Waiting for change

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Jillian Wertheim/Senior Staff

Around this time of year, the Greek island of Mykonos is a magical place full of sunshine and bikinis and parties that last all day and night. It’s a favorite vacation spot of celebrities and high society folk — Mykonos has the kind of pristinely beautiful beaches that make for photos worthy of even the most discerning of tabloids and gossip sites.

A few months back, however, there was little glamour to be found in Mykonos. In all fairness, I knew full well that a mid-March visit (still very much part of the “low season,” as the locals say) wouldn’t give me the luxurious vacation experience that Conde Nast’s glossy pages have illustrated. No, I was one of a handful of tourists on the island, and the most partying I did happened in a bakery.

Mykonos, of course, was gorgeous. Regardless of how many (or how few) scantily clad people are strolling around, the island is exquisite, no matter the month. Brightly colored boats bobbed contentedly in the turquoise water, and fragments of terra cotta, worn down from years in the sea, dotted the sandy shores. Greek flags waved proudly from nearly every store and lamppost, and the sky above was never gray, not even for a second. But once I managed to get past just how many shades of blue actually existed in nature, I started to notice a different, less charming side of Mykonos. One in which the island fantasy began to disappear, slowly being replaced with a complicated economic reality.

Men spent afternoons whitewashing houses in preparation of the summer; fresh coats of blue or orange paint were carefully applied to the doors and window shutters of vacant hotels. Christina — a German woman who moved to Greece some 20 years back and now runs the hostel I stayed at — told me that she loves her adopted country for its natural beauty and relaxed way of life, but she cannot stand the inefficiency. She gestured to an all-but abandoned construction site down by the main town to make her point. The government had Okay-ed the building of a new port only to realize, halfway through, that they lacked the money to pay for it. The real kicker? There’s already a fully functioning port maybe 50 meters down the road.

The island depends on tourism for its income, but even the slightly lowered “crisis prices” displayed in shop windows weren’t enough of a draw for me to shell out the few euros I had on imported sarongs and olive wood knick-knacks. My strolls through town left me feeling anxious — like everyone was waiting for something to happen and all I could do was watch.

If riots and protests were the mainland’s approach to the economic turmoil, the island took a quieter, more static route. I was reminded, strangely, of the law of inertia — I suppose nothing really puts life in perspective quite like a little high school physics. An object at rest will remain at rest until it is acted upon by an outside force. So just what it will it take, I wonder, to get Mykonos in motion?

Jillian Wertheim is the former blog editor