Athens’s flags wave endlessly in the hot wind. It is as if meltemi came here expressly to make these white and blue stripes dance above main doors and beside tourist restaurants’ signs. You will find them also in the shops that sell the last film rolls left, miniature Greek statues, and slippers with pompons. You will find them everywhere, and each time wonder: have they always been here? It is the first time you visit Athens and Greece. When you get to Alice Inn, in Tsatsou Street, it is dark already. Plaka’s restaurants are full and, every time you raise your eyes, the Parthenon (438 BC) looks like a golden moon emerging among the buildings. You sit at a table round the corner and order bowls full of flavours – sour, sweet, new – under a downhill pergola.
The day after, you’ll walk up to the Acropolis deliberately, crossing the narrow Anafiotika alleys. You will meet thin hungry kittens, artificial signs among fig branches, glimpses of uncultivated countryside, deserted little houses with balconies and panoramic views, and flat roofs. From above, Athens will look fearless and beautiful. You will admire, together with other tourists, the sun-dazzled marbles, the Temple of Athena Nike (427-424 BC), the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attalos (140 BC), and the Temple of Hephaestus (449-444 BC). You will reach the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Olympian Zeus feeling a kind of mystical peace that will linger on for days. Dried-fruit hawkers, yellow cabs, waiting soldiers. Every detail of the city will look different.
Athens needs to be loved slowly.
You will order the lemonade of a lifetime (lemon, mint, a cinnamon stick, honey) under the fans of a café in Psiri and, for once, you will forget its name. It is like Psiri to forget. Art galleries, fashionable bars, design restaurants, but also deserted buildings in empty streets, their walls covered with murals that hypnotize you like giants’ tattoos. Then, John will take you to dine at Melilotos and to drink Rosemary Martini in a jungle of figs, inside a courtyard that hides a secret (Six Dogs, in Avramiotou). The day after, on his white Vitara, he will take you to a flea market on the edge of the world, through Thiseio’s narrow streets, and through Iera Odos’s abandoned atmosphere that reminds you of last summer in Los Angeles. A chaotic, violent, extreme, gipsy market, one of those you were often forced not to reach. Unforgettable. In exchange for a few euros, you will buy an old photo album about a 1922 journey in ‘Benice’, a notebook with faded notes about English lessons, an oil painting in a pale azure frame. All of this while a longing Greek folk song plays over and over again. Meanwhile, the meltemi keeps waving the flags, then, without notice, abandons them wrapped around the pole.
Words and pictures Laura Taccari. Translation Alessia Andriolo. Thanks to John Consolas.