The colors of Athens
Everybody talks about the beauty of Greek islands - which is undeniable - but the capital and its surroundings was just as exciting to explore. Athens was an effervescent maze of crooked streets overflowing with green balconies, impregnated with a cloying heat, that we hopelessly tried to appease with frozen cappuccinos, served on sweaty plastic cups on every corner. The traffic, like a jungle, was a tangle of cars, old trucks, scooters and motorcycles ridden without a helmet. The atmosphere felt slightly lawless, but that’s part of the charm.
Finding myself in a country where the language doesn’t sound or look familiar doesn’t happen to me often. It was both challenging and wonderful. I felt like such a passive element, unable to read a menu, talk to a taxi driver, or remember street names. We mostly lived after 5pm, when the beating sun started to disappear, letting a cool breeze take over. But life didn’t stop in Athens, even at its hottest. When we were napping under the AC, children played on the streets, brave (or insane) runners jogged around and terraces were busy serving iced courage to stay outside. I loved getting lost in the artsy cafes, hidden patios and old stores selling oddities, antiquities and old cassettes. Athens was as romantic as Paris, as eclectic as Berlin and as savory as Madrid. The city was an amazing mixture of strong flavors, sweet sensations and colorful palettes, that I tried to collect as I floated around.
The pastel palette is composed by old chipped wooden doors, the golden glow of the mediterranean coast, some summer dust and a fresh tomato served with olive oil. It was the palette of a majestic ancient Greece, with an imposing history and mystical magic. A country of tales, legends and powerful Gods. This was especially true in Nafplio, the old capital, where life moves slower and the landscape really seemed to be watched over by mythological beings. In Athens, nothing illustrates this better than the Acropolis.
My taxi driver was racing to the site, while trying to make conversation in a broken English. I thanked the breeze coming through the open window, along with distant screams, traffic smoke and motor shrieks. A cloudy sky hinted to a spectacular sunset above the city. As I climbed the slippery stone path, I got more and more overwhelmed by the stunning view of the the afternoon. The sky was slowly drowning everything in the most gorgeous light: a pink haze with golden highlights. The tourists were glowing as they took their selfies and stories. I didn’t know wether to sit and take it all in or keep capturing the magical light. I wandered around for a while, past gigantic columns and spectacular sculptures, intimidated by the history and weight of the site. Then I decided to sit and watch the waves of people passing, the sky turning purple and the clouds slowly burning. It was splendid.
The neon Greece represents the electric creativity and underground effervescence, only visible in the shade of a rich past and heavy cultural heritage. Athens is on the verge of a cultural renaissance, housing more and more local and international artists attracted by the low rent, urban canvas and mediterranean charm. A bit chaotic, a bit traditional still, it seems hard to move on from the overwhelming presence of the past. Despite this, the bankruptcy and complex political issues, Greece didn’t let any of it bring it down. The city is vibrating with optimism and electric energy (or maybe it was just a leftover feeling of summer). Graffiti, murals, gallery spaces, independent art stores are popping all over the place. The dilapidated buildings and empty lots are becoming perfect homes for artists and their studios. Like Berlin in the 90’s, the city is attracting innovation and a young talented art community. It's no wonder that the most important series of contemporary art exhibition, Documenta 14, was held here, showing the work of the most prestigious names in contemporary art. The neon Athens is sexy.
But back to the coast. Did you know that the blue rider group thought the color blue could synthesize the inner nature of things, feelings and the unconscious mind with the external world and the universe. Well that’s exactly the feeling I get when I stare at the Mediterranean sea. With blues ranging from turquoise to deep ultra marine, silver reflections at noon and golden strokes in the afternoon, I could stare at that water forever. Strong and timid, feisty and tender, I was so easily hypnotized.
I left Athens with tears in my eyes, partly because of the good memories made, partly because I was scared of an uncertain future and partly because I’m not great at goodbyes. This little adventure only awakened an old love affair with the Mediterranean that I hope to continue feeding.