Cover image for Facing Athens : encounters with the modern city
Title:
Facing Athens : encounters with the modern city
Author:
Sarrinikolaou, George, 1970-
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : North Point Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiii, 144 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780865476998
Format :
Book

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DF920 .S26 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

A legendary city seen afresh from an expatriate's point of view

In this original and radiant book, George Sarrinikolaou, a native Athenian expatriated to America, strips Athens of its clichés to reveal a city straining under the passions and burdens of early-twenty-first-century life.

Modern Athens exists in the shadow of its ancient past: cradle of civilization, birthplace of democracy, inspiration for the Olympic Games. But as the city prepares to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, it faces challenges quite unlike those depicted in mythology and epic poetry. As Sarrinikolaou walks through the city, striving to face the Athens of his childhood head-on, he encounters people who reveal the demythologized city: newly wealthy Greeks at a Las Vegas-style nightclub; Gypsies building a middle-class house amid their squalid encampment; Kurdish and Eastern European immigrants seeking day labor in Omonia Square; aged Athenians wistfully recalling the past as their neighborhood crumbles around them. In their stories, Sarrinikolaou sees the economic, social, and historical forces that are shaping Athens today.

This is the Athens that even many Athenians see only in passing, and in Facing Athens Sarrinikolaou claims it for himself, a perennial visitor, and also for the reader, who, in effect, visits the city through his gritty, lyrical, unstinting, yet finally affectionate portrait of the place.


Author Notes

George Sarrinikolaou , born in Athens in 1970, immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of ten. He was educated at Cornell and Columbia, and worked as a journalist before turning to environmental policy.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Even though he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old, Sarrinikolaou has never let his ties with the city of his birth weaken. Now, as Athens gears up to host the 2004 summer Olympics, he returns home and finds a city full of contradictions. A new upper class has arisen, while Gypsies still live at the poverty line and immigrants from other countries struggle looking for jobs. Old neighborhoods are being destroyed as, nearby, new, modern construction springs up. The city, which until recently seemed to keep a firm grasp on its history and heritage, is suddenly elbowing its way into the twenty-first century. It would be simplistic to say there are now two Athens (old and new), but it is certainly true that modern Athens is looking less and less like its old self every year. An insightful if melancholy look at a great city from the eyes of one of its own. --David Pitt Copyright 2004 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In this slender, frank memoir, journalist Sarrinikolaou revisits his native Athens, Greece, blending present and past narratives of a place once beloved and now wracked with greed, racism and violence. For Sarrinikolaou, it's his first extended stay since his family emigrated to New York when he was 10. He senses the city's golden age is gone: "I became a perennial visitor, neither an insider nor an outsider, but one who stares at one's life through glass." Although modern Athens may posess some of the Parthenon's ageless endurance, much of its formerly solid foundation is crumbling through neglect because of the working class's flight to the suburbs, leaving the poor and immigrants to unsucessfully deal with the inner city's decay. The prevailing Greek mood, Sarrinikolaou counters, is racist, not xenophobic, as his countrymen march refugee Albanians home across the border. In suburban bastions of old money, he contrasts the Athenian aristocracy, villas and privilege, all at a secure, safe distance from the city, with buses packed with sweaty servants and gardeners at quitting time. Sarrinikolaou's snapshot observations are significant, as he touches on frenzied soccer games, gypsies' homes, the ritual of a lamb feast, student politics and the Archbishop Christodoulos Paraskevaides's protest against government exclusion of religion on new state identity cards. His writing seems conflicted, troubled, as if he didn't want to cast his childhood recollections against the myth of Athens. Nevertheless, he tries to play fair in a somber overview of the city, regardless of its defects. Agent, Mildred Marmur. (June) Forecast: Sarrinikolaou will do media interviews out of New York, and his book is bound to get special coverage due to the summer Olympics. Booksellers may want to display it alongside Robin Waterfield's Athens (Forecasts Mar. 8). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

