Pandemic postcard from Athens

Sociologist and researcher Liz Mestheneos tells about pandemic life in Athens right now.

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Who you are, what you do and how long you have lived in Athens?
I came to live permanently in Athens in 1983. I had spent 18 months there in the 1970s but gave up my work in England – I was a lecturer in sociology – and came to join him. He was in film production. I had had enough of being separated from him. I have no idea if any of your readers are of Greek origin and access Greek programs (on YouTube), but he was well known for making two film series – Minor Key at Dawn and another one called Like the Crazy Birds. I helped him in production. You can find them on YouTube.

In 1998, just as he finished the montage for the last series, he died. Suddenly.

I decided to stay in Athens and have never regretted my choice. Serendipity, for several people asked me to help them with research and gradually this become a career for quite some years. We began a research company called SEXTANT that came to an end in 2001. A lot of our research concerned issues about ageing. I got interested in this subject, and with two other friends we decided to start an NGO concerned with the rights and inclusion of older people.

liz and kaye in athens

What is your current role/responsibilities?
I acted as MD of 50plus Hellas until 2015, and am on the board. I try to support the current MD, but am also busy at EU level. I am a European and worked hard with AGE Platform Europe, as its president, from 2008-2011. It is an organisation bringing together all the NGOs for and of older people in the EU. So I speak, do jury work and try to be active there too.

What do you love about your hometown – favourite walk/café/bar/cocktail?
Athens, until the crisis that started in 2008 and again after 2017, was a lively town and much enjoyed by tourists. Greek people love eating and drinking out and seem always to have done so. So, these are not activities just for tourists but just as much for locals. I live in the centre near the Acropolis, topped by the Parthenon, and love being in a place with wonderful views and a reminder of cultural continuity. So much started here and spread out as ideas into the world.

acropolis

What are you doing right now to manage self-isolation/social distancing?
I have my own lovely flat with a view of the old observatory built 1846, I think. Next to it is the seismological institute. I am on the side of the Hill of Nymphs and Philopappos Hill, so once a day I get permission to go for a walk as exercise. I walk back through the square and say hello to neighbours chatting outside at a safe distance. I phone or contact several people during the day, and other than that try to get on with work.

What do you believe visitors to Athens/Greece would like to do when COVID-19 is over and we are back travelling?
You would love my area of Thisseion, named after Theseus, the first king of Ancient Athens, which is a marvellous place to walk around. I like the small museum and graves in Kerameikos – the place where ceramics were originally made –  and the Temple of Thiseos in the Ancient Agora, or marketplace, which I pass regularly. I could go on, I love the city, which has improved a lot since I first started living here. More trees and a good metro system help.

The old metro, built in the 1890s, takes you down to Piraeus harbour where you can go by boat for the day to Aegina, the first capital of modern Greece, when Athens hardly existed as a town. You can visit most of the islands from Piraeus.

athens

Your message to Aussie visitors when they finally get there
You must have met Greeks in Australia. Each one of them will tell you what they love – food, friends and enjoyment of life will be high up their list. So, come and take time to visit the countryside as well as the islands. I adore Epirus and the Peloponnesus. I go to Lesbos to chill out in the summer. Paradise with beautiful quiet beaches, and large, so you can escape people … Of course, you can find them too!

Have you visited Athens? Would you return? Is Greece high on your wish list?

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Written by Liz Mestheneos

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