Urban travel tales

In the town I was born: Athens

For Greek: http://to.ly/pi65


incident number 1:
The clash, the stone-throwing, the tear gas started at 10:30 in the evening, on Saturday 21st September 2013. The location is not far from the centre of Athens, regardless of whether we measure from the old centre Omonoia, or the new, Syntagma. For a city of this dimension Athens’ centre is not large.
So, here I am driving up Leoforos Alexandras, in front of the Football Stadium, that houses the team of Panathinaikos.
“The game starts now!” shouts a man, his fists clenched, his face covered. The riot police appears from the corner of the street adjacent to the Stadium. Before me and the preceding cars a rift has opened. A white car is blocking my way.
Within seconds tear gas is bursting on the asphalt, stones are flying over the windshield of the car, I am stuck there watching. Young men holding handfuls of stones are all around. One of them, his face covered, holds his hands up signing for me to stop,  my car is barely rolling.

I do not obey. Foot on the accelerator, hands holding tight on the steering wheel, flashing my lights I ‘push’ the car in front. The reef has closed. I reach over approaching the preceding cars. At the next traffic light life flows as always at a Saturday night. Night strolling around the cinemas, the cafes, the restaurants. The smell of tear gas in my nostrils, my blood swollen from the adrenaline.

Once again I have experienced the absurd split in the continuum of the city I was born, Athens. Actually I was born less than a kilometre away, at Elena’s Maternity Hospital, or Marika Eliadi founded in 1926 when Athens had around 400.000 inhabitants.

Later I played back the sequence of events. I recalled that while I was driving up the avenue, before the street war, I had seen groups of fans walking down the road. They were flagging  the green colours of their team. I felt hopeful. I was reminded of the good times, when the roads were full of life.

Living at the centre, I had the chance to witness day by the day the gradual decline of the city. It started shortly after the Olympics of the summer of 2004 and was evident after 2010, if I remember correctly.

Businesses, shops and offices closed down, neoclassical buildings were evacuated. City walls start being written in graffiti which is far from street art, with few exceptions. Garbage, destroyed telephone booths, public property looted for the steel, broken marbles, amputated statues. The main arteries of Academias, Stadiou and Panepistimiou lost the profile of busy European roads, with overpriced properties and  flashy shop windows. The two stunning cinemas Apollon and Attikon had burned down in February 2012. At the building next-door three people and an unborn child lost their lives in Marfin Bank in May 2010. Dates, dark monuments…

How can one walk blissfully and proudly when haunted by death and destruction at every step? Pedestrians and drivers do not pass from here unless they have to.  

incident number 2:  
It was a month ago, still summer, on a Saturday night, same time, around 10:30 pm. I was coming out of a cinema in the most touristic district of Plaka. I mingled with locals and tourists.

As I was going on foot towards Stadiou street, the roads seemed deserted. Apart from shadows of people seeking refuge at the most protected corners of galleries: homeless, immigrants, beggars. And addicts, arms and feet in bandages, trembling, ageless.
Academias is the perfect setting for The Threepenny Opera  (Bertolt Brecht, 1928 Theatre premiere, Berlin).

The city I was born has changed to something that makes it difficult for me to connect and attach my memories. Athens as a number of small oases or islets dispersed in a desert of dark empty streets and avenues.

it might be my problem but I can not find the thread of continuity or the safety of community life. I miss the cleanliness, the politeness, the hospitality of Athens the way I have lived it. I have felt safe to walk everywhere anytime of the day or night for some decades now, alone, as a local, as a woman. I have lived as a flaneuse (m. flaneur) loving urban life. The centre of Athens has been my home all my life and I have lost it.

Of course not every person dwelling, staying or passing from Athens will agree with me. It depends where one walks, which are the expectations from the city. It depends on one’s memory, journals and photographs, on one’s tastes and beliefs, on one’s  degree of nostalgia.

The city of Athens is still here, a landscape, a place, a reading. It is undergoing a crisis of identity. I think psychologists are right to say that crying in times of depression or out of sadness may be the fuel that will move one forward. It is not enough though. Much more conscious work, willpower and effort is needed. Community ties to be strengthened.

In the meantime, the city grieves for losing so many young and beautiful people. Some have ‘left’ without any hope of return. Others are lost in drugs and sickness. A lot  immigrate, once again, following the paths of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

Much more people stay here to work and love, to safeguard and care, to look after, to make children, make books, make songs, make new houses…and dance!

my photos are from Plateia  Klafthmonos: chosen for the name; the origin  klafthmos means weeping. In juxtaposition the statue of the dancers evokes hope, love. 
Info: The name of the square is attributed to Dimitrios Kambouroglou from a particular chronicle he has written in 1878 for the newspaper Estia. In that he describes the grief of the public employees who frequented the square, where the Ministry of Interior was located at the time, expressing their distress for being fired.
(source: article in the online Greek newspaper iefimerida 19.04.2013)

urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013

Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος, Plateia Klafthmonos 2013

 
urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013 Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος
 
urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013, Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος
 
urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013, Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος
 
urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013, Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος
 
urban travel tales, Athens, city center 2013, Πλατεία Κλαυθμώνος
Posts and photos from Athens you can find in my blog pressing the tags at the end of the page under the relevant names, also by writing the key words, like ‘Athens’ in the ‘search’ space at the side of the page.
Some of the articles are showing here: Silences of Athens    Omonoia square at Christmas   Exarxeia & graffiti   Athens National Garden   The weeds of Athens  
Archaeology: The Princesses of Mediterranean   
Bilingual posts Eng/Gr:  In memory of Aunt Lena   Privately Public   Lost Homelands
2013 © Copyright. All rights reserved 

2 comments

  1. paris49

    Hey Lisa! Thank so much sharing this touching and sad story with us. We have never visited in Athens even though so many times have thought about it seriously. Our love to Greece is for my wife from 80’s and for myself from 90’s and it contains many beautiful islands. Crete and Santorini are our favours, but there are so many islands which we really like so much;) The story of Athens 20 century is so tragic and so unfair for Athenians, but who would be know how bad things have gone in Greece!;( I still believe, that your history tells how strong and hard minded people Greeks are and that is your strength to rise up again. It needs time and co-operation of all you Greeks. We foreigners and lovers of Greece do our own share by traveling in there and spending money to buying local things, not imported items from China.

    Sincerely enjoying reading your stories and half on heart greek man Matti aka Paros

    Lähetetty iPhonesta

    Urban travel tales kirjoitti 30.9.2013 kello 0.31:

    > >

  2. Hi Matti, your response is touching! Your feelings about Greece and Greeks comes through in great sincerity. Personally I appreciate your support and I am sure having friends like you and your wife is a strong asset at the difficult times we go through in this country. Finland is well known for the high level of education and I am sure Greeks have a lot to learn by meeting Finish people. Thank you for supporting my writing. I am interested to know if you enjoy my stories, please feel free to share your opinion, like you do. Enjoy the autumn! 🙂

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