the countries within

by Maria Pesmazoglou

Athens, February 2012

The air was full of the fumes of teargas and every now and then new bangs were heard, implying that one more teargas bomb was fired. You could hear the sound of glass as it breaks on shop windows. A couple of people had climbed up a traffic light and were smashing it. You could see fires in the distance. I thought that I will discover from the news the extent of the damage. Meanwhile  the crowds were moving up and down the street, directionless, assimilated in smaller alleys, occasionally they started running, and then you could see in the distance groups of policemen chasing them. We could not go to the square, although this was the purpose of our going to the centre of Athens, because all entrances were blocked by the police. Some people were trying to talk to them. A group of tourists carrying suitcases were trying to move away.  A pigeon – one of those which are usually seen in Syntagma square being fed by passersby –  was on the ground,  flapping a broken wing desperately against the concrete of the pavement. I saw someone picking it. He ran up the street, holding  the pigeon under his coat.

Patmos, March 2012

Today, Freddie, an Albanian who used to do various jobs for me, called to tell me that, as he was passing by, he noticed that the garden gate of my house was left open and that a herd of goats was grazing in the surrounding hills. «Freddie», I said, «Did you come back from Albania?», since he, among many other Albanians, who came to Greece for work during the boom years, left with the crisis. They came here alone, their families having stayed in Albania, with the sole purpose to send back home as much hard-earned money as possible. Year after year, they learned the language fluently, while remaining always strangers, strangers to the local community, strangers to their own families and homeland, developing an outsiders’ community within an outsiders’ island, which is Patmos. But now their little community has diminished, almost dissolved. «Oh, well», he said, «After so many years in Patmos, one gets used to all this sea around».  «But, you never liked swimming», I wondered aloud.  «It’s the blue», he said.

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About akalfopoulou

Author of two poetry collections, and most recently, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living.
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