Sunday 24 October 2010

Better the Devil you know

The Devil sat down next to me on the Metro at Syntagma station. He wore a shabby blue suit and smelled of leaf tobacco and crisp new 500 Euro bills. I knew he was the Devil, because he had left his Hellenic Parliament pass clipped to his jacket pocket, and his forked tail thrashed uncomfortably as he sat down.

“Good evening,” smiled the lady sitting across from him. He smiled in return and cleared his throat, but didn’t speak. Instead, he unfolded one of those free newspapers and started to read with evident interest.

After a while, I took pity on him, and offered him my Financial Times. He took it with a grateful smile and I, recognising him from the evening news, decided to make small talk.

“So how are we doing?” I asked, not remembering which political party he belonged to.

“Oh, fine,” he said, a sly grin on his face. “Never better! Gold is rising—if I were you, I’d get my assets into gold.”

“Well, gold is a bit too rich for me” I responded. “With a family to support, I spend most of my money on basics–school fees, dentists, taxes.”

“Taxes?” he harrumphed. “Never mind that young man. You’re far too young to pay taxes. Just buy gold. Nothing better. And make sure you bank it in Switzerland.”

Switzerland?” I gasped “I thought you were in the Greek Parliament!?”

“Sure I’m in Parliament. But just because I’m a servant of the people doesn’t mean I can’t look after myself, you know,” his eye twinkled as he nudged me in the ribs.

“And if I don’t look after myself, who will? Do you really think IKA will pay us when we retire? Besides, I run into Greek MPs in Switzerland all the time. At the end of the month, Zurich is like Kolonaki. There’s always a few dozen slackers hanging around the banks or shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse. Just last weekend I saw Shoeman at Banque Pictet (very sophisticated, Shoeman is–that’s why he became a Commissioner) and Abraham’s Boy buying another gold watch. He can’t seem to get enough Rolex, that villain. And Cave Boy wants to go again this weekend to buy more Zegna ties—he didn’t get enough freebies when he was at the Tourism Ministry.” 

“Shoeman? Bahnhofstrasse?” I stuttered. ”Rolex?”

“Absolutely! Gold is the master of all things. Look around you: central bankers printing money; governments running up debt; manufacturing moving to China and not coming back. Why not gold? You don’t believe in austerity, do you? Balanced budgets? Stable currencies?”

Thinking about it, I had to confess I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen either a balanced budget or a stable currency. And I certainly couldn’t remember when I last bought something made in Greece. Even the garlic sold at the neighbourhood psilihatzithiko was made in China.

“You know, don’t look at it so badly!” he said. “Switzerland is a nice place. Solid. Secure. The trains run on time. You can go skiing in the winter and sailing in the summer. Simple people—most of them are asleep by ten—and a bit boring, but you can do business with them. Not like us Greeks. We are a lively people: we eat to much, sing too loud, and fall in love at the first moment. And if you think there’s a crisis, just try getting into Super Paradise in Mykonos on the weekend. Malaka, not even God could get in there!”

“God goes to Super Paradise?”

“Well, you know what I mean” the Devil smirked. “It’s not so easy being God: delegations arriving from all over the place, every minute scheduled, no time even to fart. I used to be like that, but I gave it up after a while. Too stressful. But I can go back and do it any time I want to.”

“And so now you’re in Parliament?” I asked, disbelievingly.

“Hey, don’t knock the Parliament!” he protested. “We do important work. Just yesterday we approved a Memorandum of Understanding between our Hydrographic Service and Slovenia’s Department of Maritime Affairs. Next week, we will be reviewing a law on electronic prescriptions. And don’t forget: October 28th is coming up!”

“What happens on October 28th?” I asked, befuddled.

“What happens on October 28th? Why, it’s OXI Day of course! On this proud day in 1940, we said “No” to Mussolini. And then we whupped his ass all the way back to Albania. “Aera” our proud forefathers cried, freezing in the snow without even shoes on their feet. “Aera!”

“Of course, these days most Albanians live in Pangrati and we say “yes” to Italian loans. Damn spaghetti eaters. The Astakos project was cancelled because of an Italian conspiracy. They didn’t want to pay double the price for Quatari petroleum gas from Astakos. Another stab in the back.”

“But surely,” I ventured, “you can hardly blame the Italians for wanting a fair price for gas.”

“Why should they?” cried the Devil. “Do Greeks get fair prices? Of course not. Our gasoline is the highest in Europe. Our supermarket prices are twice as high. A self-service frappe at Da Capo costs 5 Euro – 5 Euro, can you imagine? A café crème at Fouquet’s on the Champs Élysées is only 3 Euro!

"Of course, at Da Capo you see all the celebrities: Kougias, Koromila, Kalomira. Who do you see at Fouquet’s? No one. We are richer than the French! Richer and better! We are a proud people! Why shouldn’t the Italians pay us?”

“Er…are you complaining about the high prices, or are you happy to be screwed by those evil cartels Papariga keeps on about?” I inquired.

“I have always been a champion of the working class!” intoned the Devil, magnanimously. “Look at me: I’m just a simple kid from Kastri. My father was a humble economics professor who had to flee during the junta! I worked hard to get where I am today: I have degrees from Amherst, Stockholm, LSE and Harvard! It seems like all my life I’ve been in school. And sociology is a tough subject you know: you can’t just slack off in class or during the vacations. Work is all I know.”  

“Yes, foukara mou, you have seen much hardship.” I commiserated.

“Hardship and xenitia” reminisced the Devil. “But now look at how far we’ve come. Fifty years ago you had to emigrate to freezing Minnesota. Today you can find xenitia right here in Athens. Who says our convergence policy with Europe hasn’t worked?”

“You know, you are right!” I agreed. “Our standard of living has improved dramatically. I was just reading that we have the highest number of Porsche Cayennes per capita, and we have the highest consumption of Scotch whisky after Scotland.

Ainte bravo!” cried the Devil. “You see? We are doing something right. And then these ungrateful Europeans come down and tell us we have to live within our means. After we gave them democracy and civilisation. Where would Europe be without us? Even the name Europe is Greek: Europa, who was abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull. I never stop reminding my European colleagues of this. I tell them, ‘We have embarked on an Odyssey together.’ But they never listen. Not anymore.”  

Suddenly the loudspeaker blared out the next stop: “Nomismatokopeio

“Well, that’s my stop," said the Devil. “Just have to fire up the printing presses before turning in tonight. Money never sleeps. It’s been great talking with you, young man. Your patritha is proud of you. Pay your taxes and work hard, because Greece needs you. Money exists. People stop me in the street, working class people, who offer me their wage if it can help pay down the debt.”

He jumped up and bounded away through the empty Metro carriage, his shoes squeaking with every step. Behind him, the singed pages of my FT smouldered on the Metro floor. Money exists, I thought. If only I could get some. 

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2010


  1. Wow!Bravo Philip. I'll give you 3 drachma for every fly you swat, OK?

  2. I would like to say 'unbelievable'. Unfortunately, it is all-too believable. Thanks for writing this, and all your other posts. I really appreciate your perspective.

  3. 3 drachma? That's barely in line with inflation!

  4. Note to readers: this blog post is satire, an imaginary conversation between me and a representative of our unique political class. I'm getting strange messages if I really sat next to G. Papandreou on the metro. Certainly not. I don't think he has a forked tail either.

  5. Priceless and delicate humor. It only gets better with time. Bravo!