Athens. A small city in the south of Greece. I say small because I have already climbed the city’s highest point and looked around at the city borders. A mountain range that hosts this settlement similar to how the small depressions in rocks often host lichen. Bursts of growth on inhospitable rock faces. I guess that is the human race all right.
My first thoughts are that I ought to be careful. Actually my host’s thoughts are that I ought to be careful, we live in a dangerous area, a red light zone, no police unless all hell is breaking loose. That is before we get there, we are driving in the car when she turns and tells me to always keep one eye on my back and the other on the things I’m carrying. Once we arrive in the district and the visual vibrance of layers of graffiti and peeling posters, empty shops and dimly lit streets hits the retina, the advice seems logical, even unnecessary. For the record, I am not scared here and the streets are not so intimidating, rather more its the air of unease, dissatisfaction and abandonment that is shouting out for attention. The people in this area are friendly and business goes on best it can, people are often out in groups but in social groups and not what appear to be gangs. There is said to be a community of junkies that take refuge in the area and these are the people to be wary of. Late into the night there is a lot of drinking in the streets, although this behaviour largely takes place in social hubs that people congregate at. Most importantly, during the day the coffee house culture of Athens is something to be envious of.
The area that I am living in is called Exarchia and I should tell you somethings about it. For as long as people know, Exarchia has been host to Greece’s anarchist community. Today’s community is comprised of young adults, teenagers, and the punks who are of no specific age group. Added to that are those who are trying to live by working in local businesses, those who have always lived here, those who found a home here, those who are tourists, those who have ended up here due to sympathies with the anarchist image and the ideals it proposes, or the appeal of being a part of the “trendy” red light crowd. I mean to say this is a normal area, it just has become a place attributed with being anarchist.
Graffiti is omnipresent in Exarchia, whilst there is a vast area consumed by street artworks there is not really a diverse range of styles and images. Typically the walls are flooded with tags, there are also slogans which tend to be aimed at the police force. One particular epigram (minus the wit and humour) is in the acronym A.C.A.B. or “all cops are bastards”. The A.C.A.B. statement was curious as it reminded me of my own experiences in England as a periphery member of the punk scene in Coventry. As a human being I have never wanted to be a part of any scene, rather preferring to expose myself to the different perspectives that people hold without necessarily adopting them. However I became aware of A.C.A.B. as an acronym due to the fact that it is a grounding principle of the punk movement. In England at that time in my life this principle was not relevant, as a middle class citizen I hardly felt oppressed by the police and neither did the police openly exert themselves inhumanely against the populace. Rather I felt as though the notion of propounding the A.C.A.B. statement, and the resulting ethos that that promoted, was purely in favour of dissident behaviour and what could only be called mindless vandalism. This said, I have to affirm that I empathise with the underlying anti-capitalist sentiment of the punk movement even though I think the methods it promotes are perhaps transgressive.
On the other hand A.C.A.B. in Greece is legitimised by the police brutality that has been exerted upon the people. According to many young people in Greece, the countries legal system is fundamentally corrupt. The riots were peppered with police brutality as well as outright thuggery on behalf of the populace. It would be silly to suggest otherwise but the dissatisfaction of the people is an all round problem that affects both the authorities and the proletariats.
Just as a matter of interest, it is said that cars over the value of 21, 000 Euro are not safe in Exarchia. They will be burned.
A man whom I spoke to on the street tells me that he used to live in Exarchia but due to the financial crisis he has had to move back in with his parents. His wage dropped significantly but at least he still has work.
Yesterday I made an interesting observation whilst sitting on our apartment’s balcony. Looking down one sees right into the restaurant below, a “convertible” restaurant, its retractable roof coiled up so the diners are under the stars. Watching these diners I recalled my own experiences at restaurants and thought of why I really don’t like eating out.
One thing that I have always found detestable is the fact that often the food is not cooked any better than I could cook it myself. Therefore it is not satisfying, I feel instead cheated, why are we paying extortionate amounts for food that is no better than what we have at home? Surely the purpose of eating out, is to not only enjoy different cuisine to the regular plates that we serve up on our table at home, but is also to enjoy food cooked to a higher quality, we go out to impress and be impressed. At any rate the equation is not adding up.
