Athens nightlife: desperate pensioners on the hustle

Athens nightlifeGiorgis looked like he didn’t have long to live.

Aged about 70, he was a tall man who appeared shorter because he stooped so much that his head hung almost below his shoulders. He was thin and walked with a limp that showed he suffered from sciatica. His clothes–yellow sweater, gray trousers, and brown dress shoes–were old and faded but immaculately clean. His gray hair was neatly combed over watery blue eyes that scrunched up when he coughed, which he did often.

“It’s this cold weather,” he told me. “People my age always cough like this when it gets cold.”

Giorgis was in denial. I know plenty of old people who don’t cough like that. There was death in that cough.

I met him on my first night in Athens while standing in front of the Parliament building watching the Evzone Guards. A few other tourists gazed at the guards’ famous uniforms of a white skirt, white hose, and shoes with big pompoms. Their costumes may look odd but there was no mistaking that these were real soldiers. I’m six feet tall and every one of them towered over me. They looked in the prime of health.

Giorgis did not.

“I’m an oil engineer,” he said. “I work in Saudi Arabia for a big company.”

Looking at his clothes I doubted that. I acted interested, though, and answered the usual questions about where I was from and what I was going to see in Greece. He made some hints about knowing some good spots for Athens nightlife. I doubted that too. After a time I was thinking of saying goodbye and moving on. Giorgis must have seen something in my body language.

“What, you don’t like talking to Greek people? We don’t have to talk.”

Ah, The Line! I’ve heard it from La Paz to Damascus. It’s a guilt trip. You go wherever they want just to prove you don’t hate their people. Well, as usual I wasn’t fooled but went along anyway. I’m too curious for my own good. Falling for The Line has never gotten me into serious trouble and has led to some interesting stories. Giorgis didn’t look dangerous. I wouldn’t follow him down any dark alleys, but other than that I’d let him take the lead.

“We’ll go to a bar,” he announced. “I know a good one.”

He limped off at a remarkable pace. I hurried to keep up as he coughed his way down the street. I figured him for an alcoholic. He sure looked in a hurry to get to that bar.I decided I’d get Giorgis a couple of drinks and then say goodbye. He was a nice enough guy and the elderly in Greece are having a hard time of it. Pensions have been slashed. Some people who were earning 800 euros a month, a decent amount, are now receiving 400. That’s almost impossible to live on. Even worse, properties they worked so hard to pay off are now subject to steep property taxes. What was supposed to be a bit of security has now turned into a liability. I’d be hurrying to a bar too.

After a few blocks we made it to a nice-looking place. Dim lighting and plush couches. A giant oil painting of Marylin Monroe took up an entire wall. She was licking a set of lips longer than my arm. I’ve always liked Marylin.

The bar was empty except for the bartender and two Eastern European girls. They looked about twenty. They both gave me seductive glances as I passed them.

Oh so THAT’s your game, Giorgis, I thought. Well, I don’t play that game. One drink and I’m out of here.

We sat and ordered. I got a beer. He got a double ouzo. So at least I was partially right. A minute later the girls came up to us.

“May we join you?” the cuter one asked me. She was blonde and had remarkably blue eyes.

“Um, OK.”

She sat down next to me on the couch and introduced herself. She said she was from Poland and told me her name. Her friend started talking to Giorgis in Greek.

“So you like living in Athens?” I asked.

“Oh yes, but it’s been pretty hard lately,” she replied.

“Where do you work?” I asked.

“Here in the bar.”

“How has business been with the crisis?”

She shrugged.

“Pretty bad. Will you buy me a drink?”

“I’m not looking for business,” I said.

“Oh come on,” she gave me a smile that wouldn’t look out of place on a high school cheerleader being asked out by the star quarterback. “Just one drink. It’s for companionship.”

“No, sorry.”

“OK. Well, enjoy Athens.”

She shook my hand.

“Good luck,” I said. “And take care of yourself.”

I meant it.

She smiled like she was touched.

“Bye.”

After they left, Giorgis pulled a sports paper out of his back pocket and started reading. I finished my drink and left.

Giorgis hasn’t been the only pensioner to try hustling me here. Some want to give me a tour. Others want to take me to bars. Many simply beg. They’re the people hit hardest by the crisis, and when they aren’t protesting angrily and sometimes violently against the government, some look to make quick cash off the people who have the most to spare–tourists.

I find it impossible to judge them.

Two days later I passed through Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament building and saw a group of farmers handing out free produce. They were from a village near Athens and wanted to show solidarity to their city cousins. A long line of pensioners stood waiting to get a few bags of vegetables.

