Constitution square, Athens, November 2012
It is Sunday, around 4 o’ clock in the afternoon. It looks empty at the center of the city. It will start buzzing later when a lively crowd of theater-goes will arrive to take a drink, to buy or collect their tickets. Colorful groups of women over 50, mostly, will pack the pedestrian streets and the cafés spraying vivid exclamations and perfumes.
Right now it looks empty and silent compared to yesterday, same time, when a massive rally and demonstration in memory of the uprising of November 17th, 1973 overfilled the main streets up to the square and in front of the Greek Parliament.
Empty and silent, yes, but if you listen more closely you may catch rhymes and word plays, puns and rumours. This silence echoes the rhythmical repetition of catchwords and phrases arising from the veins of the city; it echoes the empty outskirts, the gaze of the ancient seller planted at street-corners, baking corn and chestnuts.
October 2008: Iceland was the first to go bankrupt.
I am traveling to Berlin. I am standing in front of Schiller’s statue, at Gendarmenmarkt Square.
A red balloon is swinging in front of the mouth of a lion, as if blown by its breath.
I focus expecting that any time the lion may open its mouth and devour the red balloon. Is this possible? Can anyone, even a lion, devour a balloon? If touched by the lion’s teeth the balloon will disappear leaving a trace of red, so small I can hold it in my palm. It feels like the spirit of any city is this red balloon. None can really devour it, or conquer it, or break it. It is volatile like air. Elusive like a balloon, and the spirit exhaled in it, playful, resourceful, free.
Like the red balloon Athens is full of breaths and sights from the people and the undercurrents, the myriad sub-cultures of the city. My native city is also right now full of silences, but empty, no it is not. There are indeed many different cities within a city.
I trace my literary memory to render the feeling for this particular silence:
“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.”
Beryl Markham, ‘West with the Night’, Penguin, first published 1942, page 42