Friday, August 24, 2012

Street life.

Walking down the street, whether it's in the city center that is full of people and constant movement, or in a small quieter neighborhood, you never know what sort of street life you will encounter. 

Trying to dart across the street while motorbikes, cars, taxis, bicycles, and various animals are crossing your path and potentially running you over is always a challenge. As some one said to me the other day, in Athens you can cross a one way street when the pedestrian light is green, but you still better look not just one, but both ways since the rules of the road are not really created to be followed. Cars will often be found in the lane restricted for tram use only, and motorbikes travel down the paths created for pedestrians. When I asked my new friend about whether people get in trouble for these kinds of things, he so simply shook his head and said, "Nothing is illegal in Greece." 

Staying in Pangrati this week, the neighborhood has a quieter atmosphere, but you can still wander down the street in the afternoon and cross paths with a talented musician just wandering the streets playing his accordion to bring some life to the area. In the busy tourist areas of the city you are constantly bombarded with street venders trying to sell you flowers, watches, bags, or anything that they believe you might pay for. In the same way, musicians also wander through the restaurants serenading you right at your table, in hopes that there will be compensation. The neighborhood accordion players on the other hand, are simply enjoying an afternoon stroll with their instrument only with the intention to create beautiful music. 

Athens being an ancient city, full of ruins every where you turn, it is so easy come across something as beautiful as Hadrian's Arch, when you had no intention to. Walking through the Plaka, full of shops that sell anything you would or wouldn't need, you might just look down and realize that you are standing over an ancient ruin protected by a sheet of glass. Some ruins are well preserved, and can be seen just from walking around the city centre, and it is obvious that you are looking at something remarkable. Other ruins that you will come across may not be what they appear. Just the other day, while exploring the city with my old professor, he stopped us in front of a chain link fence, and pointed down into what essentially looked like a giant hole with over grown weeds, and various pieces of trash that had been thrown in. To the unknowing it's simply an eye sore, but come to find out it was actually what archeologists believe to be the original ancient Agora (marketplace) of the city. 

While the economy of the country is suffering the people are still full of life. In the street squares, musical groups get together to entertain everyone passing by. Every combination of musician can be found playing in the city squares. The other night we watched as a brass marching band in formal uniforms paraded around the Monostiraki square while the people cheered and stopped to watch. Late night buskers will combine their skills, and suddenly you have a make shift orchestra consisting of African drums, electric guitars, a xylophone, didgeridoo players, a back flipping dancer and jugglers on the side. Everyone is in good spirits and enjoying the entertainment provided by the talents from the street. 

The stray cats (yatas) and dogs (skilos) that populate the city, are found on any street you wander through. Though, compared to four years ago I do believe that the overpopulation of animals has improved, and more often the animals that you see actually have a home, and are on a leash or have a collar so you know they are being cared for. There are many great organizations that are educating the people about how to care for the animals and reduce the stray population. More often than not, street dogs are spayed or neutered, given their shots, and released back to the streets where they are fed by shop owners and various people in their area. The dogs will befriend you as you walk late at night and escort you home, barking at any shady characters or other dogs that they do not agree with as if to say "back off, this is my human." 

The street markets travel through out the city all week, a different neighborhood every day to try sell as much of their fresh produce and various consumable items as possible. Purchases are made in bulk so the families have enough to last all week. In the super market, if you were to buy a bag of produce it would costs at least twice as much as an equally full bag from the street market. Venders can be heard from blocks away as they yell out in Greek about their special deals, and encourage buyers to stop at their stand rather than some one else's. All kinds of people from the neighborhood come out to collect bags and bags of delicious fresh produce, stacking them up in their rolling carts, exchanging in brief conversation with their acquaintances on the street, and continuing back home. 

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