There are some things that make you realize that what we’re experiencing in Greece right now is not a crisis; it’s complete decadence. The filthiness of the city and the way it just seems to keep spreading is one of those things.
What is going on that we have allowed Athens to become so dirty? The center of the city is for the most part sad and messy, with piles of trash, overflowing garbage bins and neglected parks. A sea of neglect stretching from Omonia Square to Lycabettus Hill, across dejected Academias and unconscionable Stadiou streets – with rows of shuttered stores and chronic spots of squalor – to Acharnon, Patission and so on.
The only exceptions – and the only streets we enjoy looking at – are the Dionysiou Areopagitou promenade and the rest of the area around the Acropolis Museum and the Herod Atticus Theater.
Omonia, where many tourists first arrive when visiting Athens, is one of the city’s ugliest neighborhoods. Even green Lycabettus appears forgotten with its three-years closed open-air theater and discarded plastic bottles and beer cans along the walking trails that wind their way through the trees.
The fact is that we have grown accustomed to the grubbiness. At summer cinemas, few take the time at the end of the screening to throw away their trash. On Marathonos Avenue in the northeast, posters for shows at municipal theaters remain on electricity poles for months, while you can still see motorists chucking cigarette butts and empty water bottles out their windows – even the family trash bag they forgot to throw in the dumpster before leaving home. Median strips across the city are overflowing with such rubbish.
We are even experiencing the absolutely crazy phenomenon of dirt being elevated to ideology. Political slogans scrawled on walls have a history that is associated with struggles for freedom against totalitarian regimes, but what we see here is not meaningful protest or artistic graffiti, but pointless, endless scrawls on top of other scrawls, on walls everywhere, even on traffic signs.
Nothing illustrates the destructive and self-destructive nature of Greek society more eloquently – and, alas, these are scenes that are not just restricted to downtown Athens.