Buildings decaying for want of attention

On the morning of April 15, on the eve of the enlargement ceremony for the European Union’s 10 new members at the Stoa of Attalos, the last teams of painters were putting on the finishing touches with movements that betrayed no hint of last-minute panic. Old houses with plaster peeling off, neoclassical houses that had become bars or cafes and needed touching up, souvenir shops with T-shirts hanging outside – all had to be ready when the great day dawned. All? Not exactly. Three or four difficult cases of houses that needed more than a simple paint job and would have been left half done had to be quickly covered up to be kept from the eyes of official visitors. Long banners from the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (EAXA) that depicted works by contemporary Greek artists were quickly mustered. The problem was solved. That morning, my mind went forward to another morning, that of August 12, 2004, the eve of the Olympic Games opening ceremony (in the hands of Dimitris Papaioannou) at the Olympic stadium done up by Santiago Calatrava. We have heard that Athens will be a different city by then, but 15 months before that bright and sunny morn, Greece’s capital is more reminiscent of Baghdad (as a mildly shocked New Zealander remarked in a weekly magazine) than Barcelona (our Olympic alter ego). We’re not talking about Liosia, Nikaia, the plowed-up coastal strip, Kifissias Ave or the boulevards with their newly stirred up clouds of dust. We’re talking about the center – Patission Street, Stadiou and Alexandras avenues. Derelict, crumbling buildings, mansions long past their former glory await the mercy of 2004. Today, we have chosen to narrate six special cases. There are many more. This is the last reminder before sophisticated banners become the status quo.

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