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Final Alterations
If change is the spice of life, just a dash suffices here


I COULDN'T believe it. There I was at my, my, must emphasise the my here, hang-out, and there was not a stool in sight for me to sit on! I mean, what is the world coming to? Makes you think, really, what's it all about, this life, when your second home away from home, your, must stress that primordial territorial claim there, hasn't got a seat for you? You are left placeless, just like that, on an unassuming, ordinary week-night. And is there relative compassion? Do the proprietors to whom you have loyally given half your fortune and divulged all your innermost thoughts claw their way to helping you out? No, because they're far too busy looking smug and musing that "yeah, our business has suddenly picked up, hasn't it?"

So what do you do? Fight? Scream? Make a scene? Sulk, skulk, become a has-been? You shrug and hum "maybe tomorrow", that's what. But here's the crux - do you mean it? Or has something in your relationship with your bar been forever tainted? And if so, can anything ever happen to change this? Change is the key word here, I hear a wise-man who hasn't had a visitor in his Himalayan hut for far too long whisper with well-concealed excitement. Change, my child, is a part of life, it is the essence of life, and you must accept it. Must? Must? You ask, annoyed, throwing your toys around the floor in a hysterical fit you know you would laugh at heartily if you were watching.

Greeks love change. So much, in fact, that I am seriously considering devoting the rest of my life and going to Leicester University in England, where the Boon from Mills & Boons novels actually teaches a course on Love and Romance, to teach my own course on Greeks and Change. I may have used a very cheesy (but true, annoyingly enough) metaphor to make my point, but the issue at hand is valid.

Greece is a microcosm that captures all the changes of the world like honey to bees. Honey is sticky and fluid and sweet and rich. Things can be drawn into it and once they fall in they can move around, slowly, whilst they languorously, and eventually, suffocate. This is how many new things happen here. Take a trend in fashion, music or stocks. It will be quickly absorbed, considered sweetly, and then not allowed to breathe because the atmosphere is too thick with mis-thought, which results in it not only dying a horrible death but also making the honey more lumpy and unclear and unappealing.

You can see trends arrive here and bang! explode like fireworks before everyone's eyes (there's absolutely no problem with getting the word out on things in this country and in particular in this city, where an afternoon coffee with your friend at Kolonaki's Da Capo cafe can cost you your entire reputation because the person sitting elbow-to-elbow with you happens to have keen ears and not a nice bone in his body), and everyone in turn "oohs" and "aahs".

Then there's time for gossip and analysis. Cheap TV talk-shows, news debates, magazine features, newspaper specials, cocktail-party and hairdressers' (what's the difference, I ask) discourses, during which people take sides. Is it cool? Is it really interesting? Shall I buy it? (You can take "buy" in both senses of the word here), Will it improve my image? Shall I visit it/ endorse it more than once? How much has it been seen/done/acknowledged abroad?

Please take note, with reference to the final category of decision-making, that in our language there is actually a word for being infatuated and overly impressed with all that comes from outside our borders. Unlike the internationally well known Greek-origin term xenophobia, which is a fear, distrust or dislike of anything foreign, xenomania, which has practically the opposite meaning, is used almost exclusively in Greece . It is used to critically label those nationals who seem disatisfied with their home-grown lot and, in a state of despondency, look elsewhere (abroad) for "better" things.

Looking for more favourable options - or simply idealising, envying or preferring those outside your own country is often something that does indeed deserve to be regarded with contempt and apprehension. Not for the fanatic nationalism-based motive that everything is as good as it gets right here and everything outside our lands is foul (that would actually be a form of xenophobia), but because it's simply a lazy concept. Lazy both in terms of imagination and action. The exemplary ideal is for a society to carefully estimate its potential and use all it has as a foundation for building, with dedication, patience and planning something a great deal more superior out of it. Not simply grabbing the ready-made product from elsewhere. The second-to-final phase following the arrival of change is the phase of action: who actually chooses to do what with it. And it is through the action, certainly not the analysis and discussion part, that people - some relieved to have made the "right" choice, others mortified to have opted for unanswerable individualism - decide whether this change is there to be further developed or dropped.

