I’m happy to report that there have been no observable changes in Sykia during the eight months we were away. All of the tavernas and cafes survived the winter, which is reassuring. The seaside tamarisk trees got a good, and much needed, haircut at some point, and the In Memoriam notices on the power poles have accumulated in this village of mostly retirees but otherwise it’s exactly as we left it in November.
It’s a different story in the neighboring village, Xylokastro, the “big city” to our tiny hamlet. There, the transition from retail to service continues unabated. The gift shops are almost all gone, as are the boutiques, replaced mostly by cafes. Even in Greece, however, there’s a limit to the number of cafes that can be supported, and stretches of the main shopping streets are marred by strings of empty storefronts. The couple of tavernas that closed were quickly replaced by newcomers and all the others are soldiering on but it’s difficult to see how the gutted shopping areas are going to recover.
Undoubtedly, loss of income is the cause of the transition. Wages have been cut generally, taxes have been increased, new taxes created, and most importantly in these small towns of mostly old folks, pensions have been slashed each year, with yet another cut pending in the next several days. Kids are graduating and moving to Athens or abroad for work, further raising the average age of the population out here in the sticks. Sykia is too small to have had any actual retail, so it’s been spared the blight, and towns in agricultural areas appear largely unchanged because the income level has been relatively constant but the places that relied on Greek tourists coming into town with a little extra spending money have really suffered. Absent a dramatic change of some sort, it looks like a long road back for Xylokastro.
On the bright side, the NY Times published an excellent article about Athens the other day (Athens, Rising), in which the locals opine that maybe, just maybe, there’s a possibility that things are beginning to pick up. It’s the first time I’ve seen any public optimism in the last 9 years.
It’s been summer weather since we arrived, and on Friday school dismissed across the country. We’re now on the ramp-up to the full summer bedlam that is the August holiday. Kicking off the festivities is the European Day of Music on Thursday. Sykia is participating for the first time this year by hosting approximately 20 musical acts, ranging from classical to pop (European Day of Music). Naturally, the “Day of Music” requires 4 days to celebrate. We’re looking forward seeing how this goes. The schedule makes it sound as if some of the acts will perform on the beach but that’s hard for me to picture. The first day concludes with a concert of traditional music in the plateia directly in front of us — from 10:30 to midnight. Yes, a concert in the middle of a residential area beginning at 10:30pm. Kansas, it’s not.
After the madness of moving it’s especially sweet to be back here, watching the wind sweep the water. We’ve got a few tasks to accomplish but otherwise the plan is to appreciate each moment of these long, sweet days as slowly as possible.