Another old Greek lady wandered all the way down to the front of the bus to have a chat to the old British couple. She was telling them about all the great things to do in Athens.
Something i didn't write about at the time but happened to me on Pellestrina is my encounter with a Greek construction worker. I had walked up into a construction site to try figure out what those rows of giant barges were all about, and ended up in the middle of a lot full of mobile homes. This tough old man walked up to me, and for a moment i thought he was about to berate me for trespassing, but he just asked what i wanted and when i said the ferry he walked me all the way up there along some footpaths in the swamp, between the reeds. I never once felt worried or threatened. He was just kind. "I don't speak English. You go Greece? Islands. Very beautiful."
Outside of Thebes we passed what appeared to be a shantytown. Corrugated iron shacks, plastic and rags flapping in the wind, and then it was gone. The bus didn't stop. Was it migrant workers? Refugees? Homeless? I guess i'll never know.
Driving into Athens feels like driving into LA. The roads get bigger and wider and more choked with oversized vehicles, and in every direction all you can see are gray buildings with windows that glitter through the smog.
It's time to split the tips. This place is in the supposed hip area for bars according to guidebooks, so i guess they pick up a little bit from the tourists. I can tell from the sound of the coins clinging onto the bar and the expressions on the faces of the waitress and bartender that it isn't much, though. I guess i should make an effort to tip again.
Today i walked in the other direction, trying to find something a little more interesting than the hideous stretch of souvenir shops and uninspired bars and cafés in the shadow of the Acropolis. I walked toward a neighborhood my hotel clerk recommended, following the smallest alleys to avoid the cars that jam every major street in the city. I walked randomly into a bar that caught my eye because it was empty and they were playing classic rock, which is rare in Europe (though apparently not in Greece). The counter had a map of Middle Earth embossed on it. WTF?! I asked if i could order some food, and the bartender apologized in advance. "I can offer you food, but it's all vegan." Like.... YAASSSS!!!
Turns out the bar is also a hangout spot for the local RPG-playing kids. There are D&D books next to the whiskey and the whole theme is kind of retro nerd rockabilly viking something something. Cool joint. The bartender listened to my tales of woe and anger and frustration at my job and my industry and she said i was the first person she had ever met who complained they earned too much money.
She'd never left Greece, and said perhaps she doesn't see the ruins the same way tourists do. "It's just a bunch of old rocks." I explained i am much more interested in talking to people and exploring the present-day culture of a country than looking at ruins, but that i visit ruins for the same reason that i visit cathedrals - because i find it fascinating to imagine what must have been going through the minds of the people who toiled for years to build these things. Were they all unwilling slaves? Did some really believe they were building something that served their community or celebrated their religion? It's amazing to me that people struggling in the days of antiquity dedicated so much time and energy to this stuff.
Or perhaps it's not amazing at all. The bartender said the reason she can't be wowed by this stuff is because she understands the mindset of the Greeks. She understands the motivation behind it - the buildings exist solely so that the builder can become famous and create a legacy. It's all about ego, not about the people. Like capitalism? "Yes, like that. None of these buildings are clean, pure."
I ate my vegan burger and sipped craft beer.
"I think if i could move somewhere i would move anywhere. Anywhere must be better than here. But i would get homesick." I asked where she was from and she avoided the question but said if i was going to visit an island i should visit Rhodes. "It smells of the sea, not of mold like the other islands." I mentioned that if you are going to spend your whole life in one country it could be a lot worse than Greece with its beautiful scenery and easy-going lifestyle. She shook her head no. "I see what is behind the beautiful beaches and the sun, and it's not good. It's really not good." She didn't elaborate.
There is something very incongruous about walking through a beaten-up neighborhood with a lot of abandoned buildings and graffiti everywhere and then realizing everyone sitting at the "secret" bars and cafés down the alleyways is well-dressed, with kids and pooches in tow. Just like in Patra, many of the empty lots that house the best works of art are now home to expensive German vehicles. Innercity hustlers just trying to make a buck, turning an urban gallery into a parking lot. An artist painted over his old work with the exasperated phrase "...now the style is parked... there is only space for cars..."
I guess, coming from Berlin, i am used to seeing long-gentrified neighborhoods, but this feels a lot fresher, like it happened overnight. It feels more like the jet set coming into the hood to play at being "street" than grown-up revolutionaries who ended up working for the man but still remember their roots. It doesn't help that i can't understand the language. I have no idea if these people are plotting their actions for the G20 or complaining about the fees on their second mortgage. I fear the latter.
