Prose, partly funny, partly profound about our everyday life in Ikaria, the island of centenarians, about the intertwining of relationships, about the happiness, love and the unshakable joy of life of these people. I’ve written a whole series of little island stories. You can find the links below.

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The crisis has many faces

I’ve been back home for almost a week. I had a few great days in my old home, saw all my loved ones again and had two lovely Greek dance workshops in Zurich and Basel with Isabella! As always, it was a lot of fun to bring Greek sun and sounds into the Swiss winter!

I actually already felt in Athens that I was home again. First of all, the sun hugged me! I stuffed my down jacket and thick bow into my suitcase and enjoyed the day with a wool jacket and sunglasses. But even the sunglasses couldn’t hide the obvious poverty on the outskirts of Athens.

At the center one is tempted to ask: “Crisis? Where?” In Ermou Street (something like Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse) everyone is walking around loaded with large shopping bags and only when you look closer do you notice that all the traditional small local shops have disappeared and are replaced by the large anonymous chain stores such as Zara, H&M, Marks&Spencer and Co have given way! In the outlying areas, however, you suddenly see empty or locked shops, condemned buildings, drug addicts, begging women with small children on their laps, homeless people, empty cafeterias and taverns and suddenly you realize that the city center is a polished tourist showcase.

I was finally standing at Athens airport when I unexpectedly met my neighbor Dimitris at the gate, waiting for my plane to Ikaria. He immediately came up to me joyfully: “Welcome to the fatherland (Patrida!).” With his well-known sense of humor, he asked me if I had brought the bad weather with me! An older gentleman with crutches struggled to get out of the chair in front of us and Dimitris let him go first with a gallant wave of his hand: “The patched up people first!”

Dimitris actually had nothing to laugh about since he left his wife in Athens for chemo. He had to go back to the island to check on his farm and the animals. He couldn’t financially afford to stay with her and support her. I didn’t ask because many people in Greece still believe that if you talk about the devil, i.e. cancer, then he will come. The disease is just called “the bad one” and everyone knows what they are talking about without mentioning its name.

Dimitris grabbed my hand luggage, which is what Greek gentlemen do – “Just leave it alone! “I’ll do it.” – and headed into the little bus that was supposed to take us to the plane, maybe I should say little plane. Because when we saw it standing there so small and pretty, he felt completely different. “Who will hold my hand during the flight?” He then sat one row behind me and I watched furtively as he, a mature man of 60, with a paunch and a mustache, kept his gaze convulsively focused on the wonderful view throughout the flight to the islands below us. However, he didn’t miss the opportunity to have a chat with the neatly dressed stewardess who handed out sweets to us, which visibly seemed to calm him down. When he arrived in Ikaria, he was his old self again. Let the “patched man” and I get out first, grabbed my heavy suitcase from the conveyor belt and organized a taxi for me. That’s just how they are, the Icariots! Kind, helpful, gentlemen, always with a funny saying and yet a bit like big boys. I ended up back home!

My men have been eagerly awaiting me, because love literally goes through the stomach (not only, but!)! And slowly I sorted out my everyday life again. The weather is now stormy, rainy and freezing cold! In Switzerland it was colder in terms of temperature, but the cold is completely different! It is windy and humid here. The salt content in the air brings the measured 8 degrees to what feels like below zero! Thank God our fireplace is on day and night and our house is nice and warm and cozy. When the sun briefly creeps out from between the clouds, people do the same, like the lizards that climb onto a stone with every little ray of sunshine and store as much heat as possible.

Every morning I go to our small shop, although customers are, as expected, rare due to the crisis. Today Lena* came to buy a small name day present for a Nikos (St. Nicholas, December 6th). We started chatting and after she asked about all my relatives in Switzerland, as is customary, she began to talk about her own family. The son is a teacher in Patras, his wife with two small children here with them, the in-laws, in the same household. The son cannot support the family of four with his small teacher’s salary, so he rented a small room in Patras and sent the young family to his parents in Ikaria. A few months ago they took in their own unemployed daughter, the teacher’s sister and a trained but unemployed sociologist. Now the parents are required to use their small pension of €700 to accommodate and feed their unemployed daughter and daughter-in-law with two small grandchildren. The daughter and daughter-in-law contribute to the maintenance as best they can through small odd jobs, but the living situation alone is more than overwhelming! And this is not an isolated case! That’s how it is for many people!

It’s unbelievable how expensive many things are here in Ikaria! Now, so fresh from Switzerland, I particularly notice it! A liter of milk (UHT, not even fresh!) €1.50, petrol €1.90, heating oil €1.40. Can someone even exist without a car in Ikaria, where there is no public transport? People have to arrange themselves as best they can, the cafeterias and taverns are empty, and unfortunately so is our shop, like all shops, because there is just enough money left to pay the countless bills and buy groceries.

One might think that the crisis is not so severe in Ikaria, but of course the crisis has many faces.

This story, like all my others, is of course a lie and a fabrication. How much I love the art of fiction, interwoven with my ideas and opinions, but as always inspired by the encounters and events with the idiosyncratic, lovable people and the wonderful island that surround me.

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