Signs of the times

Today is the last weekend before Christmas. One last little hope for the shop owners to make up for the losses of another year of depression. Shops are going to be open on Sunday too. The city centre must be clean to cater for the shoppers, the army of consumers who are actually more like starving animals looking for offers, discounts, credit, installments, anything.

The centre must be clean, the image of the city is what counts. We’re in such a bad situation that we can’t be bothered with what’s behind the curtain. At least we can look well. I was talking with a hotel owner at the neglected areas below Omonia square. About two years ago, despite the crisis that was already there, he had spent more than 2 million euros to turn an old building to a boutique hotel. Last year when I first interviewed him complaining about the area being neglected, about immigrants, crime, few tourists would dare to go the demo-stricken Athens and even fewer would choose his hotel for their stay. This year he sounded much happier, the immigrants were gone, the police is doing a good job patrolling the streets, none of his clients reported any thefts and, above all, tourists increased. I guess he didn’t care about the immigrants’ detention camps or the police abuse, as long as the centre is good for his business, as long as Greece’s image abroad is polished. “Tourists returned to Athens. It’s simple. We had a riot-free year as far as the Athens centre is concerned” he explained while some blocks away, in Exarchia, this very riot-free year has been certain people’s biggest disappointment. Not that they indeed hoped for a real socialist, communist or anarchist revolution but at least there should be some show of resistance, they shouldn’t look as defeated as they do now. Above all it’s the image.

So they city must be clean. The Mayor of Athens, who only a couple of days ago called one of the city’s most vibrant, creative, young and colourful areas [Exarchia] a hub of organised crime, sent out the municipal workers on their eternal crusade against graffiti. The wall of the Bank of Greece HQ should be clean by now. This is how it looked when I passed by this morning.

bank of greece

A municipal worker is cleaning a wall from a graffiti. A bitter orange tree next to the Bank of Greece HQ has flourished. (photo Kostas Kallergis)

The graffiti was saying “Solidarity to all the immigrants”.

It’s winter. The bitter orange trees that decorate the Athenian streets have showed us their fruits. A sweet orange colour on the outside but extremely bitter inside. The naive tourists often mistake them for tangerine and occasionally try to eat them. Nature is teaching us, not everything is as good as it looks. The bitter oranges, the centre of Athens, the Greek economy…

Athens, 21 December 2013. These are the signs of these times.

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