CULTURE

Athens old and new feature in Mondo Greco

It is a pity this volume of Mondo Greco (Number 11, Spring 2004) did not arrive long before now. It is not just the elapsed months; its very theme, Athens, is covered from many a personal angle, and given this approach’s tendency for reminiscence, it has a dated feel in this Olympic summer. Still, as always, Mondo Greco provides food for thought in its travel essays, memoirs and poetry. Styles and quality vary, and their interweaving of rambling personal histories with ramblings into urban life may not appeal to everyone. But all try to inject meaning into their takes on a city that never fails to impress itself on resident and visitor alike. Menis Koumandareas’s opening essay, «On Theseus Saving Hippodameia,» recalls the little shops and big personalities around Victoria Square soon after the war. The title refers to a statue, now a favorite of pigeons, symbolic of the area’s faded beauty. Readers might also remember the area fondly, though may be less happy with his stream-of-consciousness style that reduces a five-page essay to a single paragraph. Yiannis Kondos brings alive downtown streets with a similar, rat-a-tat-tat essay style, which can be effective if you’re not too fond of verbs. Giorgos Michaelides’s «The Yellow Road,» another postwar look, reminds us that Athens’s most vivid face is often found in the cold, gray winter. Costas Mourselas sees the moral dilemmas of voyeurism in «Athens of the Night,» while Dimitris Mitropoulos keeps it personal in «A Perfect Curve,» which is better at atmospherics than in its desultory conversations. Aristotelis Nikolaidis in «Divine City» penetrates «the sinister particulars of this city, whose ruins look as if they had always been that way;» and he presages things by saying «Athens is destined… to reclaim its uniqueness.» Augustine Zenakos looks with sympathy at the struggles, especially by the DESTE foundation, to involve contemporary art in an ancient city with a strong Church presence. Nick Papandreou provides a snapshot of an unhappy Athens of May 1989 as he quickly reminds anyone who still needs reminding of his famous, three-generational political family; he gets some questionable literary inspiration while tagging behind politicking politicos. Farce is featured in Yiannis Varveris’s «Useless Guide to the Center of Athens,» and realism in Giorgos Skabardonis’s scathing «At Larissa Station,» on the city’s «extremely repulsive» train depot, and its «crablike fight for survival.» Two (Greek) Kathimerini writers show the virtues of clarity that journalists, mindful of deadlines and word count, can provide. Maria Katsounaki recounts the odd quiet of August 15, when most Athenians are away. And Dimitris Rigopoulos shows how Athens will live long after 2004, with seven major new museum projects. Some of the original prose seems uplifting, if indulgent. Yet much gets lost in translation and uneven editing («her laugh is strewn in the night»). A reference to the Olympic opening ceremonies at the «Kallimarmaron» stadium is embarrassing (it was across town). Still, the reader-friendly layout, with pullquotes and attractive photos, helps mitigate much of this. Athens draws their interest, but do they find it attractive? Alexis Panselinos is defiant: «Athens continues to be a beautiful city. The charges ascribed to it reflect the ugliness of its accusers.» Socrates Tsihilias says, «Athens is not a beautiful city, objectively speaking.» Demosthenes Kourtovik lets the city’s many returnees do the validating.