Waltz of the Dirty Streets, “Βαλς των βρώμικων δρόμων” (Adespotes Skyles)


scrapbook of the week

I left a group of students and colleagues in Pangrati after a friend called to say “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’ve closed ERT (Greece’s National Radio/TV station). ” I had had some beer so I asked him to repeat what he had just told me. My language turned pathetic. I thought to myself, where’s that inspired lyricism that’s supposed to come of moments such as these. But then there have been so very many of these moments in the past 2, 3, 4 — suddenly they’re not just a few — years since austerity became reality. At the pace that things keep happening, it’s hard to keep a sense of the cause and effects; who we are, how we keep having to adjust to the constant changes to our mind and landscapes. I had been planning to blog on the play I went to see, “Βαλς των βρώμικων δρόμων” (Waltz of the Dirty Streets) when, amidst end-of-term-grading & other work deadlines, I heard ERT had been shut down.

I was trying to get my mind around the fact of this: near 3 thousand people losing their jobs in the span of 24-hrs. I think the # is 2,656. #s merely in the eyes of the Samaras government, in the eyes of the troika that have just been here “checking up” again, these Darth Vader types; little difference after all, or so it seems, between the troika and the government. I don’t think even the troika expected this. No letters to the soon-to-be-sacked employees, just a 24-hr notice. Amazing. The violence of it. The sheer disregard for protocol let alone respect to the workers and labor laws; a colleague, a historian, pointed out the constitution does allow for such but stipulates such measures can be taken only in “cases of emergency and threat to the state.” I expect this means scenarios of war, for example which is what it has all amounted to: this economic war that has been waged on “the periphery” and Greece quite specifically in its mess of mismanagement, and political corruption (though certainly not alone in this) has become the austerity-experiment. Now the IMF admits it made mistakes. But Mr. Samaras has his own power ax to grind — to prove what? That he can out-troika the troika?

The eight actors that make up the “Adespotes Skyles” (Stray Dogs) have caught the pulse of the times; in their voice-dance collages Νάντια Καβουλάκου; Βιβή Κάππα; Φραγκίτσα Κατωγυρίτη; Ντίνα Καφτεράνη; Βιτόρια Κωτσάλου; Ζουλί Λεφέβρ;Τατιάνα Άννα Πίττα; and Νέλλη Πουλοπούλου satirize with inspired bravado and bitterness just what this “parania” has amounted to. “παρανία” –Google translate says there is no English equivalent, but madness is probably the closest word — expresses the moment’s near impossible blend of the paranoid and hysterical (a paranoid hysteria?). In deliberate cacophony, well-known lines from songs (the Greek national anthem among them), were used with interspersings of words such as “fascism”, “the people” “capitalism”, “payment”, “loans”, to enact the overwhelmed sense of the constant barrage of news: “Se gnorízo apó tin kópsi tou spathioú tin tromerí,”( “I recognize you by the fearsome sharpness of your sword”), the first line of the Greek anthem by Dionysis Solomos, is now “the sword… we ate”; the “fearsome edge” swallowed, that cuts. It leaves “Oulés, Oulés” (scars), they sang, chanted, screeched, the tenor and violence of the lines reminded me of Brecht with feminist additions. And then a turn in the mood, the same lines without the belting harshness but a lull, sung as an amané, a lament. The pace and pauses, silences and changes of movement recreated the visceral effects of the assault of information, facts that keep diminishing us.

Tuesday night: just in front of Agia Paraskevi on Mesogion street the police had blocked off the road. I said, “I live here,” and the police gestured for me to make a u-turn. I parked, and walked to the fully lit ERT building. Familiar songs from stanzas of Ritsos; Theodorakis, Farandouri were coming through the loudspeakers. The air still had a tang of tear gas. I was wishing there was some update on the songs. I love Farandouri et al, but every time there’s any demonstration there they are again, instead of some more contemporary group. I’m not an expert on contemporary
Greek bands, but surely “Τρύπες” (“Holes”) would have been appropriate. The PAME (the Communist/KKE youth) flags were waving, not surprisingly, in the front line of the ERT entrance. They were the most organized of the party youth, and probably, at this point, one of the largest. But again I kept thinking where were others, some of the regulars on the news channels for example, commentators like Pretenderis, Evangelatos – of course, these were faces and names on private channels. Still. The street was dirty. Garbage was strewn on the main road. There had been a garbage strike anyway. Maybe people threw some of it at the MAT police. Why were the MAT police involved anyway, there had not been a demonstration, not yet; as TV screens across the country went blank and black, ERT set up its own radar to keep transmitting the news. And more stunning, the irony of it, KKE (our Stalinist communist party) was the channel (902) and news outlet for what was happening as other TV and radio stations were either on strike or not covering what was happening by government mandate.

Much of the “Waltz of the Dirty Streets” is a theatrical rendering of the consequences of the “shock doctrine” (Naomi Klein) policies that Klein argues as being the method behind the madness of “free market” exploitations of vulnerable or “disaster-shocked” people and countries. Samaras has already demonstrated his zeal for Ms. Merkel’s government, but there is more to this, something pathological in his need to“out-troika the troika.” Certainly ERT had its problems, very much part of the bloated (& corrupt) public sector with some very privileged employees, BUT to shut it down with no forewarning, and unapologetic aggression (MAT police), puts the issue of economic necessity, second to his act of dictatorial authoritarianism. That first night, Tuesday, inside the gates of ERT there was a sense of allelegi (αλληλεγγύη in Greek), solidarity, even a spirit of panigiri with sodas and souvlaki for sale, though the songs of Hadzidakis, Theodorakis and others felt outdated, sadly indicative of a lack of discourse for the moment besides a tired language of the past that seemed ill-fitted to the debt-ridden fallout of Greece’s fraught moment. Samaras too in his, and his govt.’s avid need to prove themselves the “excellent student” to the EU’s Euro-centric neoliberalism, even as it may be dying a resistant death, showed in his rashness, the pathetic servility of the past governments’ eagerness to kowtow to demands of “the outsiders” without giving analogous attention to the desperate reality of Greece’s present moment.

