Photo: Athens Graffiti

18 Dec

Athens is a city literally covered in graffiti.  Whether that adds to its cement ugliness or alleviates it is one’s aesthetic choice I guess.  I know it’s the physical marker of a deeply urban, intensely verbal culture — just the way the history books describe us —  the verbal urge so intense that you cover your city in writing — and even if you consider it pure defacement, it can’t be written off as anything but as one of Athens’ essential constitutive elements.

Mostly it’s by kids who are, or maybe just consider themselves, “anarchists” — though their pointed, often witty, often absurdist  undermining of the Greek political power structure’s self-importance, incompetence and viciousness make you grudgingly respect them.  Like this one:

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“ΜΠΑΤΣΟΙ ΘΑ ΣΑΣ ΦΑΝΕ ΤΑ ΠΑΙΔΙΑ ΣΑΣ” — “PIGS [COPS], YOU’LL BE EATEN BY YOUR CHILDREN” — like an image out of Greek mythology.

Lately, though they had gone away for a while, there’s been a profusion of pro-immigrant graffiti and posters, in support of welcoming the 1,000,000 refugees that have come into Europe this year, some three-quarters of them, yes, 750,000, through Greece, the EU country least in a position economically to shoulder and support them and yet the one that has done so with almost no racist or nationalist backlash, but with a popular pride, Homeric even, in being the ones to host the guest, though so least able to.  This one below is about Albanians:

Είμαστε όλοι Αλβανοί

“ΕΙΜΑΣΤΕ ΟΛΟΙ ΑΛΒΑΝΟΙ ” — “WE’RE ALL ALBANIANS” — I was surprised to keep seeing this one; it had been popular in the 90s when, with the fall of communism, Greece was flooded with Albanians, they say 250,000, but their assimilation, or rather, maintenance of a double identity, is so deep that I’m sure it was more than a million and now there are really no cultural or linguistic borders between the two countries anyway; both have become a Balkan form of the American Southwest. It’s probably been taken out of the mothballs for the current immigration flood.  What you see more often now is: “ΕΙΜΑΣΤΕ ΟΛΟΙ ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΕΣ” — “WE’RE ALL REFUGEES.”  I had walked by this one for a few days and put off taking a photo of it, so someone who didn’t agree had come by and crossed out “Albanians.”  Greek conversations are like that: a super smart idea will get thrown, and everyone else’s idea — super-smart or not — will respond, or not really, just shoot off its own reaction, till it turns into a shootout with shit bouncing around all over the walls, that never really gets anywhere.  From elementary school playgrounds to Greek parliament, this is how people talk.

Some, of an obviously Freudian tone, seem to be by students of the Athens University’s School of Psych:

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“Ο ΦΟΒΟΣ ΤΡΕΦΕΙ ΤΟ ΦΑΣΙΣΜΟ, Ο ΕΡΩΤΑΣ ΤΗΝ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ”– “FEAR BREEDS FASCISM, EROS FREEDOM”

My favorite so far has been one that playfully strums on all the fears or possibly scary manifestations of the current, deep, EU-exacerbated, impoverishing economic crisis the country is facing, (25% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, a suicide rate that’s gone up by 36%, and no end in sight…) and does so by taking a witty swipe at my most detested Greek writer, the Cretan Kazantzakis, and his faux-epic, imitation-Russian philosophical heroism.  (Being Cretan, I guess you can’t help it.)  It’s a play on one of his most popular aphorisms: “I hope for nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free.”  You can get this piece of existential brilliance on a refrigerator magnet or painted ceramic plate in a tourist shop on any Greek island.  Including Crete, of course.

This version, however, says:

Το νου σας

“Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα…  Δεν φοβάμαι τίποτα…  Είμαι άφραγκος…  ΤΟ ΝΟΥ ΣΑΣ”“I hope for nothing.  I fear nothing.  I’m penniless.  SO WATCH IT.”

Some are just vulgar for vulgarity’s sake, like this one, which is probably about soccer team rivalry (what else could be more vulgar?  anywhere?) and disses my ‘hood, Pagkrati, but in Latin characters so that they could be sure that I don’t know who — the neighboring hooligans from Zografou? — would understand:

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“PAGKRATI — YOU CUNTS”

Some are startlingly tender in their eroticism:

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“ΑΚΟΥΩ ΤΗΝ ΦΡΙΚΗ ΜΟΥ ΝΑ ΦΩΝΑΖΕΙ ΤΟ ΩΝΟΜΑ ΣΟΥ” —  “I HEAR MY HORROR CALLING OUT YOUR NAME.”

Some sweeter and gentler in their desperation:

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“ΣΕ ΘΕΛΩ ΠΟΛΥ…N” — ” I WANT YOU – A LOT…N”

More to come.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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