4 November 2012
The last years we have been hearing that it is dangerous to walk around at the centre of Athens.
Athens is my native city, as for the centre, I had always considered ‘my courtyard’, so to speak. I have started exploring my neighbourhood, Kypseli, with my friend Sofia when we were 10 or 11, walking back home from our elementary school. It would not have crossed our minds that it was not safe in the mid 60s to cross on foot a 1.5 kilometer distance in mid day. Nor anybody’s else.
L’ Academie Francaise, Appendix Patission, has expanded my domain down to Plateia Amerikis and Kallifrona Station.
Before started commuting by the school bus to the Northern part of the city where my high school was located I was already trusted to ride the bus alone and visit my father at his office-shop in Kaniggos – I even walked up to Zoodohou Pigis.
Patission Street is actually an avenue – one of the longest and widest by Greek standards; it is the river along which I have sailed for many years.
More recently I have developed the habit to travel. I would walk any city with my camera. Shooting keeps one in a hunting mood, curious, pre-occupied, engaged in a sort of mental dialogue, eager to comment, addicted in note-taking.
A walker with a camera is a kind of hunter sniffing the air.
I could smell a storm coming – it was to be baptized “crisis”. In retrospect I could tell you that the signs were written right there, on the city walls. In any city or community the heart beats in the streets, downtown.
If only one could see and listen to the beat of the city’s heart…
I am walking at Exarcheia, not far from The National Archeological Museum and the National University of Athens, known as Metsovion or Polytechneion: the memorable complex of buildings and the names of the personalities that have taught or studied here have retreated to the background lost in forgetfulness, unless for people of my generation not related to the fine arts or to the architecture taught here.
The immediate association that comes to mind is the uprising of students against the colonels, the junta that had ruled Greece since 1967; it started few days before and escalated to bloodshed of Saturday 17th November 1973. A tank came crashing through the gates. There were victims.
The result of neglect, abandonment, burning and dirt is evident today.
Right on Exarcheia Square an open market adds some colour, community spirit and hope: producers sell their oil, fruits, honey, raisins. Some young people hang around dressed in black, anarchists or depressed, my heart sinks.
I turn back to the streets, to the colourful Street Art: images of humour and anger, of irony and despair.
I would not consider Exarcheia a dangerous location. I keep alert whenever I am travelling solo, anyway. The more of us visit the area, the safer the place becomes. There are plenty of artful spots, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, cinemas. There are remarkable neoclassical buildings to be seen, as well as the Blue Condominium an example of modern architecture in Athens.
The building walls themselves are an permanent exposition of street art and graffiti, if one can crop and disregard the dirty, the decadent part.
It is time to reclaim our city in daytime and at night for our sake and for the most vulnerable among us.
Exarcheia is a cultural heritage and it is an act of vandalism to destroy it. It is an offence against the present and against the future.
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