A friend put this in her Facebook status update:
About three years ago I saw my country and its people labeled and accused internationally as corrupt, and apart from the shock I was glad of the opportunity that there will come an end in corruption. Instead of seeing the corrupt punished, I ended up paying for corrupt bankers. After Greece, other people in other countries were labeled. They all ended up paying so that bankers can continue being corrupt. Now ERT is labeled by the Greek government as corrupt. Other countries might follow. They also tell me that paying 50 euros per year for it is an unacceptable tax, while I have to accept paying 6000 euros extra tax per year for the banks. I now know what will replace ERT. I know whose voice will be transmitted from the new TV stations. I have no option. I must resist, because soon I will be living in the darkest of ages.
(Maria Pesmazoglu, a Greek citizen)

The “Skyles” express this impasse and strangulation of voice, the “hysteria of crisis” someone said, that we don’t know where we are, torn apart in the onslaught, if not of bombs, of the languages bombarding us, the breaking up of words and their inherent meaning and value, in sudden and unprecedented acts of violation. Like the closure of ERT there is no coherence to the acts — even the IMF now admits they did it wrong; rather than leading to growth, austerity has led to desperation, despair, unemployment. This is what’s reflected in the way the words are belted out from the stage, sense-less as they accumulate and create sensations nevertheless; the actors writhing physically under the rhythm and beat of the phrases, half phrases, single words: “I walk, I progress, I walk, I progress, I pass…” the chant goes as several Skyles move in tandem, “people sleep on the sidewalk.. shhh, people don’t talk, don’t talk, shhh, watch out for the people on the street, don’t talk, history is sleeping, yes, yes, shhh…” The words get louder, faster, jumble, turn into incoherences and then a clear line escapes: “it could happen again”; another line: “pay for everything,” “the air, still the only thing you don’t have to pay.” The effect is haunting, sinister, finally terrifying, as basics — food, breathing, care for another — turn into hardly affordable privileges. “When will we stop fighting poor people and fight poverty,” one actor asks, her eyes glazed and wide; another on the floor looking up half mad, “when will we stop being betrayed by supermarkets, when will the television stop being the most important member of the household?” “I can’t save the planet just with my hands,” another says, “But I can wash dishes.”

Wednesday at ERT: I didn’t recognize the voice at first. Today there were no MAT police, just traffic police ushering cars past the gates. It had been 24 hrs since ERT’s closure had made international news. It was drizzling. There was smoke coming from the gate. I was wondering if it was tear gas or smoke from the souvlaki grills. One French channel was televising the news in Greek in recognition of the fact that the Greek government had blocked coverage on Greek channels. We went on Youtube for news. There was also KKE’s 902, that almost everyone was listening to. There were more souvlaki stands today, more people peddling water bottles. I thought maybe Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA’s leader, had come to talk to the crowd. Ironic, since once I got up to the main speakers I realized the voice was Samaras’; he was addressing the parliament saying that what was happening at ERT was “the last spasms of the privileged few” I almost laughed. I stared at the faces listening. I was surprised no one was jeering. Actually they looked concentrated. I was listening to the words, “this is the Greece of growth, your claim to a Greece of innovation, and that is the Greece of the past, of unjust privileges.” Here was the success story again. A Greece of other privileges to the few and fewer I thought; then caught the scrap of conversation. “People are idiots… they don’t learn. I always said, do your job well! Or you’re going to lose it…” I assumed it was one of the people who had lost their job having a moment. Someone handed a PAME flag to someone else and said they’d been there since the morning and it was time to leave. Someone made a joke that Pretenderis, a news commentator on one of the private channels, would turn up for the night shift.

“Buy, buy, buy… stockings. Stockings. Lipsticks. Lipsticks. Jambon. Tampon. Mano…” chant the Skyles, dancing. “A shampoo completes the moment. The razor blade gives security. Collecting interest will change your life.” I was laughing. They were dancing a fervid dance, then fell into each other; the words like their bodies, colliding, enacting the collapsed sense of self, the hysteria of so much ongoing non-sense; causes and effects confused, the damage of the discourse of power for the sake of power, naked. “6 practices for poor countries,” someone calls out. “… all for the hands. Cheap hands.” “Loans are needed from the rich countries so they can secure these things: shampoo. Lipsticks. Jambon. Tampon.” “Work and joy,” someone else calls out, “Because the best things in life are in the supermarket.” The delirium of the lists come in rapid succession, then give way to a pall, exhaustion, the music becomes slow again, wistful: “I remember,” one of the Skyles says at the microphone after gathering herself up from the floor. “But I forget. I forget easily. Let me remember not to forget. I forget things…” now she’s smiling, “keys, names, faces. I go from loss to loss. I lose whatever I found. Life. It will drop from my pockets if I’m not careful…”

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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