I didn’t see Giorgis there but I hope he got his share. Maybe that will keep him going for another couple of days and save him, at least for a little while, from pimping girls young enough to be his granddaughters.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Our Past in Peril, Greek tourism faces the economic crisis.

Coming up next: Greek museums face the economic crisis!

Pole dancing image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Spain cracks down on hookers, requires vests for streetwalkers

It’s not the same as Amsterdam, and it’s much different from flipping through the Yellow Pages (do people still do that) here in New York for an attractive “escort service.” Spain does things differently, especially outside Els Alamus (in Catalonia). If you want to find some temporary companionship, look for the yellow fluorescent vests … at least, that’s what The Telegraph says.

The prostitutes have gotten a bit lazy about this, and the police are cracking down. A 2004 law requires that pedestrians on major highways wear “high visibility garments,” The Telegraph reports. That means all walkers – including street-walkers. The story continues:

A spokesman for the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra said: “In the past couple of months the prostitutes have been fined for two reasons: for not wearing the reflective jacket and for creating danger on the public highway.”

Some believe that the town of Els Alamus is anti-hooker, as the bright-vest enforcement wave comes on the heels of a measure to ban “offering sex for sale in public urban areas.” In Spain, prostitution isn’t illegal, but it is a distinctly entrepreneurial affair: one can’t profit from another person’s sex work (basically, you can’t pimp, but you can work for yourself).

So, what can the hookers do instead of hit the streets? How about get a room?

[photo by indi.ca via Flickr]

Get off a cruise and into custody: Passenger wrongly nailed as hooker

What do you do when your mom is arrested for prostitution? Well, you probably claim that she didn’t do it. After all, she’s your mom, and nobody admits to guilt on these things anyway. If you were Paola Londono’s kid, you’d actually be right to proclaim her innocence.

Thanks to a clerical error in the Osceola County Sheriff’s office, Londono, from Orlando, was arrested when she stepped off a cruise ship for allegedly making a living in the world’s oldest profession. She spent more than 36 hours in the Broward County pokey, because she had the same name as the actual suspect, who is seven years younger … five inches taller and 40 pounds lighter. The younger Londono is going to face charge of heroin possession and possession of drug paraphernalia – in addition to prostitution.

[photo by indi.ca via Flickr]

Philly no longer top spot for airline hotel hookers

It’s not often a worker at the airport makes you feel good … and it seems like the party’s over for the good people passing through the City of Brotherly Love.

The police ended the fun by arresting nine people this week. They’re being called a “prostitution ring,” but that just seems so negative. Rather, they appear to me to be dedicated to putting smiles on faces in airport hotels.

When’s the last time you smiled in an airport?

So, while we know it’s an airport hotel, we don’t know which one is hooker-heaven: the police are holding back the details. For frequent business travelers, however, this shouldn’t pose a big problem: just stay at a different one on each trip through. Eventually, you’ll find someone to help you turn that frown upside down!

Can you identify a prostitute? USA Today wants to know! Head over to the original story and let them know if you’re savvy enough to pick up the key signs.

[photo by Rodrigo Favera via Flickr]

Erotic bathhouse art in Pompeii

Visitors to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are already familiar with the eye-popping art in the brothel, but most miss another naughty site–Pompeii’s suburban baths.

The changing room in these baths had cubbyholes for storing clothing. Each one was decorated with lively scenes of straight sex, group sex, oral sex, and just plain acrobatic sex. The example to the right, with two men and one woman enjoying each other’s company, is a typical example.

While many Roman baths segregated men and women, this suburban bath was a mixed one, so perhaps it served as a place for amorous trysts. Another theory is that the pictures were advertisements for prostitutes. Both men and women in ancient Rome uses prostitutes, although of course the majority of customers were men. A third theory holds that the pictures were a way to make the customers remember where they left their clothes.

“Where’s my toga? Ah yes, in the cubbyhole with the bisexual orgy.”

A large amount of erotic art has been found in Pompeii, from explicit graffiti to phallic dinnerware, and the city had a reputation for looseness before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash in 79 AD. The ash preserved many artifacts and buildings, making Pompeii and her sister city Herculaneum two of the archaeological treasures of the world.

The baths were closed for decades after their discovery, first out of prudishness and then for conservation work. Only small groups with special permission may enter, so you’ll need to book through a tour. You can check out all the images here, and if you want to wander through the city check out Pompeii on Google Street View.