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
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
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.