The other night I lost my wallet. I had been covering swimming, and was headed on a shuttle bus back to the main media center. I patted my pocket, and found no wallet.
A wave of despair swept over me. It was almost 2 a.m., and few people were around. I rode back to the pool with visions of evil persons rifling through my credit and ID cards.
I was sure I had left the wallet somewhere near the snack bar. But when I returned, it was closed. There were a few forlorn reporters still working and a bunch of Greek maintenance men cleaning up.
I caught the attention of one and indicated by hand signs that I had lost my wallet.
"Money?" he said. Yes, I replied. "Problem," he said. He looked concerned. He held up his hand. "Sit down," he said.
A few minutes later he appeared with a second janitor, who grabbed one of my bags and bade me follow him.
We wound our way through the pool's media complex to what I realized later was probably the security office. Inside there were a half-dozen serious-looking men in white polo shirts.
As we entered, a gray-haired man who seemed to be in charge greeted me cheerily. "Have you lost something?" My wallet, I said. He gestured across the room where one of his men opened a desk drawer and pulled out my big fat prodigal wallet.
I walked over, glanced at it quickly and stuck it back in my pocket.
"Don't you want to go through it and see if everything's there?" the gray-haired guy said.
You know, I said, for almost two weeks I had been among the Athenians, whom I'd found to be the most delightful and gentle of people. The wallet had made it unscathed to his care. I didn't think I needed to check.
He looked flattered. But this was perfectly logical: "We are Greeks," he said.
Food for Thought
A friend and I asked a cab driver to take us to Plaka, the bustling district on the hills below the Acropolis, for some food and sights the other night. He pulled up in an unfamiliar neighborhood miles away and said: "You want good food, go here. In Plaka, you only get tourist food and tourist prices."
We got out to find an empty taverna on a deserted street of restaurants in the Palieofalio area. Arsenis Iseris, the proud owner of Taverna Arsenis for nine years, welcomed us as if we were as famous and rich as Greek potentates or American basketball players. His daughter emerged from the kitchen with feta cheese balls, lightly battered and fried, and an eggplant spread. The lamb, cooked in a light white sauce, falls from the bone.
"It is a surprise to all of us that there are no tourists," Iseris said in halting English. "Only journalists. And then, not so many. This is a very bad time for my restaurant. Awful. The worst in nine years."
It's not just the ticket sales suffering in Athens. One of the more depressing sights has been the hangdog looks of restaurant owners and shopkeepers whose tavernas and stores do not fall on a major grid or near an athletic complex.
When Greece was awarded the Olympics, Arsenis said he was overjoyed. He believed if he made enough money, he could move his family to America one day, which he described as a dream. But hotel gouging and Athenian apathy over ticket prices for events have hurt, much more than helped, his cause.
"A couple of people came over from NBC, but not too many," Iseris said as he shook our hands and walked us out.
The same cab driver returned to pick us up. I asked why he hadn't taken us to Plaka. "Arsenis is my good friend," the cabbie said. "The restaurant is not doing well right now. I'm sorry. The food was good, yes?"
Yes, it was. Very good.
-- Mike Wise