Friday, July 25, 2014

Greek Stress

They call him the garbage man.  He sports a long unkempt beard and mustache and tangled scraggly hair hangs down his back as he walks through the streets of Igoumenitsa picking up items of trash and protectively hugging them to his body as though they were gold nuggets. He’s mentally unstable now but there are those who remember him when he was normal. What caused him to become so unglued? No one seems to know, but I suspect it may have had something to do with a trip to the local government building on a simple errand.

Let me give you an example of such a simple task: Recently, I accompanied Nick to a lawyer’s office to sign a paper that would combine two small parcels of land, making it one.  The lawyer found that there was some kind of government block on Nick's name and that he needed to go to the social security office to inquire before we could proceed.  So we walked a few streets over and I think the entrance to that government office building should have warned us of the type of experience it was going to be.  The lobby is a coffee shop. 
We had to walk through it to get to the stairs that took us to an office where a very pleasant woman informed Nick that he had not filed income tax since the government had started enforcing tax collection and therefore, his name was red-flagged in the system.

It seemed not to matter that he had not received any income because he had not worked in Greece for over 40 years, nor had he been a resident. He was sent to an office down the hall where, after glancing at a computer screen for a few seconds the official informed him in a very official way, “Sorry—I cannot help you. It says you’re a resident of Greece which means you had some kind of income and you now have to declare it.” And he shrugged his shoulders. Nick persisted and the official sent him to a “manager.”

Yes- it’s true. The manager verified it. According to the computer screen, Nick is a resident of Greece and should have filed the mandatory 2011 tax return. And that is where the computers ended for the government office workers. It became all paper after that and I might add, there were air conditioners hanging in every wall  of every office but none were on, so the sweltering sea air cooked us and everyone else who was waiting in the hallway (no waiting area)—and there were some pretty heated arguments in that hallway.  

So we headed to a private accountant down the street.  He was going to help us by filing the needed mandatory tax paper, even if it meant showing no income. We made the climb up the stairs, which was an exact replica of every office we had to go up to that day: a narrow winding stairway that somehow seemed to have 3 sets of stairs for each floor and of course each office we needed was on the upper floors.
Once we got there, the accountant found Nick’s information on a computer and then verified it again. Yes- he needed to file that tax paper. But first we needed a government PIN and – yep, you guessed it, it could not be gotten over the phone or email or fax or by yelling out the window to the guy down the street who was holding a cell phone to his ear and smoking on the balcony of his office in the government building.

We had to go back and get it. So we went back and waited with the other irritated people in the hallway only to be given a piece of paper and told to fill it out and make a copy of the passport. But making copies is a full time business in Greece. Government offices do not have copy machines—really! This is no joke.  You have to walk down the street to the copy store, hand the passport to the clerk who then puts it on the glass, closes the top, pushes the button and hands it to you with one hand as he takes your money with the other.  

So down the stairs we went, out onto the street to the copy store, back again up the hot stairs and waited to get the PIN. As it was our turn to be helped, the official’s cell phone rang, he excused himself and walked out onto the balcony you see behind his desk.  

After twenty minutes, his colleague helped us, as he was still talking on his cell.  

After a little while longer, with the PIN in hand, the colleague noted that Nick’s sister was on file as a contact person and did we want to change that in case they needed to contact him immediately. 

“How about emailing him with that big black machine on your desk,” I thought, “That’s a pretty immediate way to contact someone—or text him with the cell phone your colleague is still talking into—also very immediate!”

But no.  They wanted a person here in Greece but if we wanted to change that person from his sister to someone else, we’d have to fill out this paper and go to that office and make copies of . . . no, no—never mind.  We wanted to live our lives while there was still some of it left.

So – with that PIN we went back to the accountant. He has the PIN now and will do some kind of filing electronically and we need to return to his office in two days. What time? None given. Just come in two days.

I like the accountant and the lawyer. They’re nice people and they know their business. But it’s very odd how we have to sit at a café and wait for them to get to their offices—and making an appointment seems to be unheard of. Just go there and hope someone is in the office.  But also—the location of these private professional offices is very telling about this culture. These prestigious professionals get to their places of business through narrow alleys with broken walkways, peppered with graffiti. The cafés, however, are center stage, easy to get to, accessible from the main walkway. 

I love Greece, and Epirus in particular. It is a wonderful place to vacation, but the moment you try to get anything official done, beware—you may end up like the garbage man.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

You're gonna miss me when I'm gone.

I've got my ticket for the long way 'round
The one with the prettiest view

It's got mountains, it's got rivers
It's got woods that give you shivers
But it sure would be prettier with you

When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

You're gonna miss me by my walk
You'll miss me by my talk
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

It's a song sung by Anna Kendrick but it was originally written and recorded in 1931. It's not just the Lyrics that make me think of Chevi, but it's also the upbeat way Kendrick sings it.

You can hear it on  --> YOUTUBE  Chevi was a woman who could tell you the saddest story about her life with a smile and a little laugh, as though the tone would explain: That's just the way life is. It's okay.

I'm on my way to Margariti; it'll be the first time in 32 years where she will not be there. But I have a feeling I'll see her in the mountains, the rivers, the woods that give me shivers. . .