Five Athenians’ views of their home city

This is Athens, as seen through the eyes of five people who live in the city. Natasa lives alone with her dog Bobby, and takes long walks in Athens. Nikolas, who uses a wheelchair, wants to conquer the city and get inspiration from it. Sofia’s life and her attitude to distances changed completely when she bought a bicycle. Vangelis sees Athens as an endless space he can roam on his skateboard, And «B,» a street artist who sees the city as a gigantic canvas, gives rundown inner-city neighborhoods some life by giving them some color. These are five people chosen at random from this vast city, but there is something in their stories that resonates with all of us. Nikolas lives in Vrilissia. The more inaccessible Athens is, the more he adores it. He admits that negotiating downtown is unbearable at times. He can tell you about the time he nearly got killed when he fell at the entrance to the Technopolis complex in Gazi because there was no ramp, the curb was broken and he couldn’t get in. And he can tell you in detail how to get around in the center, and how many times he’s complained to bar and cafe owners because there is no wheelchair access. «Every time I complain to businesses about access, I realize the problem goes much deeper than them just not thinking about us or taking us into account,» he says. «It’s that they don’t want someone in a wheelchair. They think that if a group of ‘them’ go there, it’ll ruin the image of their businesses. They treat us as an unpleasant sight.» In general, he prefers to spend his time on other things, his studies, his friends, his girlfriend, and working on his dream to live in New York. Meanwhile, he strives to live in Athens as an equal citizen. «The most infuriating thing about the situation in Athens is that it limits your freedom; it condemns you to never becoming a self-sufficient, fulfilled and independent person. It deprives me of the things that anyone else would take for granted, such as walking around the city, getting absorbed in your own thoughts as you roam through the alleyways and getting inspiration, without asking help from passers-by or friends. «And it’s annoying that the lack of infrastructure predetermines your lifestyle. You are forced to stay cooped up at home or only go to places with wheelchair access. Those are usually mass entertainment venues, multiplex cinemas and nightclubs. But what if you like concerts, small experimental theaters and unusual bars – like I do? But I don’t give up.» The happiest moment in his life was during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, when the elevator to the Acropolis went into operation. «I went up for the first time. Tears of emotion welled up in my eyes.» Which candidate for mayor would he vote for? «I would vote for the one who said honestly that he would like us to talk, to discuss, because people have forgotten the power of dialogue. And listen to us, who have the problem, not only the experts and technocrats, who offer solutions without soul or humanity. The metro was made to be totally accessible, but it isn’t. One simple example is the gap between the carriages and the platform on some trains.» I ask what he would like to change in the city, what annoys him and makes things difficult. «I won’t say they should fix the cobblestones in Plaka to make it easier for me. I enjoy being there so much that I don’t mind being jolted around in the wheelchair. But the city shouldn’t give permits to businesses that don’t observe regulations. That’s for certain. And they can’t fool us with the crossings and ramps they put in. They’re far too steep; it takes a lot of courage to go up them. I have often fallen over. To say nothing of the fact that they’re usually broken or have cars parked in front of them. That’s all. I don’t like to moan or sound miserable.» (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement K on September 10, 2006.