Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Central Athens at a Critical Time: 1999-204

July, 2000. Athena Street, looking south towards Monasteraki.
These images have nothing to do with the playful recollection of Matisse in the last post, though it was taken from inside this hotel. You can see those windows on the exterior of the hotel's own website.
It may seem that I went to Athens to do everything but art and archaeology, but in fact I spent all day in relevant museums and libraries. I have chosen to write this blog about the rest.
In the summer of 2000, Athens had done wonders in cleaning up after the earthquake ten months before and had opened the larger part of the Metro that has been so effective in reducing bus and private auto traffic. The old plateia Monasteraki, where three metro lines would cross and share a station, was on schedule for the Olympic Games of 2004. It was nearly unrecognizable in 2000 to those who had known it a generation earlier, being deep and complex in an archaeological zone of great density. Greece did not just ignore remains of any period, from Neolithic through Turkokrateia. And of course everything had to be earthquake-proof; it was like running the Bay Area Rapid Transit train from San Francisco under the Bay to the East Bay counties. It was not the first time that I had stayed at the Hotel Cecil, one of those valuable secrets that the English shared with Americans who could appreciate it. When I would be in Athens for only a winter holiday season or a summer, the Cecil was perfect. I suspect that the feature advertised as a roof garden is still, as it was then, a place to hang laundry to dry high above any soil from traffic. Also, it afforded the best view of the Acropolis that I know.
These photos are to share what surely will have changed, with Athena Street being made pedestrian and its south end at Monasteraki repaired and restored. What will they have done, saying that it is to be a Green Zone? This is reportorial photography. I only wish I'd already been working digitally, so that I could shoot prodigally. As it is, I'll ask a friend or two in Greece, who do their shopping by choice in Athena Street, to post their photographs, if they have any. There's a whole streetful of herb shops, for example.
Saturday morning 8 July 2000, just around the corner from the entrance to the Hotel Cecil. The man is shopping for knives (machairia) or suchlike tools (ergaleia).
One thing you notice, at street level, at eye level everything looks different from those web sites. Also, however (and who hasn't seen this in hotels everywhere), the view out of rear windows is different. Not that Greek construction before rebar and concrete was bad, but the second floor of the building next to the Cecil, which I photographed from my room window, would not, I think, ever be reoccupied, though in 2000 the shop on the street was perfectly functional. The worst damage from the 1999 earthquake had been, as in Istambul, to residential structures built half a century later, with rebars (but also with poor concrete?).
From my upper floor window of the Cecil, the upper floor of the next building north, 10 months after the earthquake, is abandoned, though the ground floor still had shops. This is 19c or early 20c construction.
Though such rear-window pictures are informative as well as picturesque, my love of Athena Street is for its commercial system of small, specialized craftsmen and merchants selling products that all but the very richest Greeks in common use in their homes. If only, knowing what to look for, I had been a real working photographer and had given the work a higher priority.
A nice display of bulk manufactured plastic sprinklers, blacksmith forged mattock blades, small-mill turned handles, etc.
Imagine what the owner of a suburban Mall in the USA would say to a daily exhibit of rakes and mattocks and (from some plastics factory) sprinkers on the sidewalk in front of the shop. But everyone knows where to go to get such garden tools and the whole range of choices is set out for your inspection.
George Triantophyllos (that means Rose). On site manufacture is becoming very rare. I think it says that they've been there since 1947. Yes, I know, it's pronounced Triandófilos, but it's easier to read as in Greek.
A little more mysterious is the Triandaphyllou shop just around the corner. It sells knicknacks with beads, but not plastic koumbologia and not big blue glass eyes such as purely touristic shops sell. Behind the transom (or mezzanine) window are huge spools of colored cord that may have been there for a very long time. I have never succeeded in relating them to the things suspended at the door jambs. The copper bells are pure touristic wares. Perhaps, however, what they sell at the doorway is not closely related to some small manufacture carried out for wholesale to others. It doesn't matter: I like the spools of colored cord behind that mezzanine (I suppose, thinking of the shops in the Mercati Traiani in Rome) window.
Athens 2000. Newly restored Demotikê Agorá Athenôn, looking up Athena Street towards Monasteraki. After the earthquake, they fixed it, and also, seeing its architectural distinction, put it on the Registry. This is on a Sunday morning. The separately photographed Xeroi Karpoi store is on the corner, at the right.
A block up Athena Street towards Homonoia is the Public Market, restored after the 1999 earthquake and put on the registry of significant buildings. Unfortunately it is not at its best without being open and frequented. On the corner, however, is one of the best xeroi karpoi shops in Athens. I hope it is still there.
Athens 2000. Xeroi Karpoi store on corner by the Demotike Agora Athenon on Athena Street. Xeroi karpoi are all sorts of dry produce, grains and nuts and dried fruits. The shops are fragrant. Near sunset the lamps are lit. I'm awfully afraid that making the street 'green' might also make is pseudo-sanitary, which is bad for nuts and things, especially Aegina pistachios (phystikia--in Greek, peanuts are called arab pistachios).
And opposite the Public Market are the fish and seafood stalls as well as merchants with cages of chicks and bunnies and sometimes kittens and puppies, as well as bags of kibble to feed them. I promised an octopus embracing an ouzo bottle, and here it is.
I promised a picture of ouzo-loving chtapodhia, and here it is. The fish and other seafood, as well as living bunnies and gamecocks and easter chicks in season, are on the opposite side of the street from the Public Market. Demotic Greek does not like to say oktopodhes, so it does just what German would do: make it neuter gender. The third declension and the dative case were among the first casualties of modernizing in speech (well, and -mi verbs, certainly)

There are more market pictures in the Picasa album, all captioned, and I'll devote another post to the Plateia Monasterakiou, to Homonoia, to Hermes Street (for what little I have; I didn't anticipate that an earthquake would alter Hermes Street so radically).