Letters from cranks, letters of thanks part of mayor’s mail

« I felt my left leg come into highly painful contact with a hard object,» «I am fed up with seeing dog feces in my schoolyard,» «Please could you help so that this atmosphere does not disappear completely after the Games,» «I met him 40 years ago at my parents’ hotel in Holland. He lives in Piraeus; please help me find him:» These are samples of the dozens of e-mail messages and letters that are sent on a daily basis to City of Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis – not only by residents, but from the rest of Greece and even from countries in Europe and America. Complaints, comments, thank-yous, calls for help, pointing out problems, proposals, expressions of satisfaction with the constant metamorphosis of Athens and, of late, a plethora of congratulations on the capital city’s successful passing of the Olympic test all pour into the municipality’s mailbox. In whatever form they come, the mayor replies to all in an attempt to keep interest in the city alive, by residents and non-residents alike. As many of the messages point out existing problems, they are felt to be the best means of keeping an ear to the ground on what’s afoot in the city. Termini in front of the University of Athens building spoil its image; half-finished works in Syntagma Square cause accidents; any road surface beyond Amerikis Square is in a parlous state; cars parked on pavements in Metaxourgeio make life difficult for residents. All of the problems that residents bring to the municipality’s attention receive a response. And their epistolary observations are passed on to deputy mayors and the competent municipal authorities to resolve. Not a few denizens write in to complain about accidents or damage caused by shoddy work or omissions. When these are confirmed, the municipality forks out. Four thousand euros have been paid in damages over the recent period. Some correspondence stands out, such as an epistle by a gentleman who elegantly described an incident of which he was the protagonist: «While perambulating along a sidewalk in Ermou Street, I felt my left leg come into highly painful contact with a hard object. This proved to be a projecting iron pipe, about 10 centimeters in length, that had struck the instep of my left foot. I returned home limping… Had this occurred to an athlete, he would have had to withdraw from the Games.» Perhaps the letter from Holland is the most striking. «In 1960, my parents had a small hotel in the city of Leeuwarden. The gentleman (name of the Greek given here) stayed at our small family hotel and in 1962 brought his son (name and possible address in Piraeus supplied). Is there any chance of you being able to help me find him?» The municipal service duly did so, and forwarded the information to the Dutch correspondent. Small potatoes, perhaps, compared to the task of the citizens’ help line 195, which in the past nine months has received over 25,000 calls for intercession with municipal services and on quotidian issues.

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