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Debt Crisis Riots Take A Toll On Greece's Aesthetics


Let's turn now to Greece again, where a potential bailout has been postponed again. European finance ministers say they want even more budget cuts than the measures that prompted Greeks to riot over the weekend. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Athens and spent time with three women awaiting news of their fate.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: They're still clearing up in Athens. Firemen damp down the smoldering remains of a burnt out building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: She believes all the politicians, they are stealers, ugly pigs.

REEVES: Arguments break out among the spectators. They can't decide who to blame. This place no longer looks much like the center of a sophisticated, smooth-running European city. There are broken windows, shuttered boutiques and swirls of angry graffiti everywhere. Riots are leaving scars and so is recession. People look scruffy and worn out - at least most of them do.

JULIE SIMANTIRAS: I am an Athenian-Athenian. My family resides in Athens since 1850.

REEVES: Julie Simantiras cuts an elegant figure against this battered cityscape. She's wearing jewels and a full-length mink coat. She's gazing sadly at the burnt out ruins of one of Athen's oldest movie houses.

SIMANTIRAS: I care about my city and I pity that. For me it was my history.

REEVES: Do not be deceived by Simantiras' appearance. She's not rich. She's from the once proud and prosperous old middle class, a class that she says is now being turned into paupers.

SIMANTIRAS: I'm middle class and they survive with great difficulty now, with all my savings going to pay my bills and to buy food.

REEVES: Simantiras rails against Germany's Angela Merkel for demanding Greece impose austerity measures that she considers far too severe. Yet, she says Greeks must also accept some blame.

SIMANTIRAS: For 20 years, money became the goal of everybody - making money, making money, and very often not very honest money. So, to show off, to buy cars, to build houses, all these nouveau riche were spitting on the old middle class that which slowly, slowly became the nouveau pauvre.

REEVES: Simantiras, who's 67, doesn't much like being one of the new poor. Her monthly income shrunk from some $4,000 to a pension of about 800. She used to make money by renting out an apartment she inherited. These days she can't find tenants. She could sell that apartment, though property prices have crashed, but that would be a betrayal of her tradition.

SIMANTIRAS: We have the family spirit in Greece. I can't sell my estate to eat it. I wanted to keep my estate as my father kept it for me, to keep it for my son, and my son for his son.

REEVES: Her mink coat was a gift years ago from an admirer. She's not selling that either.

SIMANTIRAS: I don't intend to sell anything of my heritage; pieces of jewelry or pictures. I don't know what I'd do. I'll go and wash staircases, but I won't sell anything.


REEVES: Night falls in Athens and with it comes a deep hush. Before the crisis, this area was teeming. Now, a solitary car weaves across the cobbles. The woman at the wheel is a learner. These city center streets are so empty these days, people come here for driving lessons.

There is one pocket of life.


REEVES: At the Mama Roux restaurant, a stone's throw from the scene of the weekend riots, young Greeks are celebrating Valentine's night.

Karina Micheli is with two unmarried female friends. They're in their 30s and have jobs, but are still living at home.

KARINA MICHELI: Because we don't have the money to rent a place. I want to live in a different place, but we are still living with our parents. This is traumatic.

REEVES: There's a lot of trauma in Greece these days. People are angry and frightened. But, says Athena Papadopoulos, they've not lost hope - not yet.

ATHENA PAPADOPOULOS: What we say in Greece, there's an old saying that says that, good things happen from bad things. Well, it can't get any worse, can it?

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Athens.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.