I have been in Athens for almost a week; this visit is different. I will be living here for three months with an apartment, a neighborhood, and a job- teaching film studies. Presently, I am living in a posh neighborhood and seem to be partially “protected” from the desperation that lives in other parts of the city. There is graffiti on a few walls, and occasionally, a homeless person emerges, posting herself next to a kiosk; however, unless I move out of this enclave, I see little of the suffering that Greeks are experiencing.
Last week, as I walked to the National Library for an exhibit, a seemingly professional man seemed to be lost. He followed people, mostly women, looking for direction, not directions, but direction. Naturally, those he approached were uneasy. People moved away from him and police scowled. He drifted away.
Two days ago, as I sat in a cafe reading The International Herald Tribune, a middle aged man who also had the air of the middle class about him, paraded in front of the cafe speaking aloud to the coffee drinkers. He wasn’t particularly aggressive nor did he seem unhinged. Yet, there was something he needed to share. No one responded.
As I was walking home that same day, I crossed behind the National Gardens. At the corner, a soldier stood at attention with a machine gun held to his chest. Who is he protecting?
Another sight that seems more prevalent on the weekends are individuals laying prone on the sidewalk arm extended for an offering. One such women lay in front of an expensive boutique. She moaned as two young women discussed the price of the handbags displayed in the window. Now, I find myself crossing the street to avoid beggars. How much would it cost if I gave to each of the beggars I encounter? Then, there is my New York scepticism. Are they for real?
Yesterday, I decided to go to a high end shopping center which turned out to be a block long department store. As soon as I entered, I wanted to leave. There were many clerks but no customers. The store, Attica, could have been anyplace where wealth is possible. In Greece, where universal health care has been eliminated and people are cutting down wood in the national gardens to heat their homes, this store wreaks of moral decay. Berlin in the thiries?