The countdown has begun for the Eurovision Song Contest. The semifinal is next Thursday, May 18, at the OAKA indoor basketball stadium. So far the weather hasn’t been favorable and rallies have regularly closed off downtown Athens. But the banners have gone up with the Eurovision logo and the sponsors’ names along Vassilis Sofias and Kifissias avenues, recalling past glories when the Olympic Games were held in Athens, and creating a sense of anticipation. Foreign journalists are in town – 1,600 are expected, and 400 Greek journalists have already been accredited. A vast press center is ready for them. Observers from the US have come to see how the contest works, presumably because they have something similar in mind. As last year’s winner of Eurovision – with Elena Paparizou singing «My Number One» by Christos Dantis and Natalia Germanou – Greece is organizing this year’s contest. Anna Vissi will perform Nikos Karvelas’s song «Everything,» which is a firm favorite to win. ITV showed Vissi live from the Acropolis, talking about the return of the Parthenon marbles. She also told Ben Shepard on Good Morning TV that she thought Greece would do well in the final. Shepard’s show is watched by six million viewers a day, so if that isn’t everything, it certainly is a lot. A seasoned performer with a powerful stage presence, Vissi believes Greece will win again: «I’m looking forward to the big night of May 20 more than ever before,» she said. Work is still in progress on the stage with its high-tech lighting and sound systems. Designed by Ilias Ledakis, the stage is being constructed by the German company Procon with the British company Stage One. In yellow T-shirts, accreditation on lanyards around their necks, cheerful, polyglot young volunteers escort the foreign artists and journalists around the venue. Nightly parties will build up the atmosphere. The first, organized by Athens Mayor Theodoros Behrakis and ERT president Christos Panagopoulos, is Monday at 9 a.m. in the forecourt of the Zappeion Mansion, with special guest star Sakis Rouvas. Tuesday the party moves to Technopolis, Gazi, with Vissi and «Everything,» and on May 18, after the semifinal, EBU and ERT are partying at Euroclub, where the winners can rejoice and the losers can forget their woes.