This work offers a grim and gritty portrait of a city making an uncomfortable transition to the 21st century, told through the eyes of a returning native. When he was a child of ten, Sarrinikolaou's parents uprooted the family and moved to New York, but not long afterward, his abusive father abandoned them and returned to Athens alone. Although the author has visited Athens many times and has family there to whom he remains close, he is an outsider with a critical (and cynical) eye. He longs to be a part of the city and to recapture what was taken away from him as a child, yet he finds many reasons to separate himself from a place he sees slowly being ruined by uncontrolled urban development, destruction of the environment, and a corrupt medical system. He reports that Athenians are status-conscious, shallow, bigoted, and more interested in soccer than religion. This is a compelling series of essays but not a first choice for libraries looking to bolster their collections on Athens in time for the summer Olympics. For libraries with large travel-writing collections.-Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Facing Athens 1 THE JOURNEY BEGINS From the Acropolis, it looks as if a giant--in a moment of boredom, or perhaps disgust--threw his toy houses in the air. Where they landed, modern Athens was formed. Now the toys, in revenge for their neglect, seem to be multiplying, filling every nook of the Athenian basin and slowly climbing the mountains to the north, east, and west. In the crevices between the myriad jagged little white cubes, I look for traces of human life. Instead, my eye spots a blue sign that screams NOKIA. When I focus more intently, I find a stream of cars silently heading north. Only what's left standing of the Parthenon and the Aegean to the south have escaped the giant's sloppy hand. I turn tothe ancient temple, honey-colored in the dull sun, and back to the glistening sea to the south, seeking something to counter the architectural frenzy below. Soon enough, I know, I must descend this hill. It's April, and the tourists scaling the ancient site are few. But even in the off-season, jet travel makes the small crowd polyglot. The mix of tongues is different now than in the latter decades of the twentieth century. The omnipresent German, British, French, and American tourists are now joined by Eastern Europeans. With disposable income, sneakers, and Japanese electronics in hand, Poles, Russians, and other recently Westernized peoples are climbing around the ruins. Ordinary people from disparate lands and I, a displaced native--all of us looking more and more alike--gather here, drawn by a single image. Up close, the Parthenon validates the virtual foundations of life. For a moment, at least, our anxiety dissipates; we have not been fooled. The magic processes that embedded this Athenian logo in our psyches, before we ever stood before it, were benevolent. For some, however, gazing at the actual site must be too much. And so they negotiate the moment through viewfinders, lenses, and digital circuits. When two Greek men walk by, one explaining to the other the intricacies of his new mobile phone, I think that the Parthenon is becoming more and more necessary for this city. It is not that technological advances have been more disruptive here than elsewhere. If anything, Greeks embraced technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet because they were cool, and because they offered opportunities to circumvent bureaucracy. (It used to take years to get home telephone service in Greece.) Technological change has been accompaniedby revolutionary developments in the economy, the physical environment, the social fabric of this city, and even the political geography of the region. Many of these changes have benefited Athens, but they have also created serious problems. People here say that life is rotten. The theme is a favorite of radio disc jockeys and anyone who learns that I am writing about Athens. Nothing works; nothing ever gets done; the government is corrupt; people cheat; traffic is unbearable; crime is on the rise; blame it on the Albanian immigrants. In such circumstances, it is not so much the Parthenon's beauty, or the strength evident in its survival that is necessary. Rather, it is the sanctity of the place, which beauty and strength only fortify. It is as if the ancient Athenians built this temple with their modern descendants in mind, providing them with a spiritual refuge in their time of need. Athenians send their children on school trips here, they guard the place, charge admission, preserve it, light it up at night, drive around it, damage it with their smog, make love in its shadows, ignore it in their daily perambulations, and take pride in it. Here is the flow of life, "the whole catastrophe" as Nikos Kazantzakis writes in Zorba the Greek , everything that these people have. The Parthenon shrinks, becoming part of life, and reigns unperturbed above it all. This duality is the holy spirit of the place, and if you look, you will see the temple radiate. Early in Kazantzakis's novel, Zorba, in a letter, summons an English friend to Greece to show him a magnificent little green pebble he has found. Had Zorba visited the Parthenon this afternoon, he would have summoned his friend to see the poppies--you'll never see a brighter red--growing alongside the temple's marble pieces that are strewn around the Acropolis. Ifind one in the Parthenon's shadow, and then a small grove of them under the wooden steps that lead to the exit. Outside the gate, I take the south walkway and head down the hill. Olive and pine trees cover the hillside, but it is the poppies that make the place magical. And, as if the red starbursts were not enough, chamomile grows here too. Red poppies, white chamomile, green grass, patches of blue-and-white sky, the creamy-golden marble columns showing through the trees: I