Letter from Thessaloniki

Several summers ago there was that colored – black – woman named Clara. With only a small, supporting role in the opera «Porgy and Bess,» Clara became world-famous with a song titled «Summertime.» The song, which appears four times in the opera, went initially: «Da-doo-da, Da-doo-da, Wa, wa, Wa, wa, Da-doo-da, Da-doo-da.» Then it turned into a lullaby, which went: «Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.» As already mentioned, that was quite a long time ago, when living was easy indeed. Nowadays, when public spending has increased 12.3 percent, compared to a 5.2 percent target for the year, and that only during the first five months of the year, and with Greece’s deficit increasing to a massive 75 percent compared to the same period last year, life is not so easy anymore. Practically everybody – except of course for the rich – «Got Plenty O’ Nuttin.» «How much do you buy fish for and how much do you sell it for?» I asked Christos who works at Angyrovoli (Mooring), a fine fish restaurant in the center of Thessaloniki. «Well, we get them for, say, 35 to 45 euros and sell them cooked for 60-70.» Athens, for no apparent reason, is more expensive. At those prizes, not only fish but customers are jumpin’ as well. Yet paradoxically, the cotton is not high at all. At least not in Greece. Since the United States has converted to producing genetically modified cotton and the European Union has decreased imports of US – edible – cotton products, prices have been soaring. Just as well that PASOK’s former general secretary, Costas Laliotis, has finally not accepted the ministry of agriculture and so remains outside the new Greek government. If the opposite were to have happened, we may have heard dialogues like: «Minister, why are we not allowed to eat cotton?» «We’re not?» the minister inquired incredulously. «There must be an American finger in that as well!» On the other hand, Prime Minister Costas Simitis did OK. He offered the ministry to his old comrade Laliotis, provided he would go away. Also, his was a most showy performance during the Greek EU presidency. He had to be constantly on the road and do 25 shows in a row. If the big bosses at Brussels liked his act they may – it is believed – offer him an interesting contract to perform there on a more long-term basis. Hell, with tips he could make more than… well, whatever. Anyway, didn’t Simitis, with a prodigious leap in the dark, already steal the show by removing Costas Laliotis, at the tender age of 50-something, from the post of PASOK’s general secretary and replacing him with boyish-looking 48-year-old Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis? Laliotis – often referred as the «devine infant» of PASOK – had to learn the hard way that «fadder an’ mudder born to die.» Last week was indeed an interesting one for interested newspaper readers and plagued TV viewers alike. We got some real scorchers. The temperature inside the house was over 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Luckily heatstroke is entirely preventable with the right ministers on the spot. When fish are jumpin’ due to high temperatures, you have only minutes to do something about it. You have to cool down as quickly as you can. Once your brain is overheated, that’s it. With the Cabinet reshuffle, and with that overture to the Right to the Left and to the center, one can conclude some interesting midterm morals. One of these mornings, we have finally arrived at the point where the PASOK party – the Liberals – has grown to despise its history, while the New Democracy – the Conservatives – affect not to have one. «So hush, little baby, don’ yo’ cry, for your daddy’s rich and your ma is good lookin.» (While the song is heard, there is a craps game someplace nearby. That happens according to the script in George Gershwin’s «Porgy and Bess,» first produced during the mid-1920s.) Now, with the absence of ideological baggage, one of these mornings (September has been publicized as a probable date, or next May at the latest), the governing party is goin’ to rise up singin’ and spread wings that’ll take the sky. Premature elections? It ain’t necessarily so. Just for sure, opposition ND – leader Costas Karamanlis has already started touring Greece. «It may be in the summertime an’ may be in the fall. But you got to leave yo’ baby and yo’ home an’ all, so roll dem bones!» coaches Sportin’ Life – another supporting role in the first and only all-American opera. (Well, there is also John Adam’s noteworthy «Nixon in China» and some others too, but «Porgy and Bess» is the only one of its kind.) Loaded with subtle insinuations, he is Washington’s favorite, the next rumored PASOK leader, George Papandreou is every bit as tough and dominant as Costas Simitis but without his ability to generate antipathy in the party and the electorate – if one dismisses popularity polls and sticks to his ears. But ’til that mornin’ there’s a-nothin’ can harm it, since the Ministry of Public Order is in the able hands of Giorgos Floridis and his deputy, Pantelis Something-or-Other, will be standin’ by. Standin’ by as well are also Deputy Health Minister Vassilis Kontoyiannopoulos, who has ranged over the political landscape, roughly from Right to Left, and a prodigious pundit, Nikos Bistis, deputy interior minister, former convert to Marxism and actual leader of a left splinter group named AEKA. Frozen out of oblivion were also three old guard party members Akrivakis, Kastanidis and Koulouris. No need to toss a coin. There is a long, sweaty summer ahead. Moral: Should life go like a song, you can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

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