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News » Private Eye

Bad Greek Cops

Tomorrow, I’m going to Fira to look around that hotel. Wanna bet I find a dented car and a cop shaking down a new batch of tourists?


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Hello from sunny Santorini. Last week, it was Athens; then Chania, Crete; and now Santorini—one of the most visited attractions in all of Europe. It’s easy to see why: dramatic cliffs that rise from the Aegean Sea far below; white houses and churches trimmed in blue; the stark countryside that produces nary a tree, but upon which water-conserving tomatoes and grapes hug the ground; and, tonight, the big banana, the famous sunset seen on nearly every calendar of Greece.

The closest comparison in America would be standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. You have a wonder of nature. You have cliffs. You have a river far below. You have a gorgeous sunset. Now, multiply that by about 60 or so. From the Grand Canyon, you can walk just a few feet and not even know you’re near the rim. Not so here, where the vista is the same in every direction. At times, it’s nearly painful to view it all, not knowing where to start or end.

The world adores Santorini—so much so, its Greek name, Thira, is lost to time, and the island is more famously known by its Venetian-era name, a reference to the Chapel of Saint Irene, located in one of the bays where Venetians moored their boats. And while the world adores Santorini, I must confess I am not entirely in that camp. While the sunsets here are famous, I’ve seen nearly equal on nearby islands upon which a decent salad costs considerably less. And nearly all of Santorini’s sister islands that make up the Cycladic island chain also have white-and-blue homes and churches. They don’t have these cliffs, though, and the drop to the sea—which, apparently, is why a taxi ride of the same distance elsewhere in Greece will cost you about 30 percent less.

I’m being persnickety. I do like Santorini, just not that much. Besides, being here is a bit disconcerting, anyway, knowing that the cliffs we sit upon are the edges of an ancient volcanic caldera. When the island blew up around 1600 B.C., it was inhabited by the ancient Minoans. That eruption sent tsunamis crashing into Crete, ending the peaceful, seafaring Minoan civilization. The Golden Age of Greece would dawn more than 1,000 years later.

Some scholars think Santorini is where the lost city of Atlantis once thrived. Others say that the tsunami caused by the Santorini eruption is the actual event upon which Moses is credited for parting the Red Sea. I agree—I can see the opposing rim miles away making Santorini’s explosion one of the largest ever recorded, one that changed the world’s temperature and left ashes in Iceland. They say that Yellowstone National Park sits in a caldera larger than this one. So, if Yellowstone blows, don’t worry about remembering all your PINs and passwords; you can kiss the world as you know it goodbye. Your ATMs in Salt Lake City will be under several feet of ash, anyway.

I haven’t seen a minute of television in nearly three weeks now and have not read a single newspaper, either. Outside of an hour or so of Internet time where I can catch up on things back home, I know nothing of what is going on in Utah to comment about. Or complain about. Since I’m here, I’ll complain about here—if for no other reason than to be an equitable complainer. My complaint provides another reason Santorini is not my favorite island.

During much of July, my college-age son and his friends traveled across Italy and Greece. I was once young and stupid, so going in, I knew that these guys weren’t going to be in bed after The Simpsons reruns. I haven’t had the full debriefing, but during their stay at the town of Fira here on Santorini, they partied too much, as people are wont to do all over the Greek islands— especially young people. They were somewhere between boisterous and the hotelroom- destroying antics of The Who. Some tenants didn’t like the noise or the arguing. Their hotel manager told them to shut up. Other partiers in their hotel got the same message. The next morning, they awoke to hangovers and two policemen at their door.

The local Fira cops pointed to damage done to a nearby car for which someone concluded they were responsible. The vehicle never materialized, and only a shabby note of repair costs was evidenced. No matter; they were told it would cost them 700 euro for damages—about $1,000 U.S. With a ferry to catch in a few hours, they were pressed to pay or miss their boat. The best Greek speaker in the group began talking with one of the two Fira cops. That cop said that the group shouldn’t have to pay, but the older cop insisted and suggested they negotiate. They settled on 400 euro, each boy parting with his dwindling euro. They didn’t get a receipt.

I don’t like bad cops in Salt Lake City or Fira. If the group did anything wrong, they should rightfully be held accountable—to the full Monty of whomever they need to be accountable to and at the true price of their trouble. Tomorrow, I’m going to Fira to look around that hotel. Wanna bet I find a dented car and a cop shaking down a new batch of tourists? I never imagined our sons being mugged by a Greek cop with not much more than his stale coffee and drooping cigarette as credentials. So, if you plan on visiting Fira, Santorini, make sure you know that just because the sun sets nicely here, it doesn’t mean the people are equally as nice. One bad cop—I hope it’s just one— makes this whole island look bad.