Athens set to rock for Games

An extravaganza of performance and visual art will provide a rambunctious nightly backdrop to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis promised yesterday as the city laid out a cultural palliative to persisting world concerns over Games security and a people’s alternative to the much-criticized Cultural Olympiad. «We will live this great moment,» Bakoyannis said in outlining a program of over 600 performances by musicians, dancers, sculptors, jugglers and artists in 22 squares, parks and other locations. They will run evenings from 8.30 p.m. until 12.30 a.m., from the opening ceremonies on August 13 to September. Some 116 international figures, 34 embassies and cultural centers and Greek productions will promote a «spirit of celebration.» It will include an «art trail» and cultural center exhibitions. All will be free of charge. «We want people to feel at home… to fall in love with Athens, and to come back again,» she said, obliquely referring to the sharp drop in tourism arrivals in 2004 despite the Olympics. A corps of volunteers, including 400 French speakers, will aid visitors. This, too, is separate from the bigger volunteer program run by ATHOC, the Games organizers. While Athens’s 150-million-euro Olympics budget was «a rare opportunity to showcase our city» as a «lively metropolis» to a million-plus visitors, it also allowed long-term improvements, with repaved roads, freshened building facades, and help for the handicapped. «Athenians,» Bakoyannis averred, will see «a different city… easier, much better for them to live in.» She also said tourist prices in Athens had gone «very clearly» down in past days, without elaborating.