Greece: On the Eve of What Next?

The water pump is roaring on and on, blotting out all else. The water is pumped from a sterna which collects the copious winter rains but now it’s vibrating wildly and in the suspiciously hot smell I envisage a disastrous island conflagration known to have started right here.

I ring the pump expert. “Find the little box of electrics and hit it with a brick,” he says.

There is a brick suspiciously near the pump so I use it. The pump subsides; I can hear the cicadas again and the swallows again.



My British friend remarks, wryly, that it could be a metaphor for Greece but my Greek friend says if Greece is the pump – what and where is the brick that makes everything run smoothly?

While all houses have a sterna, there is metered town water too now, but connected to outdoor taps.

In ancient Greece water was collected in run-offs to underground flask-shaped storage to prevent evaporation in the searing heat of summer, but our island reservoir, heedless of millennia of experience, is a vast, open, shallow bowl, offering the maximum surface to the sun..

By July water will be cut off much of the time and little more than a ghostly white residue on the black plastic reservoir liner.

Currently I’m enjoying the ritual by which the sterna - a system adequate since ancient times but unable to meet the demand for daily showers and a washing machine - is filled from the town water via a long and potentially lethal hose across the dusk courtyard.

There is an air of anticipation here.

Tonight Greece must beat Russia or be knocked out of Euro 2012. Every time I think (smugly) my rather basic Greek is catching some crucial political discussion on a bar television, the words winning, losing, former glory days, discipline and national respect, turn out to mean the boys in blue.

Now I’m off to hover around the decidedly male preserve of the outdoor TV screen. Every café and bar has one. The men sprawl across the street leaving me with the sinking feeling that the minute I walk between the chairs and the screen something momentous will happen and my British shoulder will block it from view.

Meanwhile, down in my nearest village; a small neo-classical building has become tomorrow’s polling station with terracotta acrokeramica – the delicate traditional roof ornaments of acanthus leaves or Hermes the messenger. Tomorrow he will take the island’s message to Athens, to Europe and the world.


Next door is the long derelict olive oil soap factory where the goddess of fertility, Ceres – here, a Ceres bearing a branch of olive leaves, not corn – still stands over the boarded doorway, looking calmly out to sea.

A large, bright Greek flag flies on polling station 224 and the sea, clear and light, the colour, appropriately, of semi-precious aquamarine, washes over the large white pebbles a few metres away. It is timeless and peaceful yet history may be made in a thousand tiny villages like this where every bar owner, elderly widow, priest, young mother, fisherman and cook must vote tomorrow by law.

Ceres - Paxos

Ceres has seen it all: wars, occupations, civil war, military dictatorship, rising and falling affluence.

For her, at least, tomorrow will hold no great surprise.

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