Dante, in his “Inferno”, wrote that there is no greater pain than remembering times of joy in times of sorrow – the opposite is also true, there is no greater joy than thinking of Northern Europe’s autumn gales and dead leaves while strolling through the leafy streets of Kolonaki in Athens, in a balmy 30 degrees while piles of purple figs and translucent strawberry-scented grapes spill out from the grocer shops, and blue plumbago festoons itself around the outdoor cafes.
While sitting at a table outside, waiting for a friend and staring into space thinking of what to write for this blog, a man at the table next door asked what I thought staring into space would do. I replied “I am waiting for the Muse,” to which he replied, quoting in ancient Greek, the opening of the Odyssey. (For those who haven’t yet discovered the joys of Homer, it opens with “Sing to me Muse, of the man and his wanderings”) As an Ithaca girl, from where Odysseus set forth and to where he took so long to return, that pleased me enormously. Only in Greece….
Which brings me to Maria. Maria is the side of Greece that the newspapers overlook. Maria is a young Five Star Greece taxi driver. She comes from the beautiful island of Amorgos but as she suffers from sea- sickness and is afraid of the sea, she rarely goes home to her sea-girt island. The only remaining island trait that lingers in her is her passion for fishing. She never takes holidays, but this August to celebrate the great 15th August holiday, she went to the coast for a few days to go fishing with her new husband. Except that on the 14th, a client of hers, a wealthy Filipina lady living in Dubai, called to say she wanted to be picked up from Athens Airport the next day to go to her hotel.
” I hope you didn’t break off your holiday for that,” I said. ” The taxi fare wouldn’t even cover your petrol to drive back to Athens!”
“What could I do,” replied Maria, “I didn’t want to ask any other taxi driver to do it as they have family and children and that would ruin their holiday as well, so I went back. The only disapppointing bit though was that she forgot she had ordered me- I waited 1 hour and then when I finally tracked her down to her hotel they told me she had taken another cab. She offered to pay me but I said no, just next time to remember that I am a human being too.”
“Serves you right, ” I said unfeelingly, “Did you drop her as a client?”
“No, no, in fact, the next week, I took her to the doctor, waited an hour with her, accompanied her to the appointment to translate for her as she spoke no Greek and the doctor no English, and then drove her back.” Maria then smiled wryly, “She offered me a 10 euro tip for all my help and to make up for the last time”
And here, in case you were wondering, is where I come to point of my story…
“Maria,” I said sternly, “You can’t let people treat you like that, you should have charged her properly.”
Maria looked embarrassed, “Ileana,” she said, “You are in one way right, but my philosophy is that life is not about charging money for doing good things, but is just for doing good things. We can’t think about money all the time.”
And that is why Greece will always be important to Europe’s soul, even if we can’t run a country or an economy to save our lives, and even if the Muses aren’t what they used to be…..