I needed a drink.
And company, most of all. It was early evening, the city lights were coming on. From my balcony, I watched the sun go down over Piraeus. The view was spectacular as ever but somewhat meaningless now.
Nothing seemed the same anymore, the value of things was shifting.
To my left, built on a wooded promontory, was the venerable Greek Yacht Club. Only a few weeks earlier, I had attended a glamorous mask ball there, dancing and carousing all night long. I remembered the fanciful costumes. Two girls had dressed up, to great general mirth, as Chinese corona doctors, wearing white overalls and gas masks.
The virus had seemed so far away then.
There was little traffic on the Saronic Gulf now, safe for a few freighters. Most island ferries had been stopped in the morning. No more Aegina trips for me.
To my right, moored in the marina, lay the Al Quirab. At a length of nearly 150 metres, it was one of the biggest yachts in the world, complete with helicopter pad and an on-deck tennis court. It belonged to the Emir of Qatar who parked his yacht in Piraeus every winter, with a large Greek crew busy cleaning its gleaming hull every day. Once a year during summer, I had been told, the emir showed up for a little cruise around the islands.
All my favourite bars of Piraeus – the Ché, the Beluga, and King George XIV – were closed now. The only place for drinks and diversion was the Veranda, the hotel bar. It was still open for hotel guests.
There were not many people left at the Cavo d’Oro now. Even some of the long-term residents like myself had left. Even my neighbour on the fifth floor, a sweet old lady rumoured to be a retired prostitute, was nowhere to be seen. Before, she had often waylaid me by the elevator for a little chat, but now she seemed to be hiding in her room.
I put on my tweed jacket, over a pink shirt, and walked downstairs.
The Cavo d’Oro, the Golden Cave, had seen classier days. But only the times had changed, not the hotel. The lobby still looked exactly the way it had in the late 1960s: the thick Persian carpets, the wooden telephone booths, the reception desk resting on gilded lions, the push-down ashtrays, the bronze statues of nude nymphs and Jesus, the naval battle oil paintings, the royal corner decorated with portraits of Greek kings and queens on every wall.
The lobby was a museum, a time machine. The slightly mouldy smell was offset by the pleasant deodorant spray which Georgios, the hotel director, applied liberally on himself and his environs.
Only after I had moved in, I began to discover the Cavo d’Oro’s sinister side.
It was built during the military dictatorship from 1967 till 1974, when the regime re-settled fascist sympathisers in Piraeus to replace the city’s traditionally leftist working-class population. The hotel soon became a favourite haunt for the junta and other right-wing types.
“The Italian and Greek mafia held secret meetings here”, a long-time employee had once confided in me. These days, leading members of the fascist Golden Dawn party and other Nazis gathered at the hotel. Seeing my sceptical face, she had told me to have a closer look at the downstairs decoration.
“You might be surprised by what you’ll find.”
Curious, I had re-inspected the building’s interior but, with no Nazi memorabilia on obvious display, had soon given up. Only now, as I walked through the lobby, something caught my eye behind the long counter that was used for the breakfast buffet. I stepped closer.
On the shelves sat many old bottles. Gin, ouzo, whiskey. And some dusty beer bottles bearing unusual 1930s labels. To my disbelief, they showed portraits of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. “Mein Kampf” was printed on one bottle, while another proclaimed “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer”.
What the f…?
Wait, why had these bottles not been thrown into the bin a long time ago? Did the hotel owners not mind Hitler staring into their lobby? I strode up to the reception and confronted Georgios about this.
“So what?” the director said dismissively. “It’s just some souvenirs from our guests.”
He didn’t have a problem with Nazis staying at the hotel? I asked.
“We love them”, Georgios grinned. “We love all our guests.”
For a few seconds, I just stared at him. Then I shook my head and walked off. To hell with the sea view, I thought, it was time to leave the Golden Cave. But with the city shutting down, where else could I go?
I really needed a drink now.