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Archive for March, 2005

Στο τετράγωνο που μένω στο Παγκράτι είναι και το αστυνομικό τμήμα. Ένας απ’ τους μπάτσους φέρνει, σχεδόν κάθε μέρα, το τετράχρονο παιδί του. Όλη μέρα μπαίνει στα παρκαρισμένα περιπολικά και παίζει με τη σειρήνα. Κάνει κουμάντο, κανένας δε του μιλάει.

Έρχεται το φορτηγό της Δέλτα στο Νίκο το ψιλικατζή, απέναντι. Ο μικρός είναι εκεί και τους καθοδηγεί: “‘Ελα! Έλα! ‘Ελα!”

Μια μέρα έπαιζε μπροστά στη πολυκατοικία μου την ώρα που γύρναγα σπίτι. Ένα αγόρι και ένα κορίτσι, αδέρφια προφανώς, περνούσαν χέρι-χέρι. Με σοβαρότατο ύφος τους λέει, “Μην πάτε πιο κάτω. Είναι η αστυνομία εκεί.”

Σήμερα πέρναγε ο Μάκης ο ηλεκτρολόγος, που έχει μαγαζί λίγο πιο κάτω απ’ το ψιλικατζίδικο.

“Πού πας;” τον ρωτάει ο μικρός.

“Στο Νίκο,” του λέει ο Μάκης.

Τον κοιτάει λοξά τον Μάκη, με μισόκλειστα μάτια, και του λέει:

“Είναι βέβαιο;”

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Spring arrives

Before we left to go down to the house, we called our neighbour to ask about the condition of the water. Back in September, some construction workers who had opened up the water pipes in the street to connect them to a house had gone home without closing them or covering them. That night, there was a heavy rainfall, which carried mud and pebbles into the hole they had dug, and into the pipes. Eventually the problem was addressed (I don’t say fixed), although the water pressure was low. The neighbours assured us that only a couple of days before, they had turned on our hose to water our garden.

When we got there, however, and turned on the taps, there wasn’t a drop. Since they had watered the garden, the pipes had clogged again.

Fortunately, the neighbours had used a hose to connect to the house behind them, so we had enough water for emergencies there. I’d go next door with buckets whenever we needed some. It was annoying at first, and we were considering returning the next morning, but soon enough we got used to it.

And the next day, the regular tenants made us feel welcome.

Ήλθ’, ήλθε χελιδών,
καλάς ώρας άγουσα,
καλούς ενιαυτούς,
επί γαστέρα λευκά,
επί νώτα μέλαινα.

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The Great Exodus (March version)

Like most Athenians, we’re going away for the long weekend. Not only will there be no internet connection, but the telephone at the house has been disconnected for most of the year to save money on phone bills.

This is the view from our balcony. In the distance is the road going south to Leonidio.

Also from the balcony. In the distance you might be able to make out the island of Spetses.

Same view, sunrise.

I don’t know whose house this is, but I liked the white curtain flying out the balcony window.

The balcony again. Even in Arcadia, it seems, there are traces of melancholy.

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Insomnia

It’s 3.30 am. I went to bed a couple of hours ago. I listened to classical music on the radio for an hour, till it shut off by itself, then listened to my heart beat. Then I got up and made some chamomile.

I have an interview tomorrow, and I’m dreading it because I always thought of this company as my last resort. If it turns out to be like the last one, then I don’t know how long it will take before another opportunity comes along.

I can feel the threads of the safety net unravelling. More than ever before, I feel exposed to danger, like the blind cat hiding in the courtyard next door.

I’ve set my alarm for 7.30. I’ll probably show up for the interview with swollen bloodshot eyes.

I swear, if I get this job, I’m going to buy you all a drink.

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Nor dread nor hope

For the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a cat, probably no more than six or seven months old, moving slowly about in the garden outside my balcony.

This is the best picture I have of the garden at the moment, taken a few years ago after a sudden snowfall. On the other side of the ledge is a parking lot, about 15 meters down. To the right is a high wall, covered in ivy.

This young cat was moving around more gingerly than other cats usually do. At one point it seemed to misstep and nearly fall off the ledge and into the garden. My cat, Lazy, was sitting on a chair on the balcony, crouching behind a pot of aloe, watching. Somehow, she seemed to know not to run out and attack it. (Cats are always fighting in the garden.)

Later I saw the cat up on the high wall, meowing loudly. I noticed it had no eyes. A woman was down at the end of the high wall, to the right of the ledge, where the people who live in the building around the corner park their cars. She was dangling her keys and calling out to the cat, which couldn’t find its way back to the tree it had climbed up to get to where it was.

I saw it again today, standing on the high wall, “looking” down.