have walked into a pastoral landscape that stubbornly, serenely claims its space in this concrete city. The swallows, too, know this place. They fly chirping overhead, back from their winter interlude some place warmer, farther south. My assignment is to draw a picture of "Spring," but the swallows are really all I can manage. I draw slender, lowercase gammas, whose ends form the birds' scissortails. I make them slender for swallows and fatter when I have to draw fish. I try my hand at flowers, a tree, even ants, but I know they are no good. When she decides to help, Mother sits at the kitchen table next to me and draws a bird of a different kind, a sparrow perhaps, perched on my tree. The bird is pretty, and it looks unlike anything I have drawn. That I will have something so pretty as part of my drawing reduces the embarrassment I feel when I think that the teacher will notice I got help with my homework. A third of the way down the hill, modern Athens begins. At the borderline, a new pedestrian walkway softens the transitionbetween the ancient and the modern. I head west along this path, keeping the Acropolis on my left. The path is deserted--a street musician, up ahead, the only other person on it. In the distance to the east, the clouds drift over Mount Ymittos. For more than twenty years, I have known Athens only during its hot and crowded summers. In April the place has a simpler, introverted feel. A stray dog wanders by. As I approach, the music gets louder. The musician, hunched over a dulcimer, sits by the side of the road. He works the hammers, making an airy music that sounds both familiar and distant. I pull some of the recently circulated euros in coins from my pocket and try to make sense of their value. Before the euro replaced the drachma in 2002, fifty or a hundred of the local currency would have been the right amount to drop in a street musician's hat. The coins in my hand now are in ones and twos. I place the money in this man's knit cap, which lies on the ground before him, and sit a few feet to his right. He goes on playing, never looking up. The music softens my chest; it seems to soften everything. For the first time since my arrival, I let down and breathe deeply. When he stops playing, we turn to each other and smile. He is in his thirties, with a handsome dark face, black hair, and a neatly trimmed moustache. He wears a worn plaid flannel shirt, blue pants, and no-name sneakers. In Greek, I tell him he plays well. He nods and shakes a cigarette out of a pack of Winstons. When I ask him, he says, in simple Greek, that he's from Persia, and that is where he learned to play the santour. I tell him I live in America. But I don't ask him why he is here, or how he got to Greece from Iran, why he chose to stop in Athens, how he survives, what he hopes to do, or if he misseshis home. The answers to these questions would only point to what I already know. Living an immigrant's life is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Being an immigrant in Athens must be especially hard. This city has forgotten that it is itself made up of internal immigrants and Greek refugees. It has forgotten that, for much of the last century, emigrating abroad was the only way to survive for countless Greeks, and that the country's economy relied on the money immigrants sent home. Now Greece, and Athens especially, has unwillingly become an immigrant destination. Greeks call their treatment of the new inhabitants xenophobic, but, really, it's racist. We sit quietly for a while as he smokes and as I watch some stray dogs try to mount a yellow Labrador retriever, which looks resigned at the end of her owner's leash. The musician picks up one of the hammers with his free hand and begins to play a melody I recognize. It is his way of communicating with me. When he stops, he tells me that the music in Greece and in Persia is the same. But when he puts out his cigarette and begins to play again in earnest, the music speaks of an infinite distance between this spot under the Acropolis and his homeland. I sleep next to my father on our first night in New York. But I wake up often and peer out the window. The streetlights cast an orange glow on the row of houses across the street and on our faces. Nothing looks familiar; everything seems bigger, uglier. My father and I look at each other, but we don't speak. We are finally in America. A middle-aged Japanese woman appears just in time to complicate the scene. In full tourist regalia--silly hat, knapsack,camera, and walking shoes--she kneels before the santour and leans her head inches above the undulating hammers. She is so close to the musician that I feel uncomfortable. When, at that close distance, she starts asking him questions in Japanese, her rudeness has me scanning my college learning of multiculturalism for some adequate definition of tolerance. He nods and keeps playing. When she, with some broken English, manages to have him say that he's from Persia and that he plays the santour, I feel like a fool for having asked the same questions. But the bathos of the moment has no end. The word santour, to her ears, sounds like Santorini. And she proudly announces that she has visited that Greek island by pointing to herself and repeating the island's name. The music goes on long enough for the Greek woman with the Labrador to join the show. After a moment, she, too, has a question. In English: "Greek music?" "Persia," he says. "No Persia music," she says. "This