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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

January 18, 1964

On Monday the temperature was in the 60's.

It snowed yesterday (Thursday). It wasn't the typical Athenian snowstorm, i.e., a light fraction-of-an-inch blanket in the morning that is gone by the 10 a.m. It was a blizzard and snowed most of the night, almost all day yesterday, then late into last night. The most surprising thing about it was that by yesterday morning it started to stick.

Athens newspapers described it as the heaviest snowstorm in 33 years. There are drifts in the suburbs that have stopped all traffic. There isn't much snow in Athens itself, at least not by New York standards -- perhaps three inches. But in a city which knows only of the very lightest snow flurries, it can lead to some strange sights.

There isn't a single snowplow in the city and probably no snow shovels either. Without the usual hard black surface on which to maneuver and race their cars, the usually suicidal Greek motorists have stayed home. There are few cars on the roads.

Buses are running late or not at all. Shops closed early. The USIA closed shops at noon. There was no mail delivery -- ordinarily, it's delivered daily (including Sunday). No garbage collection either.

The day quickly developed into a winter holiday.

The usual grim bus ride into Athens, with all the shoving and elbowing, turned into a kind of party. People were courteous. A man offered a lady his seat. (Teachers at the Varvakion said it was probably because it was wet.) There was laughing and joking about being snowbound. A couple of snowballs even got into the bus, bounced around off the ceiling and a few people a little. The seven-minute bus ride took a half-hour this time and it was a huge, social success all the way.

Photographers were everywhere: around the university, at Constitution Square, on Venizelou Street -- "Here! Here! Have your picture taken in the snow!" Snowball fights took place in every section of the city, including the usually dignified Stadiou Street shopping area. The participants weren't only the young -- men and women of all ages went at it with enthusiasm, many of them carrying briefcases and wearing business suits. (I saw five old men throwing snowballs at each other near the bus station -- I'll bet the youngest was at least 60.) People don't seem to mind being hit by snowballs -- perhaps partly because Athenians don't know how to pack a really good snowball. Anyhow, I didn't hear a single argument or angry world all day -- but plenty of laughter, cheering.

Perhaps the strangest sight was along Venizelou Street, in the big hotel section of the city. People here walked along the street with silly grins on their faces -- but the silliest thing was that many of them, perhaps one-out-of-four, were carrying large clumps of snow in one hand, hauling a pocketbook or briefcase with the other. (I guess they were carrying it to prolong the sensation of feeling it -- and maybe also as a measure of self-defense.

The university was a madhouse (it usually is). Students came to class -- and in large numbers. But they really weren't there -- it was only that they happened to be in the area, so why not drop in for a plus-mark in the attendance register? Class was a happy enough occasion but a total loss educationally. Students kept popping up from all sections of the room to catch a quick look out of the chest-high windows. Was it still snowing? How much? (It was and plenty).

After class they gathered for the biggest snowball fight in Athens' history. There must have been a thousand students there, five hundred on each side. They took positions on opposite sides of the street. They got their ammunition by allowing passing automobiles to come close, then jumping front of them, forcing them to stop, swarmed all over them to get the snow off the roof. With each volley of snow there was a huge cheer, followed by another volley and then another cheer. Police stood around smiling. (It's probably because they weren't the targets. In fact, the police are on unusually good terms with the university students this year - there hasn't been a single serious student-police scrap, even at last Wednesday's huge Cyprus demonstration. The oranges are still on the trees around the university - the police have a great deal to be thankful for.) After a short time, a second crowd gathered - this one consisting of several hundred observers who came to see the students battle. In a few minutes the place sounded something like a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon - except the "observers" got their licks in occasionally, too.

Anyhow, it's pretty nice what a few inches of snow will do. I'm going out to the park with a camera now - neighbors want their pictures taken … posing with clumps of snow, of course.

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