Archive for March 21st, 2005

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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