Greek music, Greek. The Japanese woman pulls a few coins out of a change purse and puts them in the hat on the ground. Before leaving, she wants confirmation of her payment, which she elicits by talking to him in Japanese and pointing to the knit cap. He smiles to her as he plays, whereupon she rises, bows, and walks away with her male companion, who has been standing out of view the whole time. He and I are alone again. The Persian immigrant, who is likely a Kurd, and the Greek immigrant with an American passport are sitting under a pine tree, which grows under the Parthenon, toward which the Japanese tourists head. And then there is the Greek woman. In a city with nearly as many stray dogs as people, she walks a well-fed Labrador down the hill. (The notion that Labradors make the best friends of the urbanprofessional class has apparently traveled beyond the confines of Manhattan.) For a few minutes, all the forces of the world converge: war, survival, economics, technology, art, history, Westernization, development, law. And we, for a moment, give flesh to that unfathomable complexity. But I am here, I tell myself, because of something outside that calculus. Instinctively, I turn to the west, wondering which among those countless houses used to be mine. The sprawl of Athens fades in the haze. The santour player stops and smiles. He tells me he will take some time to tune his instrument. His hands work the strings. I set out again. The road is deserted once more. Down below, among the jagged little white cubes, a survival experiment is in progress. To repeat the experiment elsewhere, follow these instructions: Crowd half your country's population into one small city; keep unemployment at 10 percent or more; allow unplanned, unzoned development; provide few public services; and encourage corruption. For best results, it is recommended that the people have a long history of economic struggle, political oppression, war (both foreign and civil), occupation, persecution, foreign intervention, and political instability. If your city begins to look anything like Athens, then the experiment is succeeding. Under such conditions, much of life feels to me like a competition, whose prizes are money, space, sex, even air. In Athens, the winners reward themselves with opulent villas, chauffeured German automobiles, Filipino maids, yachts, casinos, high-priced prostitutes, and, most important, distance from the city center. The closer one gets to downtown, villas turn into apartment buildings, manicured gardens into sooty balconies, big cars into small cars, Filipino maids into Albanianday workers, yachts into ferries, casinos into lottery games, the expensive hookers trafficked from Russia into cheaper ones from Greece and Eastern Europe. And everywhere there are cracks filled with the destitute, the hustlers, the immigrants, the forgotten. No one, though, is ever beyond the game. Driving in Athens is the consummate event of this contest, with everyone fiercely competing everywhere, operating anything and everything with wheels and an engine. Too many drivers vie for passage through roads that are often too narrow, unlit, unmarked, and playfully wound. Traffic on the major commuting routes can crawl on for hours, making a trip of nine or ten kilometers a maddening experience. In midday at the center, cars move within centimeters of each other, while motorcycles and mopeds dart in between. In the frenzy, pedestrians are only added irritants, obstacles that take up muchneeded street surface. Once motorists reach their destination, few find legal parking. And then any available surface, including the sidewalk, is a prime spot. In spite of the difficulties, Athenians love their cars, so that no matter how hard the government tries to limit driving, it fails. Athens, for instance, seeks to reduce congestion and smog by imposing a driving ban on weekdays. City officials distinguish vehicles based on whether their license plates end in odd or even numbers, and allow downtown access to each category on alternate weekdays. But many car owners respond by buying a second car with alternative plates. Modernized and expanded public transportation has also failed to convince Athenians to give up driving in the city. People have embraced the recently built underground train system--the Metro--but when I ask motorists exasperated by traffic about the possibilityof using trains and buses, they consider the notion laughable and tell me that public transportation is slow and unreliable. In their response, I hear the disdain that people reserve for nearly everything associated with the government. In a country where people must rely on the state for most services, the government has become synonymous with bureaucracy, inefficiency, and corruption. In the city that serves as the seat of that government, then, the automobile represents more than a mode of transportation. It shelters the driver from the perceived or real problems of government as they are manifested in public transportation: the whimsicality of the bus schedule; the rudeness of the driver, a civil servant whose job security is guaranteed; the lack of climate control; the absence of a seat on overcrowded trains and buses. Driving one's own car, one is free, even in gridlock. The doors shut and we're off. My uncle drives and my aunt sits next to him. In the backseat, it's tight. Mother and my two cousins, both girls, take up all the space. I will alternate laps and have to duck if