I came back from Athens yesterday. Once again I found myself in one of the hotspots of the world. In all of Europe, there's no place where things are taking off these days as they are in Athens right now. My boyfriend was there with me the last week, and we experienced the demonstrations and street fights, which were the worst Athens has seen so far this year. Since he's a journalist and the uproar over the past weeks moved closer and closer to our apartment until teargas was on our roof terrace and chasing police motor cycles were in the streets right underneath us, we had to go down there these last days and be close to it.
Some days we didn't go near the parliament square Syntagma until midnight when the fighting would be over. But then we'd find and walk through the scenery of a recently fought civil war. Burned out ticket kiosks and news paper stands, burned out TV coaches, burned out trash containers, trash, and worst of all; trashed street environment and marble pieces in different sizes shattered all over. The marble from fountains, stairways, stair stones, street plant pots, the pavement of the streets themselves - broken and used for throwing. In certain areas of the city, the streets were paved with these pieces of marble, the aesthetic treasures of the past, now broken into tiny bits up to the size of a fist, used to throw at the police.
In the daytime we sometimes walked the streets with the demonstrators and waved back and forth according to the teargas thrown by the police. Back and forth. Luckily, the wind often helped, so it was bearable. And we didn't move to the front row, after all, this was not our fight. But the crowd was not made of the few angry young men. We moved constantly amongst all kinds of people - except the very rich and the very old - and they were all prepared to be there. This was not a shock to them, the street confrontation with the police. They came to show their feelings and beliefs, and were prepared to take this with. Housewives, ladies in their fifties, sixties. They all came with masks and white zinc salve on their faces to try and withstand the gas from the police. They were prepared to be thrown teargas at. The women who would typically be pacifists and try to keep their sons home from war. Now they showed in the streets with white painted faces and masks over their mouth and nose. They were angry.
Hordes of Greeks and hordes of police troops. I walked one night a few weeks ago, I'd been in Denmark for a weekend midway through my stay, I came back from the airport, and walked past hundreds of police men. The airport bus wouldn't ride any closer to the center, so I was dropped off forty-five minutes from where I lived. I walked for so long past motor cycles parked by the side of the street all the way to Syntagma, where the demonstrators were. I asked an officer, What way would you recommend me to walk, how many are you, and where are you from? He told me, there were three hundred motor cycles right there, waiting.
That night, I walked another way home. I lived close to the Syntagma Square, and didn't want to get caught right between the police troops and the demonstrators. But it was like that. Walking home on a quiet boulevard at 1AM in a cool breeze. Only difference from any other night was the passing six hundred concentrated police men in the quiet night, all of them awaiting in black battle uniforms, helmets, and ballistic vests, they were two on each bike, armed, taken in from the entire region of Attica, probably to be enough but also so they wouldn't know the demonstrators personally and have a problem beating them up in case. Focused and excited. Intense tension and intention in the night air.
One of the days where the demonstrating and fighting was at its worst, we had no choice. We were in the middle of the revolution, we were not really a part of it. We wanted to show our sympathy, but this would never be our fight. We didn't want to risk ourselves to be in this. We didn't want to be war tourists getting a kick out of other people's misery and real problems. But we were there. Stuck in the middle of Athens - I was given this grant stay more than six months before going, and we'd both ordered tickets back then. What could we do? It was 91 degrees outside. It was the middle of an afternoon. The city all around us was in complete chaos and constant uproar. The streets full of fires and teargas and shouting and clapping masses with white faces and gas masks, dust masks, surgery masks. The air full of gas, sirens, battle cries, smoke, anger, tension, fear, colliding wills, and collective frustration.
We went to the kitchen of our apartment and made a tray with little bowls of fresh cherries and nuts. Put a bottle of champagne and glasses on it. Went to the bathroom and made ourselves a hot tub with drops of Jojoba oil in it. Brought the laptop out and found Martha Wainwright singing Edith Piaf. We lit a few candles. Turned out the light. Shut the door.
We laid in each end. And for those hours, we couldn't hear the police nor the ambulance sirens. We couldn't taste the gas. Couldn't feel the constant anger in the city's air. We drank champagne, massaged feet, fed each other cherries, smiled blissfully and laughed pleasurably while we listened to French cabaret evergreens in the quiet and romantically candle lit bathroom. And we spread a little love in the middle of all this.
I guess it's what bohemians do, when there's nothing else for us to do. We surrender to decadence. Fight our own little battle against the system and the rules. We drink champagne in the afternoon.
The fights were still on when we came out, teargas still lingering in the air on our roof terrace. Later that night we walked over the Syntagma Square. I picked up a piece of marble and walked with it in my hand for a while. Someone had thrown that piece at a police officer's shield earlier that day. After it being smashed of a fountain, which may easily have been in the square for centuries. We moved silently through the scene. All of these events, from the white painted mask wearing housewives to the bathroom bubble of love and laissez-faire. It's all equally real and unreal, two different worlds in the same world, existing side by side, or rather one inside the other, a capsule of soft and sweet love inside the Athens capsule of roaring and struggling masses and armed police forces, all inside a quiet summer Europe, all underneath the same wide, huge blue sky.
Two years ago I was in Helmand. I crossed the Helmand River by a rope because of the strong undercurrent, with water up to my chest, in helmet, ballistic vest, ballistic eye wear, carrying my own morphine and a tourniquet, while more than thirty soldiers were pointing their guns in all directions to protect the river crossing. I still haven't written anything here about that trip. I don't know if I ever will. The impressions of the war were strong. I guess I'm still digesting.
Athens is for now over for me. Today I'm back in Copenhagen. So is my love. It's 2PM. We're still eating breakfast.