Saturday, May 05, 2007

Greek Parking




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At last, yesterday I was inspired to begin my expose on Greek Parking.

Our Greek class took a field trip down to the Byzantine Museum and afterwards some of us walked to the Leski (the free student cafeteria) for lunch.

The photos you see are of us walking there along a major road – well, actually, ON a major road, because the sidewalk was full of parked cars.

Unfortunately, this is the norm rather than the exception.

Like most Greek cities (urban planning? what’s that?), there was precious little forethought on the effects of automobile proliferation, etc. To be fair, these ancient cities have a host of challenges not shared by those in AmericaOmaha, for instance, probably doesn’t have 2000-year old Roman ruins.

Still, the situation here is desperate, particularly with regard to everything related to cars.

Even as little as 20 years ago (so we’ve been told), the situation was quite different. Relatively few people had cars, because you had to have enough money to pay for the whole car right off the bat.

Everything changed, though, with the recent introduction of credit cards and installment plans with usurious interest rates. Now, everyone has a car – and staggering debt.

Meanwhile, the city never caught up with the explosion of cars. Traffic is terrible (like many big cities), but parking is a particularly interesting issue.

The idea of parking lots is almost completely foreign here – such places are just now springing up within the last couple years. Of course, there are legal, designated parking places along the curbs on many streets, just as in other cities. However, these are not nearly enough.

The narrow streets have signs which sternly warn that “Parking is Forbidden,” or even – more hilariously – “Parking is Strictly Forbidden.” (As with smoking, to merely say that it is forbidden means absolutely nothing. To say it is strictly (lit. austerely) forbidden means that a Greek may think about it for 2 seconds before smoking or parking there anyway.

So, first you have the legal parking spaces along big streets. Then you have the illegal parking along narrow streets (which usually turns two-lane streets into one-lane) and double-parking next to the legal parking. Double-parking is so common place that I actually see triple-parking.

Finally, you have the sidewalks (lit. foot-road). When our Greek teacher was first explaining this word to us, I said, “Oh! You mean the place where all the cars park?” The really funny part was that she said, “Yes, exactly!” without realizing that I was making a joke.

The sidewalks are now so jam-packed full of parked cars that pedestrians are forced to walk in traffic in most places. Now this wouldn’t be nearly so bad if the law here, as in many countries, gave pedestrians the right of way (considering they generally weigh about a ton less than their competitors coming at them at 50 mph), but no. Here, as we tell our visitors, the pedestrian only has the right to get out of the way.

The general rule of thumb for parking is simply: Will my car fit without getting damaged? There is no thought for where it is in relation to others’ needs, etc.

We talked about this situation in our Greek class one time, and when I and some Western Europeans suggested having the traffic police actually issue parking tickets, or maybe even tow someone, the teacher laughed out loud. I have yet to see a parking ticket or a car towed.

In the top photo, you see three of my classmates (from Romania, Russia and Palestine) forced off the sidewalk to make room for the parked cars.

The second photo shows the line of cars on the sidewalk to the left.

The third photo shows a major sidewalk inside the university. (It’s so wide, NOT for parking, but because this university is one of the biggest in all Europe with 95,000-100,000 students). Of course, cars are parked even here. I’ve actually been walking there and had a car beep at me to pass – on the sidewalk!!

The bottom photo shows cars parked in a ‘strictly forbidden’ bus stop area – and then double-parked on top of that.

In spite of all this, it all somehow works (as with everything here!). The Greeks just don’t seem obsessed, as we are in the West, with imposing rationality on every aspect of society.

This is something that I have come to appreciate, because this is the ancient culture that was the seedbed for Christianity and, frankly, I think Orthodox Christianity makes much more sense within its native culture.

I think the Western mind (both secular and Christian) has been influenced by the neo-Aristotelian idea that one approaches immortality (or God) through rationality. The underlying assumption for society is that the more rational and efficient we make it, the more perfect (in religious terms, God-like) it will be.

The Greek mind is simply not influenced by this line of thought, especially inasmuch as, religiously, it has led to enormous and fundamental differences in the Eastern and Western approaches to Christianity (see St Gregory Palamas vs Barlaam for starters).

1 comment:

Margi (juliansdaughter) said...

Kind of like Italian parking. Who cares, in most Greek and Italian cities you don't need a car. This is Europe... take the brats on the bus... sit one on your lap... did the world end? I know Americans would think it was sweet to drive the car right past the checkout clerk at Walmart but... there is more to life... honestly.