Who do you call when the lights go out?

Thoughts and prayers.

A great new discovery to share! When the power fails — summer, Friday midnight, central Athens– your immediate response is to call the power company, right? Or rather, you call the number for faults on the power bill you receive (by mail still, because if it were online how would you find the number, eh?).

That is what we did. Then we called the other number the recording told us to. And then … well, it told us the service for faults was only available from 7 to 7 weekdays. And that was it. No other option. Line cuts out.

We called directory — and they directed us to that number. On the off chance that we were at fault — we live in Greece, of course we’re at fault — we called again. Same message.

There was a breeze last night so it wasn’t a complete and total emergency because, boy!, wouldn’t that be a bummer? No power in a heatwave. And if you were elderly maybe, or sick, or just alone and a bit scared, too bad, human!  We sat on the balcony sharing light coming from neighbouring buildings that were lucky enough to have power.

We checked in with the neighbours and they too said they’d called the power company and noone was picking up. We used the dregs of power in our mobile phones to check the web to see if there were online options to find someone. No.

We lit some candles. We waited. We realised how helpless we were — there was absolutely noone to call, nothing could be done.  And that, my friends, are the choices you have in this country – 21st century capital city in Europe. Thumbs up sign.

Took a couple of hours before the power came back. Just switched on as suddenly as it had gone. It’s always fun to realise how much you rely on an organization like the Greek Public Power Co., related entities and the Greek state.


Little house near the beach

This is the house on the land by the beach my father left me.

sounio house 1My Aunt Katina at the house in Sounio.

Or, rather, this is what it looked like.

Since that photo was taken, maybe in the late 70s, the roof has fallen in, the marble slabs that covered the grape press in the back have been ripped out and the walls have caved in.

The building has been around since the 1930s at least. It survived fires, earthquakes, Nazi occupation.

Now, it is at risk of becoming another victim of Greek bureaucracy.


The house by the beach in the background of a photo circa 1932. My father is the little boy on the running board. The vineyards were my family’s.

As long as I have been in Greece I have wanted to renovate it and make it into a serviceable beach hut. And for as long as I can remember I was told that I had the right to repair and renovate the existing dwelling because it existed before some key date and there was documentation to prove it.

But I was always stumped at how to get a permit to renovate it. I knew I couldn’t expand beyond the existing footprint because the land it was built on was less than the 4,000 square meters required by law.

Then I heard I was now in a position where I couldn’t get one at all. Because it had always been marked down on papers as an agricultural warehouse rather than as a dwelling, I had to prove it had once been a dwelling to get the papers, like a document from the water or power company.

This is near impossible — the small dwelling got its water from a well and there was no power.

All this in the shadow of my three neighbours who have built extensively and illegally on slivers of land they bought from my father. And once their homes were built — all of which had access to water and power — they were able to take advantage of amnesties that allowed them to pay to reclassify their buildings as legal constructions, regardless of laws that prevent me from renovating my existing building.

One of those laws is that related to forestland — in parts of Sounio you must have at least 4,000 square meters to build a residence. My land is 2,500 square meters. My neighbours have at most 200 square meters apiece.

I’ve been watching the news over the past few days and a recurring theme has been the beginning of work to knock down illegal buildings and houses. That’s something that’s been put into action after the horrific July 23 fire at Mati, when almost 100 people died, many because they couldn’t get to the seaside because of homes illegally built along the coastline that blocked access.

My little house doesn’t block access — it never did. It wasn’t built as a beach house but as a dwelling for my family to tend to their vineyard and make wine. It was built for a purpose and used for decades without any incident.

So there isn’t a lot I can do except watch my poor inheritance fall into disrepair and wonder why those who flaunt the law in this country always seem to get rewarded for it.