Our very own carnival

When the Euro 2004 semifinal between Portugal and the Netherlands began, Portuguese Minister Afonso de Melo turned to the poet Manoel Alegre, his country’s deputy Parliament Speaker, and said «Manoel, when this is over, I will feel a great emptiness inside me.» Millions of Europeans, particularly Greeks, must be feeling the same after Sunday’s final. They experienced their own, special carnival for a whole month – when enthusiasm outpointed monotony and a game defeated constraint. Our neighborhood is one of the most impersonal in the city, with foreigners (Albanians, Poles, Africans, Pakistanis) equalling Greeks in number, isolated in the manner of extended families who get together only at weddings and funerals, when great pain or joy brings out the gold hidden inside us. The last time something like this happened it was when the earthquake (of 1999) got us out into the streets to discover the best side of the stranger next door – and of ourselves. This time, we were transformed by the magic wand of soccer. Anti-nationalist protests are all very well, but let’s not get things out of proportion. We didn’t need (Archbishop) Christodoulos’s blessings, but we didn’t turn into ultra-rightists. A little joy, a little hope never harmed anyone, particularly in this «short summer of anarchy» in an Athens where anything goes, where there are suddenly no traffic lights or lanes, where motorcycle police let the crazy kids surrounding them paint heavy metal signs on their motorcycles. Eternal «reformists» cannot imagine that the sensation of joy is just as great as the depths of pain. People have the right to enjoy that sensation without guilt. After all, we might get back into routine again, but since yesterday, something has changed.