Too often, I can put my hand in fire to concede, the new idea is eventually dropped. Because as I say, our society loves change. Loving change literally means loving change, which, not surprisingly, goes to indicate that things can't stay the same too long. Which (and I was never really good at maths but this, I realise, is an equation of pure genius) equals inconsistency and not-muchness.

True elegance, style, beauty, and confidence comes of consistency. Imagine immaculate Jackie O wearing her pink little hats and matching Givenchy suits one day and Marilyn Monroe's pleated white halter-neck, blow-up dress the next. Imagine Rome with 205 types of architectural styles every ten square metres. Or London declaring itself the capital of punk rock in the 70s only to become the capital of jazz funk in the 71s.

Consistency comes of confidence above all else, and this country's confidence is on the shaky side. Certainly one may quickly rise to doubt that by saying that if there wasn't a shocking element of over-confidence, so many things, both great and small, wouldn't be left to the very final moment before they are completed. Greece has a knack for doing this successfully. It is a kind of semi-masochistic risk-taking, a procrastination that indicates to the world at large that our nationals are both too busy being indulgent in the period when they should be quietly and resolutely focussing on the project at hand, and that they are arrogantly over-confident.

Last-minute projects can, overall, be said to reach successful results, but great, deeply-rooted improvements that cannot be shaken come from a complete, wide-ranging change in the complex make-up of something. And that takes far more than a last-minute effort, regardless of the ingenuity or charisma behind it or the astounding impressiveness of its outcome.

By anthropomorphic terms, Greece is like somebody with a paradigmatically magnificent birth, a tormented and abuse-ridden childhood, an emotionally fluctuating, confusing adolescence, based on a lack of appropriate therapy after all the childhood abuse (maybe a kind old aunt helped it through its tears but she was from a mountain village and didn't really know the right things to say to effectively deal with the trauma), and a hopeful but yet vacillating adulthood. By this definition, today's Greece is a stunningly beautiful and very individual - but not actually independent - entity on quick-'n'-powerful painkillers and trying hard to get in tune with itself, in order to decide, via a somewhat convoluted process of experimentation, which future path looks best for it.

It is the induction, the remnants of an obscure adolescence under weird parents (like the Turks or the Junta) that brings change. The poet Philip Larkin wrote: "They (beep) you up your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you." Read this over and over, and you will realise that it is not the product of a purely disconsolate and rebellious mind. In it lies a universal truth that whether it was intended or not, whether it is fair or not, our existence is corrupted and challenged by something stronger and swarthier than ourselves, but that at the end of the day it is up to us to achieve atonement.

Point is, this country is not in the change-obsessed and socially vacillating situation it is in because it wants to be, but because of the tormenting upbringing it has had to endure. Most Greeks nowadays are aware of the challenges they must face until they reach a more assured and admirable standing, and, particularly the younger generations, the more broad-minded lot, aged from their tens to their mid-40s, are positively determined to try their best to change things - once and for all.

Till then, we will have to tolerate horrifying TV shows like Ant1's Katse Kala or Mega's Prive, which glorify even the by-products of talkative but inarticulate local soiree sirens. We'll have to blink a second too long as a journalist solves a terrorist crisis with 32 tourist lives pending and, whistling loudly, block out three more years of foreign criticism, rooting from a distinct lack of signs that anything is being done, that at our Olympics, millions of visitors may be requested to wear bullet-proof vests, stay in tents anywhere, and use meditative creative visualisation techniques in order to view the new sports facilities.

And at the end of a day of doing all this, we will have to choose a new bar to (temporarily) frequent. The familiar one has changed name / location / image and now there's no seat for me as Theodoros Pangalos is sitting in it sinking his woes after having changed "friends" and posts far too many times

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