Not that i particularly need to be in the middle of the Greek resistance. I am just trying to figure this city out. I feel like i am not quite "getting" it right now.
I am sitting on top of a container.
I wandered around Athens again today trying to grok the place. Climbed the highest hill in town that has a café overlooking the Acropolis and charges royally for the privilege. Came back down again through the most diverse part of town i found yet. A good mix of immigrants, locals, old and young. A handful of squatted buildings. Lots of banners proclaiming solidarity with Standing Rock, Berkeley etc. Calls to action everywhere to smash capitalism in Hamburg. But also working class coffee shops and trendy bars. It reminds me of my old home in the Friedrichshain Nordkiez. They're under no illusions that gentrification is happening - it's inevitable - but at least it seems to be happening slowly enough and with enough resistance to not completely fuck the neighborhood. Yet.
Then i took the subway to Piraeus. This is the New York subway line i always dreamed of but never got to experience because fuck Giuliani. The cars are graffitied end-to-end both inside and out. You can open the windows. It's what a subway car should look like.
Piraeus is an absolute chaos. Pretty much every ferry, yacht, cruise ship and container vessel in Greece comes through here. There are people hustling on every street corner and everything from the seediest fish'n'chip shop to the most upscale members-only joint share the waterfront. It is dirty and ugly and feels like something is really going on.
I figured this would be a good place to get seafood. I've steered clear this whole trip, mainly because i am still trying to eat mostly vegan, but also because i never really liked seafood very much anyway. But i have to do it once before i leave the Mediterranean coast. I found the simplest crab shack in the fisherman's harbor and sat down for beer, deep fried sardines and "giant beans".
Turns out i should have been ordering "giant beans" from the moment i arrived in Greece. They are basically super-sized white/navy beans cooked in tomatoes and olive oil. Delicious. The sardines weren't bad either. I think it's the first time i've had them not out of a can. They are essentially just lemon and salt delivery vehicles. I felt a bit bad putting an entire fish into my mouth while his brothers and sisters visibly swam around in the sea just a foot away. I silently gave thanks for their sacrifice.
The sun is setting so i walked round to a container i saw in the distance and now i am sitting on it. Looking back at the entire string of restaurants along the harbor i can see i chose well. It's the only one that doesn't have glass, a barrier or even a rope between the dining room and the sea. I could have sat on the floor and paddled my feet in the water.
Looking back the other way i can see the massive luxury yachts like the kind my step brother works on. Being a yachtie would be a hell of a life. Always traveling, visiting the most beautiful places in the world. I think it'd be much, much more rewarding than working on a cruise ship. But i can't imagine the types you'd be cooking for or waiting on every day. The richest people in the world. True 1%ers.
I can also see the Parthenon from here, in the distance. I think this is probably the best way to visit it. Just sitting on a container a few miles away, watching the world go by.
Walking over the freeway to the stadium and hearing the crowds chanting and the hype music blasting i am a bit sad i don't have a ticket. I have never seen a football game. And in Europe they take it so seriously, with flags and banner drops and road flares and fireworks and big ol' hooligan fights. I like Piraeus. Maybe they should be my team. Though i better check if they are a neo-nazi team or an antifa team first.
There are guys selling hotdogs outside the stadium. And souvlaki in a hotdog bun. It reminds me of Toronto.
For a few days now i have wanted to write about how this trip has rekindled my European pride. It was in the toilet after Brexit, but going out to see four European countries i have never visited - Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy and Greece - it made me love this funny little union again. We are all a bunch of arrogant fools with absurd traditions and a history of sectarian violence, but here we are making a go of it anyway. We share a special bond because we chose peace. We chose friendship and camaraderie. It's truly amazing.
And then, you know, Brexit. Fuck England. Fuck fucking England, my country of birth. I was born European and will die European, in my heart.
Fortunately, i am also Canadian. By choice. One of the things i enjoy about European port towns is the diversity. They remind me of Toronto. Yes, Toronto is a fucking cold, miserable concrete block of a shit hole in the middle of nowhere, but it's also the most diverse place i have ever lived. As a lifelong immigrant, living in a city where over half the population is immigrants made me feel welcome. It sold me on the whole country. That's the kind of place i am looking for next.
I just got the call from the port authority. I board tomorrow around 9am. I have just finished doing laundry and am going to try take a day trip to the temple of Poseidon to sacrifice my worn-out sneakers on the southern tip of mainland Europe. I hope he blesses me well. If i have time when i get back this evening i will post some photos and perhaps a final thought. Otherwise - much love, dear readers, and i'll see you on the flip side.