Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Thursday 14 July 2016

Athens 2016: Lost grandeur (Χαμένα μεγαλεία)

Running through the centre of Athens are two imposing avenues that connect the two major Athenian landmarks of Syntagma and Omonoia Squares. Stadiou and Panepistimiou Streets were where, a quarter of a century ago, I would come to go shopping. Stadiou is where, I was told by my boss, the expensive clothes and shoe shops were, if I wanted to buy something finer in life than what our working class neighbourhood of Egaleo could offer. I remember buying my favorite pair of shoes somewhere here - high heeled wooden sandals, with a peep-toe dark brown matt leather upper and cross-over straps with a firm buckle on the covered heel. They lasted for ages. I even remember the price - something in the range of 25,000 (~73€) drachmas, which the owner of the shop told me would drop to 20,000 (~58€) drachma if I didn't issue a receipt, a discount which I am sure I gladly accepted at the time.
 Panepistimou St, at the Vivliothiki (Library) bus stop

Despite the sweltering July heat, since I was in the area of Syntagma Square, I wanted to walk down those glorious roads again, to experience the grandeur that I recalled in my first few years of residence in Greece. I did not really know myself what I would find on Stadiou and Panepistimiou Steets more than two decades later. But it is only now, when I think very hard as I try to force myself to remember what those days were really like for me, that I recall the dirty buses, the rude bus drivers, the anxious faces among the throngs, the lotto ticket touts, the myriads of kiosks within a few metres of each other all selling the same things, and the cries of the hawkers as they tried to entice you into their businesses to consider their wares. I remember living those days in darkness, despite the bright sunlight that the Acropolis always seemed to be drenched in.*

We sat on the wooden benches of the pedestrianized area of Voukourestiou Street, as I pondered which street we should take first. Wendy's burger restaurant was long gone, the landmark replaced by the pricey and soulless Attika Mall. Stadiou is full of contrasts: some buildings still look imposing, and they still house many branded as well unbranded stores, interspersed with a few trendy (and some not so trendy) looking cafes whose staff all wear uniforms now in the colour of the business's logo. It didn't take long to come across the first of the boarded-up buildings on both sides of the street. Walking by the Bank of Greece's behind (its front is on Panepistimiou), we passed by a homeless couple that was still sleeping. Lying on rags, lined with cardboard boxes, their eyes were closed, as one hugged the other. They were lying in front of what seemed to be a boarded-up hotel with the impressive words 'palace' in its name. It is said that just one homeless person is too many, and in this particular location, the image stuck out like a sore thumb.

Pretending that we didn't see them, we stopped to admire the enticing sleek modern display of the IANOS bookshop. On entering, we realised that we would have to choose between high fashion and food for our thoughts. At least we could still afford to eat; we are confident of that. Apart from the many Greek titles, there were also many Greek translations of English books. A linguistics title by David Crystal caught my eye - didn't I read that while I was studying at VUW? But I was completely gobsmacked when I saw what was sitting prominently right next to it with its cover showing, bearing my VUW sociolinguistics professor's name on it. I'd read that one too in its earliest edition! We bought one of the cheaper Arkas volumes and continued on our way.

Patision St (aka 28th October)

Pausing just a little at Plateia Klafthmonos, I imagined who cried (κλαυθμός - klafth-MOS: cry), and who may still be crying here,** before passing through Korai to get to Panepistimiou, which is also called Eleftherios Venizelos Avenue (a spade is not necessarily a spade in Greece). I remember sitting here with a friend, who had driven me all the way from Egaleo to go out for drinks in this very spot. "It's nice here, isn't it?" she kept saying, implying Egaleo's shabbiness, and I always agreed with her, even though at the time I felt uncomfortable among the stemmed-glass candle-lit atmosphere. Athens' regular destruction by 'activists' had left this building intact; not even the omnipresent Greek graffiti was gracing its exterior. A number of tourists were taking photos on the steps of the main University building. I amused myself with the thought that they might have mistaken it for another of Pericles' works, built not in modern times, but in the Golden Age of Athens.

