I am sitting in the rooftop bar of the Athens Gate Hotel – famed for its view of the Acropolis, the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Olympia Zeus. This time of evening it’s a mix of leisure and people working – two men on a table behind me who are doing business and a group of four men, Americans, each of whom walked in with a MacBook under their arm, are sitting laptops open working and chatting at the other end of the room… they appear to be online, which I assume means they have decided to swallow the hotel’s for Wifi, which seemed a bit steep to me. The rest are couples of various nationalities enjoying an early evening beer and a snack.
In the cab on the way to Gatwick airport yesteday, the cab driver repeated the now familiar line about Greeks not paying their taxes. The suggestion that the Greek people are to blame for the economic crisis strikes me as a statement that can only come from the outside – it’s not the sort of thing that would be said about people who were known, loved or cared for. But with so little reporting of the Greek crisis by the media, it remains a crisis that people have a vague sense about, but at a distance, which means people don’t spend much time thinking about what might have caused the problem, and what should be done to resolve it.
After arriving in Athens, we made a late start in the morning as we settled in to the two hour time difference. We wandered along attractive easy streets near the Acropolis, down Theorias Street, which goes around the Acropolis, and picked our way through the warren of streets that took us to Monastiraki Square. I always enjoy wandering round cities with Mark, stopping for a coffee somewhere that catches our eye. It’s a good way to become acquainted with a place – and I realised I haven’t really done this much in Athens, despite this being my third visit.
The first time I was here, staying at the Hotel Orion on Strefi Hill in Exarcheia, I had so much on that it was simply easier to get cabs, and when I stayed at Theodora’s house in Kallithea, they were also a convenient means of getting to all the meetings I had lined up… I also like the idea of the small boost to the economy my paying cab fares . Although I did walk, it was very different to the hand in hand wanderings of today – and it also made a difference having someone to discuss the things we saw with, and with two of us I feel less self-conscious about negotiating conversations in bars or stopping to gaze at the extraordinarily dense jumble of curios in the Flea Market.
One of the cafes we decided on was on Mikro Cafe on Mitropoleos (pictured) and like many of the cafes and restaurants here, was largely designed for sitting outside, for leisurely chats and lounging. But none of them ticked the boxes that we had in mind – somewhere, preferably with wifi, to hunker down and do some work. We thought the second cafe we tried, which was back on Theorias Street, would be better suited to working as the tables were set further back from the walkway in what looked like a cosy spot. But by that time we had lost interest in working, so just drank and chatted before heading back to the hotel.
We can engage with a city in so many different ways, exploring it alone, soaking in all a myriad of detail, as is only possible when alone, but being with someone opens up different experiences, as does working, or journeying in cabs, gaining a broad sweep view on they way to a number of meetings. But it also takes time, repetition, footwork and perhaps most importantly, the building of relationships. I’ve been to Athens three times now and I realise that I barely know it, just as know I’ve only scratched the surface of all that’s to be found in the shops and stalls around Monastiraki. But although I have little grasp of what’s happened in Greece and why, when I think about the people I have met I certainly don’t find myself thinking they deserve what is happening to them or their country.