Tag Archives: greece

European PIGS Tour, Evaporative Cooling

A few years ago my coworkers scoffed when I said Europe was doomed and going to become third world. I was really short Europe without knowing too many details, mainly short socialism. Recently we went to do a quick tour of the PIGS countries because I had a big bet on- Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.

Similarities: Really expensive gas, like 8-9 USD a gallon. People stay up really late (except maybe Ireland). For example we would walk into “the best tapas place in Barcelona” after 1AM. Many restaurants don’t even open till after 8:30pm.

Differences: In order of cheapness, the countries were Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Spain. Lisbon seemed worst off. I didn’t see as many young people and it was like an older, hilly, less polished version of Barcelona. Spain surprisingly seemed to be doing amazingly, though we were in Madrid and Barcelona which might not be super representative. Barcelona was really beautiful. It was extremely clean and livable, filled with drunk tourists.

And now I feel sad Europe is doomed and wish they wouldn’t collapse. Now I feel like they can do some things in the next year or so to stave off doom for a while longer. It’s such a waste- Europe is so old and cool! But things like this happen all the time. Civilizations, countries, companies- everything ages, fails to adapt, and evaporative cooling always happens: high energy people leave, however you define high energy.

I was thinking about Eliezer’s evaporative cooling idea for human groups since learning Eduardo Saverin gave up his US citizenship. Anyone who gives up their US citizenship is no joke one way or another- politically, ideologically, financially… But almost no one leaves the USA forever. Europe, however- educated Europeans are leaving their countries. And anyone who disagrees sufficiently with policy also leaves. So what remains are people who don’t have the resources to leave, or who really agree with the policies, so that the remaining group becomes increasingly entrenched ideologically. Does anyone return after the policy changes? Do refugees eventually return to their countries?

Ways to stave off group cooling:
1) Be picky about who you let in initially, maybe continuously raising the average bar.
2) Don’t force outliers out (maybe make it easy for them to form subgroups within the original group?).
3) Do something to heat up the group once in a while?

We’re going to Iceland and some other places soon. Let me know if you’re going to be there too!

Greece

The first thing I read when I entered Αθήνα was Έξοδος. To see ‘Exodus’ written like on a normal, modern sign was surreal- the Bible is so old and weird it’s hard to understand that any of it is grounded in current reality (despite having no Latin or ancient history, apparently years of math taught me to read Greek- my education is slightly more well rounded than I’d thought).

Due to laziness that I’d rationalized away (people told me they got delayed due to strikes so let’s keep the plans flexible), I’d booked the Centrotel on booking.com a mere 16 hours before landing in Greece without reading any of the reviews, just going off ratings. Later, I glanced at a review which read, ‘This is the worst neighborhood in Athens. We got mugged right outside the hotel, which is next to a sex shop. Prostitutes line the streets where tough youth openly snort lines of cocaine.’ Concerned, I lookeded for another hotel even though the booking was nonrefundable, but the Internet consensus seemed to be: if you stay in central Athens, it’s noisy all night and you can’t even exit the hotel because of riots, and if you stay outside of Athens, then you’re in a dangerous neighborhood where you will get mugged. They say to bring a ton of cash because the ATMs are down, but if we bring a ton of cash we’ll get mugged. If we take the metro we’ll get mugged but if we take a taxi we’ll get ripped off and possibly kidnapped and sold. Quandary!

Nevertheless we headed out with the plan that if anything at all weird happened we’d head to the Ritz or something and explore Greece under heavy supervision with a bunch of old people.

Much to my surprise, the hotel was awesome! It also had cool art- in Greece art is everywhere, even in random Internet cafes. The neighborhood didn’t feel dangerous- it reminded me of a more run down East Village (Brooklyn?…), and I love The Village. Every single person we met in Greece was super friendly- what they say about Greek hospitality is absolutely true. I also love Greek food! Lots of olive oil and salad, and baklava or some other nutty, honeyed dessert with yogurt is one of my new favorite things.

The only time we felt in peril was walking through downtown Athens at midnight (I guess we were asking for it). There are whole blocks of abandoned buildings. I’ve included a photo of an abandoned building across our hotel from our balcony with the roof caved in. Walking through the abandoned neighborhood and office buildings was creepy and dark. I heard 13K homeless people live in these buildings and it costs less to buy a building than a car. Also apparently there’s a whole subculture of mainly young people who explore these buildings and photograph their findings.

Everything was covered in graffiti, mostly ugly scribbles but some demonstrated artistic ability. I was surprised there wasn’t more graffiti on the ancient monuments littered throughout the city. Aside from graffiti as a sign of angst, other evidence of unrest included cops in riot gear, film/news people with camera equipment, whole blocks of dilapidated, abandoned buildings, and stuff being much cheaper than stuff in Ireland. Despite this, Greece is assuredly first world.

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I’ve always liked Greek myths, and one of my secret pleasures is alternative ancient histories, so I enjoyed the museum full of ancient statues and the Antikythera mechanism- a 2000 year old computer found on a shipwreck. This is part of why I learned to scuba dive- I’m convinced I’ll find a ton of gold and treasure if I just get under the sea and start poking around.

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We also went to the closest island to Athens, Aegina. At first I was seduced by the descriptions of fresh fish and beaches but now I don’t think I’m typically an island person. I do still want to visit Corfu and enjoy seeing animals and wildlife, just not a fan of mosquitos and slow transportation. Once we invent teleportation or helicopters become the norm, I think I’ll be much more adaptive. More photos on tumblr.

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