How does a cat survive in a city like Athens with no eyes? I hate seeing animals suffer, and live in fear of seeing a cat or dog get hit by a car. Dogs here in Greece do something I’ve never seen them do in Toronto: they chase cars at intersections and try to bite them. My heart is in my throat every time I see this. They usually do it in packs. They seem to choose cars arbitrarily, but always just after the lights have turned green and the cars have started moving. They invariably try to bite the car somewhere between the front door and the front bumper. It’s a game, apparently, but it drives me crazy. How do they manage to keep their teeth?

Actually, Athens has surprisingly little roadkill. There would probably be more if so many cats and dogs weren’t poisoned. On 31 December 2002, the night before Athens became the capital of EEC, over 40 cats and 18 dogs died after eating food laced with insecticides. These animals lived in and around the park at Zappeio, where the summit was held. Despite a surprisingly large demonstration, and a petition signed by almost 50,000 people demanding an end to the poisoning, which was delivered to the Greek embassy in Brussels, in February of 2003, another 20 cats around Zappeio were killed.

It’s the helplessness of these animals that fills me with dread, the idea that they are victims of a world they can’t understand. When they’re dying slowly and painfully, what do they think? (For, as anyone who’s ever had a dog or cat can tell you, they sometimes growl and whimper in their sleep, a sign that they dream, and if they dream they must have thoughts which are somewhat like ours.) Do they wonder why? Do they know the end has come, or are they waiting for the pain to go away? Something in the way they seem to wait stoically for death makes me want to believe that they don’t feel pain as acutely as we do.

How much worse is it for an animal that can’t even see the threats that surround it?

I’ve always wanted to believe, as Yeats said, that neither dread nor hope attend a dying animal, though not because man has created death. Thinking so simply makes it easier for me.

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Lateral Research

Here’s an interesting new blog. If you drop by to take a look, make sure you start at the beginning.

It lends a whole new sense to the term “link”.

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A walk through Kaisariani

Two or three years ago I went for a walk through Kaisariani with my camera. I wanted to preserve some images before they’re gone.

In 1922, when the refugees came from Asia Minor, one of the places where they settled in Athens was in Kaisariani. Housing projects like these were set up for them here and in other areas.


People still live in some of these apartments. Kaisariani saw a lot of action during the civil war, and most of the holes in the walls were made by bullets. Many people want to preserve the buildings for historical reasons.


A few days ago I was standing at the 224 bus stop, which is just to the left of the trees in the distance. Across the street from the bus stop used to be a building like these, with the same kind of bullet holes. It’s been torn down and will be replaced by a new building a few storeys taller than the ones in the distance.


An abandoned house in one of the narrow streets.


I took this one through the broken window of one of the abandoned homes. There was nothing in the room but some old rags thrown in a corner.


People were still living in the upper floor, where the shutters are more freshly painted to the far right and left. (Only the room at the corner seems uninhabited.) They would enter through a courtyard to the right and go up some stairs.


You get the sense while walking down the streets that you’re in a different time, in Athens as it was thirty to forty years ago.


An old cafe.


I took this picture because I liked the drug store and the old sign. At the time I wasn’t aware of the fact that there was a journalist, novelist, and documentary maker of the same name, Stelios Kouloglou. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe his grandfather came over from Asia Minor and set up this shop.


Some of the houses of course are still lived in, with little gardens, and basil growing in small tin cans. The residents are usually old Greeks, or poor immigrants.


You can see the apartment buildings going up in the background.


I imagine it won’t be long before what few of these homes are left will be torn down for more apartment buildings.

When I get a job (which had better be soon) I’m going to get a digital camera and go back.

* * * * *

“There were Cypriots here, Lebanese, Armenians, Alexandrians, the island Greeks, the northern Greeks, the old men and women of the epic separation, their children, grandchildren, the Greeks of Smyrna and Constantinople. Their true home was to the spacious east, the dream, the great idea. Everywhere the pressure of remembrance. The black memory of civil war, children starving. Through the mountains we see it in the lean faces of men in flyspeck villages, stubble on their jaws. They sit beneath the meter on the cafe wall. There’s a bleakness in their gazing, an unrest. How many dead in your village? Sisters, brothers. The women walk past with donkeys carrying bricks. There were times when I thought Athens was a denial of Greece, literally a paving over of this blood memory, the faces gazing out of stony landscapes. As the city grew it would consume the bitter history around it until nothing was left but gray streets, the six-storey buildings with laundry flying from the rooftops. Then I realised the city itself was an invention of people from lost places, people forcibly resettled, fleeing war and massacre and each other, hungry, needing jobs. They were exiled home, to Athens, which spread toward the sea and over the lesser hills out into the Attic plain, direction-seeking. A compass rose of memory.”

Don DeLillo, The Names.

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