On Monday afternoon after school, I ventured downtown to see the city after the tumult of Sunday night. The photos I took are here, but they only show part of the story. Even by that point a lot of the removable traces of the violence had been cleared, but the city was in shock. I picked up the bus to head into the centre, and it seemed there was a strange kind of intensity in the air. When I changed to the metro, this feeling only increased. Looking back, I wonder if perhaps I made it up, somehow psyching myself up to head into the fray. I was surprised by how many people were out and about and how normal they all seemed. I am unsure what I was expecting, but perhaps it was my searching the faces of fellow passengers that made me think I was experiencing a moment of collective…what exactly?
When I got out of the Metro at Syntagma, the central square of Athens and the site of most major protests, I could tell my own face was serious. I was steeling myself for whatever I would find at the top of the stairs. When I came out into the sun, I was surprised. The sky was clear, people were going about their business, and the square looked much as it always did. The Parliament building gleamed in the sun, the ceremonial guards maintaining their place in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier. As I took a picture, an older woman walked past me and said something I didn’t catch. Was she scolding me? What was I doing wrong..? At that point I began to notice other cameras. People were not simply going about their business. They were here to see the damage to their city.
I continued my circuit of the centre of the city in the areas that were most affected by rioting on Sunday night. I was struck by both the strange sense of normalcy and the speed with which the city was being patched up. A shattered McDonald’s window was packed onto the back of a truck, its replacement already installed. The benches in the square had been ripped up, but already refitted with wooden seats.
In other places though, the damage had yet to be repaired. The fountains lining the street leading into Syntagma Square were missing their marble paving stones. Many shop windows were cracked. The police loitered everywhere. Some shops looked untouched, people going in and out with their purchases, while other storefronts remained tightly closed, splattered with graffiti.
I meandered my way through to the square at the Panepistimiou Metro Stop, Plateia Korai, site of the flaming Starbucks. When I stopped to take a photo of marble shards, a man stopped me to tell me I needed to keep going down the street to see the destruction further up. He blamed the government and repeated over and over again how sad the future was.
That feeling of hopelessness followed me as I made my way up Stadiou Street. The traffic was heavy, and I found myself walking at the same pace as a bus full of policemen. They were peering out the window, craning their necks to see the damage on either side.
The scene outside the historic Attikon Theatre was also not what I was expecting. For one thing, it was still burning. The smell of smoke was sharp and pervasive, making the experience of witnessing much more sensory. I found the building’s shell shocking, but the faces of the other people who paused on their way past were almost as poignant as the burned out buildings. I knew the sight affected me – but to see the same confusion, pain, uncertainty and even despair reflected on the faces of anonymous passersby made me feel less alone. On Sunday night, I felt somehow betrayed. Who were these people that turned their rage and frustration onto their fellow citizens? The people I encountered surveying the damage were asking themselves the same question.
The future of this country is uncertain, and will be difficult no matter what. Anger is understandable. And now areas of the city reflect the way many of the Greeks are feeling – punished unfairly, with little or no hope of recovery.