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Three Greeks

Recent news about the debt riots in Greece brought to mind far more pleasant memories of my own visits there. And this one in particular.

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Mykonos Harbor

Everywhere in Greece, a traveler hears the soft click of worry beads. From a taxi stand thick with cabbies waiting for a fare to archaeologists watching workers delve the ancient ruins of Mycenae, the sound is a constant, collective rustle in the background.

Without conscious thought, a man pulls a set of beads out of his pocket as he looks off into the middle-distance or listens to his cell phone. Then he begins to drop them, one on the other in an endless loop, pondering his overdue rent, or what he read in the newspaper, or heard from a friend.

The 3,200 Year Old Lions' Gate at Mycenae

A traveler also notices that backgammon is the national game. On any given day, tens of thousands of Greeks play it at cafes and coffee shops, in parks and across shaded squares. Many others stand near to watch. And advise. And finger their own strings of beads.

These universal Greek pastimes seem so calm and restrained in a people famous for their fast-erupting passions. So I asked my Greek friend over our own game of backgammon what I should understand about this.

He summed it up for me. “They say that if there is one Greek alone, you will hear the sound of worry beads. And if there are two Greeks, you will soon have a backgammon game. But, beware of three Greeks: civil war is coming!”

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