we pass a traffic cop. It's illegal to squeeze more than five passengers in this car. I worry about being stopped, but not too much. We're going to the sea. Confined freedom, comfort under duress, and a false sense of security seem to me the true prizes of this urban game. And if the car does not provide them in ample quantities, then the home certainly does. For a sense of shelter, there are Athenians who would build anywhere. The rest make their homes where they are allowed, and, often, where they will not get caught.The fickle cityscape tells of a long history where urban planning and zoning have constantly sought to catch up with reality. The location and size of a building often depend on where one owns land and on one's needs. Even now, in peripheral areas such as Penteli and Lagonisi, one popular strategy is to occupy public land or to buy an unzoned plot, build on it, and wait for the government to legalize the structure. The government tends to oblige, especially if an election is approaching, or simply to ignore the illegality. The results are villas nestled in wooded areas, restaurants taking up the city's western waterfront, and shacks clinging to the hillsides. To the inhabitants of these dwellings, the blight on the landscape seems of no concern at all. As long as they can shut their doors to the impinging outside, creating for themselves a safe and quiet spot, they have succeeded. If home building makes for crowded and disorienting conditions, then that's life. But if there is a view, especially of the sea, then that's paradise. The right house and the right car can yield the game's next prize--the right mate. Cars and houses are status symbols nearly everywhere. But what strikes me in Athens, as opposed to my other home, New York, is how conspicuous the role of money can be in sexual relationships. I tell a male friend that I went on a first date with an Athens native, and he asks me if the woman grilled me about how much money I make. She had, but I had evaded answering. Another woman, a doctor's daughter, tells me that when she marries, she must, at the very least, maintain her station in life. The moneyed young men I meet speak of women with a cynicism that makes them sound like bitter old men. Around a table with the sons of an industrialist, a shoe manufacturer, and a government official, talk isoften of girlfriends, wives, and favorite prostitutes. I find little in the conversation that distinguishes each category, except perhaps the extent to which the relationship is openly about money. A prostitute commands a fee, which varies according to the length of her visit and whether she was recently featured on the cover of a magazine (as an aspiring model, or actress, or singer). The transaction with girlfriends and wives is less clear-cut. For these young men, finding a girlfriend or keeping a wife is a function of their bank accounts, cars, country homes, yachts, and earning potential. Nonetheless, whether for love or money, marriage is still important in Athens, and those around the table who are single expect to marry. Making a family adds another protective layer against the harshness of the city. For my friend Dimitris, marrying his wife, Penelope, translated into home ownership: Her parents considered it their duty to provide the newlywed couple with a place to live. When Dimitris became a father, his parents-in-law helped him buy a house near the beach, so the couple would have a convenient place to go on vacation with the baby. Over a lifetime, a family may also help with child care, finding a job, and negotiating the bureaucracy. But however tenuous the protection of car, home, and family may be, no one who lives in Athens could ever lack reasons for seeking it. The memories of Nazi occupation, civil war, poverty, and political oppression are still fresh in Athens. And now there is an onslaught of new difficulties. Making a living in a small country with few natural resources has never been easy. But as Greece tries to claim a role in a globalized system of trade and specialized economies, it is not clear what the country's competitive advantage is. Like elsewhere in Europe,much of the shrinking agricultural sector survives because of European Union subsidies. Greece offers an abundance of highly educated young people, many of whom are concentrated in the capital. But the economy, which statistically is improving, has not developed enough to make good use of the population's available skills. Although economic growth in recent years has matched or exceeded that of other European Union nations, inflation has decreased to single digits, and public works projects (a new airport, new highways, modernized railways) have encouraged trade, unemployment still hovers around 10 percent and is far higher for young people. Those who do work are often underemployed. In the mid-1990s, it seemed as if the stock market would bring economic salvation. Investment returns were often as high as 25 percent. Suddenly, everyone became an investor and every stock held the potential of great fortune. With interest rates plummeting and stock returns soaring, countless Athenians converted their savings into equity. Many went even further, selling property, even borrowing from banks in order to invest. Privately held companies recognized the opportunity to cash in and went public. All over Greece, a new profession--stock brokering--emerged. With few or no credentials, people opened brokerage firms. In