It was 2010 when I lived in Greece taking advantage of my Erasmus scholarship.
Greece. Cradle of democracy. Temple of wisdom and knowledge. A beautiful country, very green, with a spectacular cuisine and almost as old as the history of mankind.
I will not belabor talking about the Parthenon, the temple of Poseidon at Sounion or the Labyrinth of the Minotaur in Crete. The views of Lyccabitus, Castle Tesalonikki, the Temples of Metheora or the thousand steps in Nafplio. The Carnival of Patras, the sunset of Santorini or the stunning beaches of white sand of the Greek islands. I leave them to you to discover them for yourselves. Perhaps with a little time later, we will discuss and talk about these beautiful places, but today I prefer, if you don’t mind, to talk about the Greeks and other Greece I met.
It seems like yesterday when Desi came for me at Athens airport, the city that would be my place of residence for a year. It is gratifying when they come for you and help you settle. Thanks Desi. Thanks Dimitri, who is now her husband, for welcoming me into your house my first days, thanks for being my friend.
It was Desi who encouraged me to settle on the flat in Exarchia, supposedly the most contentious area of the city, which was and still is. Just have a look at the special police body guards with shields and guns around the perimeter of Exarchia 24 hours a day. Welcome to the barrio.
Exarchia is from where start the demonstrations at Syntagma Square . You have probably seen many times the riots on the news.
Police does not enter in Exarchia if it’s not strictly necessary. It’s a tough neighborhood but it doesn’t mean there is crime. Do not misundertand criminal area with conflict zone.
I saw with my eyes groups of hooded youths, probably students, employing military tactics to ambush the special groups of Greek police, and when they were cornered, bombarding them with molotov cocktails.
Fear. I can not describe it other way. Me with my camera. An asian between state security and protesters. “Get out of here, turn off the camera” I heard from one side. “Move out, this is not your war” said the other. For a moment I thought I was a war reporter in No man’s land, but it didn’t take me long to leave the camera at home to live these moments by real. It is all in my memory, in my mind’s eye. The smoke, the pepper spray, the laser pointers, the fear.
But Exarchia is also the bohemian neighborhood of artists and cool people where art and creativity permeates everywhere. All with a rebellious underground touch. Among the millions of tags on the walls there are amazing hairdressers, clothes, vinyls, antiques and second hand shops. Local and creative food restaurants, bookstores and art galleries. Cozy cafes, microtheaters and one million corners left in my memory until my future return.
And at nightfall, music sounds in bars, concerts at Exarchia Square, open air cinemas. Establishments lower their gates and show a universe of graffiti. A street urban art museum. The hairdresser with Edward Scissorhands, the florist with a burst of colorful flowers, music store with artists no needed to be named … A show, a visual spectacle worth seeing. There is no gap or wall that does not have a work of urban art or a revolutionary message.
Psiri also has much urban art, like Gazi, which is next to Kolonaki, the cool drinking area of the city. But Exarchia is another level. It is worth climbing to the top of Mount Lyccabitus to enjoy one of the most spectacular views of the Parthenon and the entire city. I also have good memories of the open air market on Wednesdays not to mention the meat and fish market. Worth visiting especially on Fridays.
I said I was not going to extend talking, among other things, the Parthenon, but my blood boils just thinking about how it was ransacked. I churned the bowels few years later, looking at how entire facade looked at the British Museum in London. Not cool. I could spend hours talking about it that’s why I leave it for another post.
In one of the outputs of the neighborhood, down Exarchia Square, the street Stournari (called the small Silicon Valley Athens), leads you the Faculty of Architecture. Also full of graffiti inside, it was the refuge of the popular opposition to the dictatorial regime on 17th November 1973, when a tank shot down bars and rolled hundreds of people causing a slaughter.
Precisely near Exarchia Square during a revolt in 2008, Alexis Grigoropoulos, a 16 – year-old was shot dead by the police, which ignited the revolutionary flame causing riots throughout Greece. The fact is that it had a precedent in 1985 with Michalis Kaltezas, 15, which made the whole town reveal.
I remember watching Madrid’s 15-M on the news from Athens. Viewing the raising hands of the spaniards, in contrast to the violence of Greece. I remember thinking that I was witnessing in Greece was what would happen in Spain afterwards. The crisis in advanced state. I remember my fear thinking about my future, the future of a spanish university student in whose country engineers were serving drinks and sweeping the streets, if they even had such a luck.
I remember myself thinking, “What will I do when I go home?”.
I remember it was in Greece where I realized I had to do something serious with my life. I remember it was in Greece where I decided to undertake. Thanks Ioannis for helping me create the website and designing the logo of the startup that today I’m still living from.
I have to go back to Greece, both white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters as the dirty streets of Exarchia. A country of contrasts that made my way of thinking and my life give a twist, in addition to greatly influence on my creative side. A country with a history full of myths and legends. A country that hosted me for a year but marked me for life.
Greece is for humanity what heart and mind are for the human being
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)