It takes skill to discern the treasures among the trash

It’s another form of recycling at the Sunday bazaar across from Gazi run by Ermis, the organization of Athens and Piraeus secondhand merchants. They sell items that may have been found in the trash but could be valuable to someone. Sometimes scavengers and secondhand dealers have saved valuable historic relics and works of art from destruction, Ermis Vice President Spyros Magalios told Kathimerini. Ermis has around 40 members, most of whom are over 50 years of age, and, as Magalios explained, either no longer work or supplement their income by buying and selling discarded objects. Someone who has been doing the job for years can make a decent living from it, he said. «Experience counts in the long run, but luck is even more important. You might search all day and find nothing of value, yet another time you might come across a treasure the minute you set out.» Most of them collect their goods from the trash, but they also get them from houses and stores that are being emptied. «The most valuable items can be found in the older, less well-off neighborhoods, such as Kyspeli, Exarchia and Pangrati, rather than in equally old but better-off areas such as Kifissia. It’s more a matter of saving space, since in the former the apartments are usually small. Also, in the richer areas, maybe because people are better educated, the owners are more likely to be able to appreciate the value of an old object.» Entire lots of useful old objects can usually be found in houses that have just been inherited after a death. «The heirs are in a hurry to empty the house so they can make use of it. They usually have a quick look for anything that might be valuable then call a junk dealer.» Magalios said. That was how he acquired the object he considers the most valuable thing he has ever found, an item that was discarded and sent for recycling. «It is a volume of verse by [Nobel Prize-winner C.P.] Cavafy, with corrections and a handwritten dedication by the great poet. I found it in a paper-pulping yard. I didn’t pay much attention to the cover, but the moment I opened it, I went crazy with surprise and joy.» He does not intend to donate his precious find to any organizations, as he deems it a reward for his years of hard work collecting discarded objects. «Often it is not pleasant; people don’t like seeing you go through the trash. How can you tell them it’s your job? It’s a special kind of prejudice.» Old books and other items attract crowds of people to the bazaar every Sunday. Most of the visitors are not collectors but migrants looking for cheap secondhand clothes and other items. Nina, who has just bought four children’s jackets, is going to send them to her nephews and nieces in Moldavia, «I come here every Sunday, but I don’t always buy. I spend more time looking and, if I find something good, I buy it,» she said. «Clothes sell well because many of them have hardly been worn, said Magalios. «Once a well-known person asked me to dispose of his entire wardrobe, 40 brand-new suits. It was easy to sell them, naturally. I think that is much better than them ending up in the trash. I think we scavengers play a useful role. We are a form of instant recycling, not only of material but also of history and ideas. Have a walk around the market and see for yourself.»