Sunday, April 2, 2017

Night Bloom: excerpts from my diary in Greece

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

My uncle and cousin picked us up in Athens. We rode with my cousin back to the house from the airport. Along both sides of the roads was a dessert of a landscape. Not just the land, but the buildings were barren. I saw no people outside. There were many empty structures. Some were obviously once in use but long since abandoned. Some were in the process of being built then left unfinished. Some were brand new and never used. Buildings in all states of being, in all cycles of life were lifeless. It speaks to how sudden the  economic downturn was. As with a volcano or natural disaster, preserving the old people, parents, and children in ash, so the economic collapse paralyzed building of all ages and in all phases of a cycle in a stagnant dusty air.

Queen of the night flower
That night my cousin invited us to walk around the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture Center with his baby and wife. It was a chance to drive through Athens at night, and I remembered the orange street lamps from my childhood. In Athens, the streets glow bronze at night. The air was perfumed with the Queen of the Night flower. I recognize the smell from my childhood, but I never knew what it was. One can smell it even from inside a speeding car. The flowers bloom only at night, and only once or twice per year. They have the most intoxicating scent, like jasmine and magnolia. The plant on my aunt’s veranda happened to bloom on our last night in Athens. It was like a magical present.
I intended to write in the morning on the veranda, but morning was always busy with breakfast and conversation. And I had no table out there and didn’t wish to balance my computer on my lap, so I just sat outside and savored the view, and drank coffee and listen to the few words of Greek I can recognize.
My partner and have I decided that the streets look a lot like Taipei. They are narrow and wide and grungy and glistening. It reminds us of old Taipei – it’s missing the 101 and those skyscrapers of the last decade, but it has all charm of the traditional homes, narrow low buildings, only 4-8 floors at most, with a family on each floor with balconies and veranda’s wrapped around all of them.

the cat I couldn't help
Nothing was planned, nothing was envisioned. Everything was organically  grown instead of centrally planned. Each family and neighborhood had put their own individual stamps and style onto their structure. In the course of time the buildings have been molded to the  identity of their inhabitants. Everyone had their own little makeshift constructions project. So unlike Amsterdam, where many families live inside one uniform structure. And this stamp has been carved out over time. The place has a feeling of develops through history instead of being built at once and let the way it is. And the tightness of the streets has a human scale. Cars have to scrape down the allies.

At a restaurant by the sea, there were ten cats that came to our table begging for food. I favored  one whose fur was caked with dried blood. We thought she was hurt in a fight, and I felt sorry for her, but upon closer look it seems she had a skin disease and her dried blood was from self-inflicted wounds. Just in the time I was feeding her I saw her scratch herself and bleed again. I felt so sorry for that cat I could not feel merry at the lunch. I kept looking at her, wanting to relieve her pain.

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