OPINION

Twilight zone in Athens

Athens is not just one city. There are many cities within it, one next to the other, interwoven and inextricably linked. On the same street, over the span of just a few blocks, you can see wealth, glamour, beauty, pain and ugliness. Nowhere else in Athens is this dynamic more apparent than in the historic and commercial center. From Athinas to Pireos Street and from Omonia to Vathis Square, where there are imposing banks, shiny department stores, expensive boutiques, small well-kept shops and trendy cafes with tables on the sidewalks, right beside the busiest hubs of the capital city, we see the most horrible disposal sites for human refuse. Sophocleous starts on Stadiou with banks, department stores and bookshops and goes down past the former stock exchange, the Emboriki Bank headquarters and the National Bank building by Mario Botta. It crosses busy Aeolou and plunges into the heart of the Varvakeios market. Here is the nerve center of Athens and you can almost touch the Acropolis. But once you cross Athinas Street, you are in the twilight zone. For the next few blocks, down to Pireos Street, it is a completely different world. Here the air smells of drugs and sickness. Rough faces, a hive of different nations, hover, stoned, outside the car windows – life mingled with death. This continues on until Koumoundourou Square. On one small road, a street child is detangling another’s hair. They dare not go further into Psyrri or the shopowners will go after them. In the twilight zone, the belly of the city, there are no police patrols, no tickets for illegally parked motorcycles. There are other laws here, a different constitution. Here is where humanity’s castoffs end up, like dirt swept under the rug. There are no easy answers, no simple solutions. But I know what I see, and I see a city being colonized by pockets of desolation, more and more darkness creeping in right next to what we call light.