Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 November 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2017 23 GREECE of Green Park, in a city park. "We broke in during summer pretending we were from the Ministry of Works. We cleaned Green Park, used electricity illegally and the event produced itself," she says. "Every night we had over 300 presentations and we broke down categorisations by having established artists, new artists, community activists, immigrants and refugees," Argyropoulou says. Unlike PS122, which began by artists breaking into an abandoned public school in New York's Lower East Side and is now a US$40m institution, Athens occupations are energised, political, but temporal. They begin, explode and fade into history, like Athens' democracy 2,000 years ago. Visiting that park at dusk ist occupation of an abandoned multi-storey building in 2007. "The crisis gave us freedom, no-one was telling us what to do or what to say," Markopoulos says. "Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Bangladeshi refugees involved in the project stayed here in Athens because of how we involved them in the project." Ioanna Valsamidou, a curator of the festival, adds that she can't remember "the city being so alive as it is now." "The over-50s, the older middle class, those who lost everything can't see the light at the end of the tunnel," she says. Gigi Argyropoulou an artist and curator working in performance and cultural practice initiated the 2010 Green Park Occupation, a collective occupation of an abandoned public building we see what look like fireflies. The little flashes are lighters heating glass pipes of sisa, a low-grade methamphetamine extended with battery acid that rots internal organs. The cops roll in on their motorbikes and the addicts scatter like the living dead. Next to the park is a pleasant sports stadium where young African Greek, Albanian Greek and other Greeks students train and play together. Athens is all sharp contrasts, double freddo espresso, and groovy bars a street away from impoverished Greeks bedding down. Homelessness was never common in Athens pre crisis, unlike New York or Melbourne. Eight years of austerity and inept governments destroyed the overconfident middle class. Young artists, activists, restaurateurs, foodies and techies juxtapose high youth unemployment, hefty new taxes, and a colossal international debt financed at the expense of civic services. These are the new performers in what looks to be a re-energising liberal economy. It seems counterintuitive to pop economist and former Syriza finance minister Yianis Varoufakis' apocalyptic announcements about the death of capitalism. Maybe, just maybe, the Greek instinct for freedom and enterprise has kicked in. It could be a lesson for some artists in Australia who don't get out of bed without state funding. How daring to see private philanthropy and individual enterprise reviving this Athens' creative ecology. What it means to call two countries home Australia and Greece are so different that the only apt description would be ‘worlds apart’ THANOS PAPPAS The first time I heard it was from a client at the company I was working for. He had just returned from his customary August trip to Greece, during which he enjoyed the Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches, and good company, and he said in a bittersweet tone: "it's bad to call two countries home". Anybody who has had to migrate and relocate to another place or another country for a long time may be able to better understand this phrase. At first, you feel away from home, like a tree that's been uprooted and planted again in different soil. But with every passing day, you adapt, you have a better understanding of the surrounding, you get to know the place and the people and you grow accustomed to a new way of life. In time, despite still feeling nostalgic for your friends, your family and the places you left behind, something very strange is happening - you start feeling at home. And it is this feeling of familiarity and getting comfortable in a new condition that, after some time, makes you an intergral and active member of the new community. Having lived in seven dif- ferent cities, in two different countries during the last 25 years, I can say that this feeling can create mostly beautiful emotions in a young person, as it helps one become more open-minded, increases knowledge and perspective, and allows one to become aware and respectful of diversity among people and cultures. Granted, I have to admit it is different to be an internal migrant than to be migrating to a foreign country, since in the first case, differences in way of life and customs are limited. After all, most people have to relocate from the village or town they grew up in to a different place within the same country, to seek employment, or for family reasons, being lucky to have two 'homes' that are only a few hours drive apart. But others, such as the Greek Australians, are literally located on the other side of the world, 15,000 km from their birthplace and where they grew up. Furthermore, the difference between Australia and Greece is so big, that the only apt description would be 'worlds apart'. So, as much as the amazing advancement of technology has managed to all but eliminate distance in the digital space, allowing us to keep frequent contact with our loved ones, physical presence to the homeland is much more difficult, which creates a great gap. Several Greek Australians defy this distance and pay frequent, even annual, visits to their motherland. The antithesis between the Australian winter and Greek summer is notice- able and, combined with the carefree atmosphere of vacationing and the emotionally charged meetings with friends and family, makes the trip an intense and unforgettable experience. And yet, many Greek Australians say that, after a month or two in Greece, they feel the urge to return to Australia. In order to better understand this inexplicable phenomenon, we have to go back to the idea of a 'second country'. After a few years, migrants are so well adapted to their new identity that it is difficult or even unattainable for them to return to their former selves. At the same time, in their homelands, life goes on in a fast pace, people change, so do conditions, which results to feeling that, as welcome as they may be when they get back, their lives are no longer there. So, gradually Greece becomes for them a place of vacation, of nostalgia and insouciance, an annual break from daily life in Australia. And how could it be otherwise, when its in Australia that they have built their lives, raised families, invested to their children and grandchildren's future? Granted, timing, age and conditions play a significant role in the overall experience of migration. Things are much different for the 30-year-old Greek coming to Australia to work, compared with their grandparents who may have been much younger, when they arrived in the 1950s and 60s. And yet, both of them, despite their differences, are most likely to end up calling two countries home. Greek people always carry around in their heart the country where they were born, raised, and which has largely formed their personality. It is there that they experienced Mediterranean light, playing in empty lots, their village, the food, the sea, the mountains, the fertile ground and friendly people, but also the hardship caused by wars, division, poverty, financial crisis, and politics. They can't help loving their second home, Australia, where they arrived filled with hope for a better future, where they built a new life from scratch and were rewarded for their hard work, living in beautiful, modern cities, creating a vibrant Greek community, keeping it alive, raising their children with dignity, seeing them excel in different industries. It is therefore hard to call two countries home, because, whatever you do, you will always be far from one of them, but it is also beautiful to have known, in your lifetime, two places so different from each other, and have the chance (and strength) to adapt and love them. Besides, it is true that many of those who left Greece for a long time, ended up appreciating more the country's virtues and specific qualities, compared to those who stayed there all their lives.
11 November 2017
25 November 2017