What I will miss most about Athens is the little coffee shop across from the bus stop. It's called Flower, though I'm not sure if that's because the owner thought "Flower" would be a good name for a coffee shop or because the space once belonged to a florist. (I'm betting the latter because the neighborhood is stocked with hospitals, pharmacies and florists.)
I figured from the start it would be a dicey proposition to stop for coffee because the media bus, which came roughly every half hour, didn't wait for stragglers. So I started out ordering filter coffee, the quickest to prepare. As temperatures soared, I switched to frappe, which is basically Nescafe on ice and slightly more trouble to make. Then I settled on iced cappuccino -- the tastiest jolt by far, but really slow in coming because the coffee guy at Flower insisted on frothing the milk just right.
One morning the bus pulled up when he was midway through my iced cappuccino, so I slapped 2 Euros on the counter and ran out the door without it, figuring that missing the bus was worse than missing my cappuccino.
The next morning, the owner refused to let me pay. He spoke no more English than I spoke Greek, but made clear by wild gestures, smiles and nods that I'd paid without drinking the previous day, and he was going to set things right!
A few mornings later, the bus pulled up just as the coffee guy plopped the last dollop of froth in my Styrofoam cup, so I grabbed it, slapped down the money and ran. As I boarded the bus, the owner came sprinting out the door behind me with a straw and plastic lid and shoved them in my hand as I stepped on board. And each morning after that, every time I'd stop for coffee the owner motioned an employee to the door to serve as sentry, keeping an eye out for my bus while my cappuccino was being prepared.
-- Liz Clarke
The cab driver on the way to the wrestling venue said it best: "We make a great party, but not many people come," Andreas Galos said, ruefully. "Everybody write security, security. Terrorism, terrorism.
"Then, when Games start, everybody write 'Nobody in the stands.' Yes, because stories scare them."
Some public service we provided, no? Small crowds aside, the poorest country in the European Union, where the average income is the equivalent of $11,000 -- the smallest country in 52 years to host a Summer Games -- somehow pulled this off almost with nary a hitch.
Athens was chaotic at times, often dusty and hot. It was also among the most vibrant cities to ever host the Games. The tavernas served spiced meat till dawn, the sky was literally hot pink at dusk some nights and the people were mostly giving "once you touched their enthusiasm," as one Athenian explained delightfully. "If you cannot do that, they are too busy enjoying life to bother with you."
The Games reminded me of the movie "Big Night," in which two Italian brothers from the old country set up an authentic restaurant in New Jersey. Struggling to compete with the Americanized spaghetti house down the street, they are duped into hosting a gala grand opening, in which they are told great opera singers and food critics will attend and turn their fortunes around. But only a handful of their friends show, and, amid the crushing disappointment, they are left to devour one of the great meals ever prepared. They enjoy themselves anyway, going out of business in style.
Who knows what the price tag will come to for this nation in five, 10 years. Maybe they end up taking a quarter-century to pay off their Olympic debt like Montreal or maybe economically they will recover quickly. Either way, they threw a party for the world and went on with it after the guests failed to show. "We have little money but big life," another cabbie told me. "I don't know why the people don't come. Maybe they are just jealous." They should be. They all missed the Big Night.
-- Mike Wise