m glad it seems to be looking up at long last. I really loved my visit there.

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    1. Well, there are a lot of things they could do to improve tax reporting. I’m in the camp that believes that the real greed was in France and Germany, in the banks that knew the books were cooked but loaned anyway, knowing that if it all went south, they would be bailed out. I grew up in California but I spent enough time in Mexico to become deeply cynical about human nature, about greed and the hunger for power. I guess that’s why I value my friends and the straight-shooters with whom I worked, so highly. I’ll look for those Planet Money podcasts. Thanks for that.
      As for Greece, I’m not so sure that it’s improving. I got the feeling that the losses were taken some time ago. Now it has stabilized, at least for the time being. But seeing the difference between the tourist spots, which were doing well, and the elegant restaurants and shops in Kifissia, which depended on local patrons and which were only lightly patronized, did not give me a feeling of comfort. It was more that they had learned how to get by and were holding on, hoping for better times.

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      1. Yes, but the loans were from private banks, not countries. The EU made some but Greece benefitted enormously from cohesion funds, which were handouts, not loans, designed to lift poorer EU members. But the original euro members wanted Greece to be part of that group, even though it didn’t qualify. Being part of the euro gave it unwarranted credibility that it used to get more indebted. It also meant Greece no longer had the main tool for dealing with crisis–devaluation.

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        1. Yeah, that’s all true. I’m just sorry the whole euro thing didn’t start off on a more solid footing. This problem of the huge difference in abilities and needs between the countries is still not resolved. As far as credibility is concerned, I think there were a lot of bankers turning a blind eye, helping to cook books, etc. Merely being part of the eurozone would not be enough by itself. If an architect sitting in California, whose only resource was articles in the Los Angeles Times, could see that all those loans were a bad idea, surely bankers and economists could see it, too. If we were just talking about cohesion funds, they wouldn’t be in the mess they are in now.

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          1. I imagine so. It’s the loans that are killing them. I wonder where all that money went. Infrastructure? I think I remember reading something about a hiring boom and, as you say, a bit of a tax holiday. Whatever it was, it’s over now.

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          2. Well, the debt was bought by big investment funds, and the money disappears because of paying them back. As for the cohesion funds, there was a lot of corruption. Look at Spain, which wisely invested its funds in things like its ICE train network and roads.

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