Monday, 17 February 2014


George is in the new film “The Monuments Men”. It’s about a team of curators, museum directors and art historians who are sent into Germany near the end of the Second World War to save Nazi plundered art from destruction as the Germans realise their game is finally up. As Clooney puts it in the film:  "We’re fighting for our culture and our way of life. If you destroy your enemy’s achievements, it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants."

Clooney, a recent convert to the arts, because of the film I guess, has become a lover of Greece and wants us to return the Elgin Marbles to the Pantheon (sic) – it’s the Parthenon, George. He has a point. We should do anything we can to help Greece.

I was there last week helping at a multinational conference. It was at the Hilton in Athens, acres of marble, thirteen floors of luxury, two terrific restaurants and a fantastic conference. As George might have said “what’s not to like?”

It gets better.

Outside it was hot and sunny with those deep, blue Aegean skies. The Greeks it appears didn’t have a word for “blue” but they liked the colour a lot hence Homer’s description of “wine dark seas.” I have a new expression “deep-eyed skies”. Every time I see one of those Greek skies I think it’s like looking into a beautiful girl’s blue eyes. George and I have so much in common.

As I stood on the terrace in one of those conference lulls wondering why I hadn’t packed the factor 30 I realise how I’d missed real sunshine over the recent bleak months and how my mood was lifting. There’s something indescribably sublime about this country. I had a Greek salad in which the tomatoes tasted of sunshine, a fish meal in which the parrot fish tasted of fresh morning waves whilst the waiters argued that the olive oil was not just good but super-premium. And their story about the red wine lasted a solemn five minutes and was about the Xinomavro grapes in it. The word means “acid black” and the grapes, rich in tannin, age beautifully. It’s so smooth they intoned. It was …. and so strong too.

And the economy? Petros Christodoulou of the National Bank of Greece is sounding upbeat as were the Troika on a recent visit. Being a young Greek and out of work – which you probably are – is pretty awful but GDP growth of just under 3% is forecast for 2015, deficit reduction is ahead of plan and  tax receipts are up.

As the sun shone and the strains of last year’s Greek Eurovision Song entry by Kosa Mostra “Alcohol is Free” – it came 6th by the way – filtered into the Athenian air I felt the yearning to spend more time in this amazing country. The service in the hotel and restaurants and elsewhere were of a new, more focused and more attentive style than I recall. So…..welcome back my Greek friends.

“Καλώς ήρθατε και πάλι τους Έλληνες φίλους.”

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