Athens, grittily getting on

Pelts of heavy rain hit my highly permeable clothing, as I amble between cars and puddles, trying to avoid them both, all the while ducking trees and keeping an eye out for a place of refuge – a café.

The hen do hasn’t gone quite to plan. Our beautiful spacious apartment is indeed beautiful and spacious, but also miles from civilisation. Ironic, given we are in the nation that invented it. Suburbia Athens style, public transport is sparce, and the Acropolis truly a pilgrimage. Add to this the torrential rain and gloomy skies, and it is fair to say that the reality is a little different from our images of a sun drenched sophisticated city break.

But this is an opportunity to discover Athens through the eyes of the Athenians. Not the ancients, Zeus and his cronies, where deities an devotions ruled sway, but Athens in 2012, perpetually teetering on the edge of the economic lifeline of a tumble to the abyss of financial desolation.
As in any Eastern European of Mediterranean city, the café I sit writing this in is not full of the yummy mummys that frequent such places in leafy west London, but men at least twenty years past being ‘of a certain age,’ sipping their thimbles of coffee, stroking their balding heads, and waving their hands animatedly as they debate their manifestos for the way the world should be. Greek is a difficult language, and one I am unable to fathom, but one gets the feeling that the tirades of emotion or delicately and deliberately stated points, as well as the headlines on newspapers that line the walls of the shops where windows once were, are not concerned with the latest plastic celebrity gossip.The ‘chatter’ I find myself next to the plane warns me to watch my bags and to be wary of pickpockets. ‘ Like any city, I say?’ Living in London, I know the perils of leaving my valuables, or even non valuables, on show for all to grab at. ‘No, not like any city’ he says ‘the people are hungry.’ Everywhere we go in the suburb of Mardisoi, the suburb in which we are staying, we are met with bafflement as to why we are in Athens, and the joke is not lost on us that it’s not for the weather.

Everyone we meet is friendly, to the point at which it is alarming that the fact that it strikes us, shows how rare it must be to see seven girls in their mid twenties here on holiday, and interested in their surroundings. Harried shoppers not only painstakingly explain the directions to our destination, but even lead us there. The complexities of a Greek menu are drawn in pictures, and the owner of our apartment even pops round one evening with the most decadent chocolate cake this side of Belgium, in celebration of my friend’s impending nuptials.

Despite the bleak economy, bleak weather, and bleak crumbling buildings, there is a sense of stiff upper lip, although obviously administered with Mediterranean pizazz. Athens is a place obsessed with the perfect form. From the ancient Doric columns, elegantly tapering to the top, the dedication to the goddess of everything, to the intricate attention that is given to pouring the perfect cup of coffee.

The milk is thick, my coffee bitter, my feet wet, and my eyes tired. I won’t be sad to go home. But I do hope to return to Athens when it is in a good mood, as even this dampened Athens is one of welcome.

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