Athens rises to the festive occasion with an eye firmly fixed on the Olympics’ approach

Athens by night in Syntagma Square compares favorably with any of the great Western cities, with its Sugar Town and the real tree that Mayor Dora Bakoyianni had set up. The snow had stopped; we have the blue skies and bitter cold known in Greek as «sun with teeth,» lavishly decorated store windows, marvelous books in the bookstores, the euro has risen in relation to the dollar, and Athens has a festive air, though the newspapers talk of an economic crisis that has been, is here or is coming. But with the annual bonus of an extra month’s salary, the shops are busy and houses are decked out in their Christmas finery. Many people are leaving for Courchevel and Gstaad, and others for Vermio, Parnassos and Metsovo, while visitors from abroad are going to Zagorohoria. The Athens Concert Hall is offering a wide range of entertainment, including Russian ballet with Vladimir Malakhov; the Camerata Salzburg playing Mozart; and «The Wizard Merlin,» a children’s opera composed by Periklis Koukos, with a set designed by Alexis Kyritsopoulos. The new, light-filled conference center awaits its turn, with a big stage, halls designed by Nikos Petropoulos and costumes used in operas staged at the Megaron. This is Athens, equal to the challenge of the Olympic Games, even if all its roads are being dug up, making them a minefield for cars and pedestrians alike. Everything will be ready ahead of time, we hope. Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to dream, Athens in the festive season has people, places and talents with plenty to offer.