Athens, underemployed young men donned suits and imagined they were on Wall Street. In a span of four or five years, speculation drove the Athens Stock Exchange index to double in value. But by 2001, the stock market had essentially crashed. Investors were left feeling duped; many were ruined. One of my uncles, a hardworking immigrant in the United States for some thirty years before retiring to Athens, lost nearly his entire nestegg--$60,000. Greeks blame the government for encouraging them to invest, and for failing to implement adequate stock market controls. Government officials say people ought to have known that investment involved risk. Political problems compound the economic difficulties. To the east, Turkey represents a constant threat in spite of efforts at rapprochement. As a small country in a dangerous region, Greece seeks protection and support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, and so often finds itself having to hew to the policies of these organizations at the cost of internal conflict. For example, Greece went along with the European Community decision that sanctioned the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. But the ensuing wars in that country generated such instability and economic damage that the reverberations shook Greece. From the pieces of Yugoslavia emerged Macedonia, a new state that appropriated chunks of Greek history, including Alexander the Great, and which, at least implicitly, claimed Greek territory as its own. Greece countered with a costly trade embargo that obstructed the flow of trade through the Balkans even further. Later, when Kosovo erupted, the war reached within a few kilometers of the Greek border. For many here, the wars were redolent of the Muslim-Christian conflict that raged in the Balkans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To these people, the notion that the wars to the north pitted the evil Serbs against the defenseless Bosnians rang false; in the treatment of their fellow Orthodox Christian Serbs by the Western allies, Greeks saw reflected their own experiences of powerlessness and injustice. Mother leads me by the hand through the gates of the Metsovion Polytechnic University in Athens. We walk along the columns that hold up the building overhead. Every so often, we stop in front of a column and read the plastered poster. Each one tells of the student who was shot at that particular spot, the number of bullet wounds, the organs that the bullets struck. Farther inside the courtyard, we see the damaged building, the broken windows. The junta's tanks, I know, crushed the student uprising. But we're here now because the dictators are gone. As Athenians walk and drive on their streets, they are reminded daily of the grand forces beyond their control. There are remnants here of the world's major news stories long after they have dropped from the headlines. Pieces of the shattered iron curtain are everywhere--Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, and Russians. The men work in construction, often as day workers, or in factories, many off the books. The women clean houses and care for the elderly. Some become strippers or turn tricks. Their children may offer to sell you packs of tissues, or to wash your windshield; others simply beg. Here, too, are the Kurds of Iraq, abandoned by the United States and its allies as Saddam Hussein's forces closed in after the first Gulf War. And, here, of course, are displaced Serbs, who have come in the hope that Greek sympathy will translate into a job. I also find Chinese, Africans, Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis, all touched somehow by some faraway upheaval. In a city that was until recently largely homogeneous, the influx of immigrants has been a shock. For native Greeks, immigrants have become scapegoats, another obstacle in the game. The signs of racism are easy to spot. In searching the newspaper for a place to live, I find ad after ad in which non-Greeks are told not to apply. That so many Athenians invite immigrants into their homes to cook and clean for them, or that so many new homes in the city are now built by non-Greeks, matters little. A taxi driver speaks of criminals and Albanian immigrants as if the two nouns were synonymous. A relative complains that, at the beach, a group of Albanians insisted on speaking among themselves in their native tongue. On television and radio, news broadcasters identify the ethnic origin of crime suspects only if they are not Greek. A storeowner complains that his neighborhood feels like a foreign country. Such racism is even directed against immigrants of Greek descent from Albania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Abroad, these Greeks once represented the Greek diaspora, evidence of the far-reaching, civilizing force of Hellenism. Now, repatriated, they, too, are foreigners. Everywhere the outside pushes in. Under the pressure, I see Athenians taking cover, searching for a means of escape, surviving. The mad, unending, exhausting force of competition flows through the city's streets and carries me with it. Lost, I become an Athenian again, one more in the bobbing crowd. To find my way out, I sift through the old and the new; somewhere here, I tell myself, is what I'm looking for. It's just hard to find. Copyright © 2004 by George Sarrinikolaou Excerpted from Facing Athens: Encounters with the Modern City by George Sarrinikolaou All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.