CULTURE

A first meeting with the new British ambassador, Simon Gass

“Five o’clock tea» against a background of a pink and purple sunset over the Saronic Gulf was the setting for the new British ambassador’s first meeting with Kathimerini’s executives and senior editorial staff. The ambassador, Simon Gass, who was until recently resource director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, succeeds Sir David Madden. He has served in Athens before, holding the posts of second secretary and later first secretary from 1984-1987. Gass speaks excellent Greek fluently and has a large vocabulary, due, as he said, to the fact that he learnt the language around a table with a Greek family in London. He perfected it during a three-week stay last November in a house on the island of Crete, «a rich experience, because along with the language, I learnt about the life and about Cretan hospitality.» So Greek was the language used at the meeting, attended by Kathimerini President Aristides Alafouzos, Kathimerini’s Editor in Chief K.I. Angelopoulos, Managing Editor Nikos Konstandaras, editors Costas Fafoutis and Nikos Xydakis, Kathimerini board member Martha Dertili, and Eleni Triantafyllidi from the foreign desk who bore the brunt of the newspaper’s coverage of the tsunami disaster. «Greek is a language that I love, and when you are in the country it is spoken in, then the experience is much stronger,» said Gass. His eldest son Christopher was born 18 years ago in Athens’s Mitera maternity hospital and the running joke in the family is that «he will soon have to do his national service in the Greek military.» His second son Matthew is learning ancient Greek at boarding school and will later learn modern Greek. Over a cup of tea, Gass showed how close these two European nations are with their traditions of culture and love of freedom. Other aspects of the discussion touched on the two countries’ experiences as members of the European Union. Gass finds Greece changed for the better since he was last here. «Twenty years ago when I first came here, it was a time of partisan conflicts and large political rallies. Greeks were different. Now they have more self-confidence,» said the ambassador, attributing this to Greece’s membership of the eurozone. Alafouzos said that while people had changed, there was still an economic problem, which Gass pointed out was not confined to Greece. «I am a European and I believe in our European future. Even if the European dream changes, the way ahead is clear,» he said. Asked whether he thought the 25-member EU was viable, he said he believed so and that it was a great achievement. No one wants tension or war in Europe, he added, therefore Turkey was welcome as long as it fulfilled the criteria, which would take time, but it would happen. Gass said his goal was to upgrade Britain’s relations with Greece. «Since January 1, Greece has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have to find those sectors in which we can work together,» he said, adding that he wanted to build on that foundation with cooperation in the commercial and political sectors. Greece is the way to the Balkan countries, which is why there should be investment. «On my desk I have two investment proposals,» he said, adding that he has been reading Kathimerini and other Greek newspapers for many years. So the meeting came to close. «After all, you have a newspaper to put out,» said Gass.