Day 1, Delphi: On Missed Opportunities

Traveling with my grandmother has been interesting so far. Already one who unabashedly makes small talk with total strangers in America. In Greece, it’s as if everybody’s family here. She talks with everyone, and squeezes at least 90 seconds of conversation out of everyone: waitstaff, the concierge at the hotel, cab drivers, a childhood schoolmate encountered in the Athens bus terminal, and two very pretty girls my age in a cafè in Delphi.

I was finishing up a couple of work-related things and my grandmother wandered off to the bar area at the front of this outdoor cafè. I walked around to the end, book and sheathed iPad in hand, wearing chunky tortoiseshell glasses—the consummate American quasi-intellectual—and they and my grandmother pause. She introduces me, and I shake hands and politely recuse myself to the squat stone wall outside (extemporaneous small-talk and I don’t get along). They continue chatting and I read peacefully until my grandmother came out and said, “The pretty one is studying economics at the university in Petra… and she said you were pretty good looking.”

I’d immediately regretted my decision to go out and read. For a while, I pretended to know something about economics; my woeful mathematical skills incline me toward something where my vocabulary can occlude my ignorance: political science. With economics, I couldn’t fool the exam graders into believing I knew what I was talking about. I didn’t need to tell them the emperor has no clothes. It was plain as day. But I can still talk up a storm about this-and-that Curve and shift factors and the kertosis of certain distributions of likely outcomes spat out by a bootstrapped Monte Carlo.

I imagined sitting over iced coffees with Miss Petra U. discussing economics. Realizing that I didn’t speak any Greek, and her English constrained to names of theories divined by Harvard and Yale and UChicago economists, she’d draw out an X-Y scale and a curve and a line and label them. We’d bond over the international language of mathematics. This is where they intersect. Equilibrium. But things get shaky here. Curves left- and right-shift obviating any shift at all: a maintenance of the status quo at higher volume and lower prices. She’d write an equation, and I’d take a long sip from my nearly empty coffee—the European equivalent of Chewing It Over With A Twix. Evasively, I imagined myself smiling coyly: “It’s all Greek to me.”


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