From here, the road descends into the chaos of Omonoia Square, once considered a central meeting place in Athens, with transients and provincials all being lured to it in the past, whether on purpose or by accident, as it was almost impossible not to end up here when coming into the centre of Athens, no matter which part of the country you came from. All roads led newcomers to Omonoia Square:
"They come, all the oppressed and ruined, from the whole of Greece... Indeed, where the monsters grow... they are small places. They first tyrannize and then ostracise those people with erotic variations, in particular. They force them to leave, to go to the large urban centres, and mainly to Athens. And when they arrive in Athens, very quickly they will come by Omonoia Square too, where a certain percentage will stick around."
My own memories of Omonoia Square are bittersweet. I did not want to be reminded of my days of having to bump into the ruined and oppressed as I went about my business. My nostalgia for the streets of my past ended here. Luckily for my children, they will never need to hang around here any longer than it takes to cross the road - they will be able to avoid it altogether.

First photo ever taken in Greece, 1839
Bonus photos:
Our walk took up north of Omonoia Square, up Patision Street, which is officially named 28th-October Street (Greeks never quite Westernised in their street naming style) where we walked past the (barricaded) Polytechneio (the one that started the fall of the junta in 1973), and visited the National Archaeological Museum. Despite its old-fashioned layout, the NAM contains some of the most fascinating collections of the oldest European civilisation. You won't be disappointed visiting this building. And while you're there, check out the wonderful ground floor cafe in the delightful museum gardens. 

* no wonder I left Athens and moved to Crete. For as long as I lived in Athens, I never felt like an Athenian.
** google it: (click here)

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Wednesday 13 July 2016

Athens 2016: Syntagma Square (Σύνταγμα)

On first glance, Syntagma Square may look like an ordinary busy square that's a good place to get photographed in the centre of Athens, just as any large imposing square is in any other European capital city. Sometimes, it feels like the heart of Athens; but there are also times when can feel like Athens' arse. Whatever the case, a visit to Syntagma Square is a must, every time I go to Athens, just to get a feel for the city at that moment when I was visiting.

If you get to Syntagma Square by metro, you may not realise that you are about to exit utopia. The metro (still) looks like it was built last month and opened last week. That's Greece, land of contrast, country of extremes. Walk up the stairs to the viewing gallery where you might catch an exhibition or trade fair. Go and see the ancient graves and water pipes that were sliced through when the metro station was being built. Take in a bird's eye view of the people on the platform as they are going in and out of the trains. There's something here that will please everyone.

Take the escalator to get to the square itself above ground level, where you will see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, standing next to the mighty tall body-fantastic Evzones dressed up in skirts and stockings. If you thought your wife spent too long getting dressed, think about these guys: they need at least half an hour just to get the uniform on, never mind make-up, and they can't even put it on all by themselves.

Where is that melodic music coming from? It's as if it was being played to welcome you. And those delicious aromas? Surely not from the McDonalds across the road. Walk down to the square to find out, but don't step on the grass. That's the ear-tagged stray dogs' turf. Their lives have been greatly enriched - not terminated - by the kindness of strangers. They are just hanging around, like the man (or two) who you will see resting on one of the benches. Don't spend too long staring at him - it's impolite. You  know he's homeless, but you don't know how or why he ended up like this.

Instead, try to soak up the atmosphere of what is happening in the square. If you are lucky, you will see a protest march passing through the square. What do those placards say? Perhaps it's all Greek to you. What's that stuff being sold at the various stalls? Don't confuse it with the paper paraphernalia of the various politicky grass roots movements which don't actually sell you any stuff - instead, they sell you ideas. Who are all these people on the square? Can you tell the tourists from the locals? And where are those migrants that everyone talks about in the news, whenever Greece is mentioned? Perhaps you can't tell them apart from the rest. Maybe they too are sunning themselves among the crowds; like you, they are soaking up the atmosphere, as they wait for the day they will bid farewell to Greece who gave them their first start of a new life in Europe.

Bonus photo:
Travelling on public transportation in Athens is very cheap - just €9 for five days on buses, trolleys, trams and metro trains, or €1.40 per single-ride ticket with a 90-minute duration. You only pay if you have a conscience - it is very very rare to have your ticket checked by an inspector, since no one wants the job, since an anarchist group began targeting ticket inspectors' home addresses.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.