While Parthenon glows, pain and despair overshadow Athens

"The changes are coming," he said, "maybe not this election, but the next."

And that's what concerns many. In a few weeks, there will be elections, and so far polling suggests that neither of the main parties, the left-leaning PASOK and the center-right New Democracy party, will win outright.

This means that the same parties that helped ruin the economy will form a coalition, and this coalition is also expected to fail, as other parties on the hard left and right play the populist card and attract support from a weary and frightened people.

I left Chicago on Saturday, flying on Turkish Airlines, first to Istanbul and then to Athens. And after a few days here, it's on to Istanbul, to see a people who are excited and confident about the future.

Not so here.

"For the general population, there's a severe sense of despair," said Marina Terkourafi, director of modern Greek studies at theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "There's a basic lack of trust in the ability of politicians."

"The initial reaction a few years ago was to blame the politicians," she said. "Now, they're beyond blaming. Now there is no faith in the system."

They're depressed now, yes. But they've been through so many catastrophes, mostly ignored by the world.

They lost their empire. They suffered 400 years of occupation. And during World War II, it is estimated that at least 100,000 people starved to death on the streets of Athens. Then they endured a debilitating and vicious civil war.

And through all that time, for more than 2,000 years, the sunlight on the Parthenon hasn't changed.

Poets and artists have wondered about the sunlight of Greece for thousands of years. It's not the flat, thin sunlight of the far northern countries. Nor is it that heavy, rounded and almost voluptuous light of the rain forests along the equator.

It is unique light, clear and clean, bathing the Parthenon, which looks down over an exhausted people.

But even now, after the first rush of anger, and amidst the settling despair, I can almost sense an optimism building. At least I'd like to hope so, that perhaps the economic crisis has empowered them to make changes, and see things clearly.

The way a Chicago newspaper columnist, an American in the land of his father and grandfathers, can see it, that special sunlight, falling on the Parthenon.