City at a Time of Crisis



Tracing and researching crisis-ridden urban public spaces

in Athens, Greece.

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Something along this line (part 3 of 3)

Don't smoke – soon you'll be somewhere else – throw nothing away [struggles-whiz-past] Don't smoke – soon you'll be somewhere else – throw nothing away [struggles-whiz-past] photograph by Ross Domoney

A short inhale, a long exhale that stretches along the few seconds it takes her to take a seat. A sense of loosening off, yet one that verges on the complete coming apart. How many times has she heard the words fly past her, the martial rhetoric, the idea that she, like everyone else around her, is supposed to have sunken into some war? But how can that be so, she will confront the idea in her head once over, when was this war ever declared... But this time, the attempt to fight off the usual arguments tires her already. Only a few seconds pass and she is now sunken into her book and thoughts instead; her gaze meticulously scanning line after line of the ink formations precisely dotted across the book's page, putting letters and words together: the abstract turns into a narrative, the fragment into a whole.

Does she know her fellow carriage passengers? Are they family, are they strangers? There is not a single gaze that would join another, nothing to let intimacy seep through. Even if they are, for the moment, the urbanite's reflex attempt to gain personal space via her gaze's deflection overcomes. For this moment.

In the opening words to her novel Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels writes, through the words of her protagonist, Jakob Beer: “A man's experience of war... never ends with a war. A man's work, like his life, is never completed”. Our experience of anything never ends where or when this something ends. Our memory has this peculiar trait of trawling and dragging the fractures of experience into our present; every single seemingly abstract piece of a memory formulates into a narrative, into the fragments of the past that bring us and engulf us today.

Had any member of the family-or-not lifted their gazes to the outside, they would have encountered this simple, seemingly random, perhaps unimportant number. 114. Could it have meant anything to them? Could it have meant anything to its writer?

The Movement of 114 (“ena-ena-tessera”, “one-one-four”) was a movement in the early sixties to defend the constitution in Greece, calling on the government and the people to respect and comply with its articles, which were brazenly mocked by the state, para-state and governments of the Right. It took its name from Article 114 of the constitution, which stated that the enforcement of the other articles rested upon the patriotism of the people of the country.

“One-one-four” was a movement-in-a-moment; a moment of the turbulent past that would end abruptly in the years to come; the democratic regime was brought down, altogether replaced by a Junta.  At its most exceptional of times, History has this ironic quality by which friends may become foes - and vice versa. Those who should have in theory guarded Law, Order and all this entails, chose to disregard it as an anomaly to be done away with. And those whom the Law had repressed -and would continue to do so- chose, by and large, to defend it. Rewind a few years into the “golden epoch” of capitalism in this stretch of territory in the European South and to talk about 1-1-4 would sound strange, quaint even – perhaps even more likely to resemble the formation tactics of a team in an unknown sport. Fast forward to the present, and History's other irony becomes the most apparent: not, of course that it simply “repeats itself” (as if(?) life would ever enter a cycle of repetition) but in that the tiny segments of our collective memory have this peculiar habit of transporting themselves through time; seemingly innocuously, until they are no longer so. Just like the urbanite seemingly minding her business, going her way, avoiding even the aural encounter; willingly invisible, edging to the transparent, the unfelt. In an exact parallel to our intra-urban movements, our past memories traverse history in tandem, as per the commuters, forming and tracing a thread, a line that cuts deep into the present. They mum themselves into an abstract thought, a lost gaze, something that edges so close to nothing, something that follows the order of the quotidian to the letter, something along this line; until the moment - that magical, historical moment - when it breaks off the line.

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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...