February 26th 2020.
As the boat edges into Ermoupoli, things look....... different... Beautiful, pale houses curve like an amphitheatre around the harbour. Not the normal Cycladic cuboids. Ermoupoli went up in the boom years between the 1820's and 1860's, when the harbour was the new nation's busiest. Neoclassical architects. A more feminine, decorative feel to the place. I'm smitten.
I bike around the south of the island. Azolimnos. Vari. Poseidonia. Poseidonia! Great name!
Everything very easy on the eye. By the time I get back to Ermoupoli, something has been decided. This is it. This is where I take my stand. I'll buy a place here before the UK leaves. Wave a giant two fingers to that toad Farage, and stay in the E.U. I know there will be hoops to be got through, but...... I've found it. My E.U. refuge. I shall remain part of the noblest political project in European history. Buy before the end of this year, and I'll have residency rights. I'm sorted.
I even manage to get 2 days in, looking at houses with estate agents, before.....
The news from Italy about the virus epidemic starts to come in.
My amazing arthritis drug works by dampening my immune system right down, so that instead of attacking me, like an angry leopard, it rolls on its back and asks to have its tummy tickled, like a very gentle and weak, puppy. Which is lovely. Makes me feel a new man. But now there is an aggressive virus swarming through Europe, and I have a fluffy toy for an immune system.
Not good. I'm booked to fly back to Gatwick in a few days.
I e-mail my arthritis specialist. "I'm due to have the last of my four epipen injections tomorrow. Can I risk Athens airport?"
"The NHS advice is to continue treatment...." is her advice. Those four dot dot dots: hers, not mine.
I wander aimlessly around the streets of Ermoupoli. Busy even in winter. Go to a pharmacy. Maybe a mask would help. He sells me a mask. Tells me that's his last one. Clearly I'm not the only one who's heard the news about Italy.
But..... you know what... I don't need to fly back, because once I've had this last injection, (tomorrow) there is no drug left, needing to be kept at fridge temperature. I'll do that planet-saving journey I'd planned originally, but in reverse. Huzzah! Forget masks at Athens airport and on the plane. Get the ferry to Bari, and train up to Milan.................
Which is that night named as the epicentre of the Italian epidemic.
So, I don't do that.
I have a bit of a think...... and decide that my specialist has left those four little dots as a tiny life raft. I don't take that fourth injection. I don't risk Athens (or, more lethal probably, Gatwick) airport. I get back to Antiparos as fast as I can. My apartment is booked til May 2nd. I wasn't planning to use it all that time. Not even half that time. But right now, a sleepy little island in the Cyclades seems as safe a place on Earth as I can get. My immune system, if and when it returns, will start attacking me again. Grim. However, better to be shuffling around like a very very old man, but.... alive, than face this virus with no immune system at all. My March 7th flight leaves for Gatwick, without me. Now I just have to hope that the virus takes its time getting to Antiparos.
Now..... it's probably fair to say that at no time since 1832, have the Greek people been at the top of anybody's civil obedience league. And recently they have had a lot to be angry about. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 impacted disastrously on Greece, leaving its people reeling for a decade. In the last few years, things have got a little better. Just a little. But if I were a German or French banker, I'd probably choose somewhere else for my summer holidays. Anywhere else.
The present Greek government is a Centre-Right affair, led by a seemingly mild, slightly uncharismatic character: Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
His party is N.D. New Demokratia. This is not Syriza ( Alexis Tsipras's left-wing party. The one that took on the European banks. For a while...) Mitsotakis has an impressive family background. He's a direct descendant of Eleftherios Venizelos, a legendary figure in Greek politics and his father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis was also Prime Minister of Greece, in the early 1990's. As he made his announcements on TV: schools must close: tavernas must close: people must stand 2 metres apart, I wished him well...... but come on, this is Greece. Never going to happen.
On March 10th, the Greek government closed all schools.
On March 13th, in Italy, 1,250 people have died of the virus.
On March 13th, in Greece, all tavernas and restaurants are ordered shut. Good luck with that, I thought... and wandered up to Grigori's that night. Closed. Soulatso's also closed.
On March 13th, in England, 11 people are known to have already died of the virus. And 200,000 people gather underneath Cleeve Hill, to watch the Cheltenham festival. Tomorrow the Stereophonics will play to 21,000 people packed into the Manchester Arena.
Boris's herd immunity policy is full steam ahead.... he's actually aiming for the iceberg.
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