Athens used to be a bland city, with gentrification properly spread out and sectored. But even the biggest capitalists can do nothing to separate themselves in most of Athens. This is especially true for central Athens, with its proximity to the Acropolis and the unwitting and unwilling victim or heir to the post-apocalypse neo-urbanism taking place. It’s simply a melange of the old and the new, a mix of the poor and the rich, a fierce and often frightening dichotomy of helplessness and despair meshed in with hope and preservation of dignity. The latter has cropped up by accident in many neighbourhoods.
In Psirri, a working-class neighbourhood bordering Monastiraki (a kitsch tourist trap with a view;tourists buying the cheapest of souvenirs and the lowest quality of food with a low price to match) and Gazi (the trendiest neighbourhood on the city with a burgeoning restaurant and club scene for the wannabes), most of the stores and apartment buildings and houses look closed. Permanently. The graffiti guides us as to what is not occupied. I guess you can describe it as Brooklyn in the Bronx or, better yet, Paris in Nairobi. It gets that confusing when you try to decide which corner is the best to turn on.
I was told that the building above, and many many others like it, were used by squatters. The type of graffiti on the walls outside apparently specifies this.
There is a not-so-imaginary line in what seemed to be the north end of the neighbourhood. I crossed the big street, noticing that it was relatively barren and that cars sped through it. Oddly, no taxis passed. They all picked up passengers on the Monastiraki side. A young African man looked at me and smiled. He approached me and, in perfect Greek, told me that he wouldn’t be able to help me if the Asians came. I went back where I came from.
Bougatsadiko serves, well, bougatses.
Scrumptious. Wholesome sugar and cholesterol. I use a knife and fork to eat it.
This picture properly captures the dichotomy of the area and most of the city.
Psirri has good restaurants, great pastry shops, and nice old-fashioned ouzeris where you can have meze like octopus and lamb with your raki. The amount of choice is surprisingly overwhelming, as is the quality of the hotels. Homelessness brings about lush.
The translation of the sign above is “I suffer”. And therein lies the point of this whole post. Suffering is part of the economic reality present in the city. But in a place with so little hope, people can still see the opportunity the future may give. But at what cost? Will their culture be preserved.