So in this state of mind I contemplate the dining situation and I then notice the table manners of the diners change as a waiter removes the used plates from the table. The diners are paused in their activities, the waiter is a third party that involved yet detached from their dinner table conversation and thence the dinner table politics. It looked awkward.
Dinner table politics.
Dinner table politics follow that logic that the table is itself a territory of two levels (maybe there are more). The base level is the politic of the host and the guest. The next level is the politic of social interaction. All participants of the dinner must have a role and they must all have territory on the table. This territory is designated by placing, the chairs around the table, the knife, the fork, the plate, the food one eats, has within arms reach, or has ordered. This is physical territory. Then there is the psychological territory set by the characters themselves, how do they spread their conversation, their influence, their presence around the table. This is the set up of any discourse, it is the same for a conversation to some extent. In an “at home” situation, this arrangement of physical and virtual boundaries is stable, everyone is inclusive in that things can be moved and left and there are no rules for the durations of things, all discourses can take its own sweet time and evolve naturally.
In the restaurant context this entire situation is thrown up in the air and reconfigured. The host is not at the table for example, the host sets the table, brings the food, and clears the table. The guests attempt to replace this lost character themselves, they attempt to fulfil the paradigms of the dinner table by arranging themselves in set places around the table. They use their cutlery and other objects on the table to set their boundaries and assert their roles. However the tempo of the meal is set by the absent host, and the psychological boundaries that are set by objects on the table are deconstructed by the waiters.
I wanted to note this state of affairs as a sort of compressed and visual epigram for the consumer lifestyle. The idea of buying space, having our routines effectively slotted into the routines and occupations of others, the idea of role-plays which are actually a part of our social make-up are being cut short from both ends of the candle stick. But this isn’t what I had intended to form a point about, instead it is this idea of consumption as a process of exchange that is ultimately an encapsulated but imbalanced whole. One buys the product, the food, which comes with its packaging, the plate, the goods are the whole entity (packaging + contents = goods) however it is only the digestible material that one uses. We ought to have a use for this “by-product”, the packaging and the plate, but in reality they do not belong to use and if we don’t give it away then it is taken away. In the same way, the worlds economies continue to practise trade. In buying houses I pay for the space but the house can be reclaimed, with mobile phones we compete for the best tariff, so we can consume that allowance, but it must be replenished! As must the funds to pay for the tariff. If I get a taxi I pay for the driver and the car but neither of these things were ever really mine. The point is that everything is an exchange in temporalities.
That was my first observation. My second is simple and it is site specific, at least so I think. The table of two men and one woman are in the restaurant. Upon the arrival of food the woman repositions the food bowl hence asserting her possession of it. Then she clears the plates of the gentlemen either side of her and serves them food. The men make no gesture to serve themselves or indeed help her serve the food apart from to push their plates closer to the food receptacle. Now the reason why I think that this is site-specific is because the role of the woman in the world is still largely considered to be as the matron, the housewife, the organiser of menial tasks, and the caterer. In England women have fewer such manners and are far more equal. Also Greece is neighbour to countries that still retain a strong sense of inequality and, whilst I don’t know about Greece for certain, I am sure that this mentality is present in the Greek community.
The other day I walked up to the cities highest point. I think there is something at the back of mind that is gnawing at my conscience, something that is in need of surfacing but I haven’t found an avenue for it yet. I hoped that by walking about the city I would be able to tease it out. I haven’t done it yet but I walked the following day up to the second highest point in the city. It felt like progress but I still can’t articulate my thoughts. I took this photograph though, it felt appropriate, the subject is in shot yet out of frame. Everything in the photo seems to want to direct you out of it.
Then there was this other piece of graffiti that I wanted to share because I actually find the graffiti here really uninspired, even the use of the cut-up is uninspired and completely ineffective. There was a sketch that was sent to me that I thought would make a visual comparison, I like the style but it just doesn’t really say anything.