“Είμαστε όλοι ανάπηροι” (We are all cripples)

IMG_4171 Each day for the past week, and today too, I come across moments that speak of what this year has meant for so many. What make them “Greek.” That they are taking place during the holiday season in a city and country that has seen and continues to battle its economic ravage, that there is a tenor to the overlay of the poignant, heroic, and absurd that recalls the George Seferis poem “The Container of the Uncontainable” which in Greek is “H XΩΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΩΡΗΤΟΥ” – for some reason Keeley & Sherrard have translated “Xωρα” as “Container” — it is also Greek for “country”. The first line of the poem from the Keeley/Sherrard translation that kept resonating: “Bells like coins falling sound today all over the city/between each peal a new space opens/” The week before Christmas I’d gone to see The Depression Era exhibit in Gazi at the Benaki museum, and also Rosi Braidotti had come to give a lecture on the occasion of the Greek translation of her Nomadic Subjects. Both Braidotti’s talk and the Benaki exhibit were cartograhies of new spaces as much as they expressed the uncontainable aspects of people and their worlds within topographies of advanced capitalism. This next to a photo titled «Burnout» at the start of the exhibit: IMG_4148 These are statistics. What elides their chilling factuality? At the Athens Bakery next to work where I go to get lunch (the bakery now has economical cooked meals along with its breads and pasteries). There was chickpea soup for 4.80 euros that day. At the cashier I stare at a pastry of feta and tomatoes and consider getting this too; Alexandros who works at the bakery is at the register. «How much are these?» I say, and he puts it into the bag with my soup. «4.80» he says, and repeats when I ask again, since I realize he hasn’t added the feta and tomato pastry, «4.80» he says again. Athens, after 5 years, is still at the center of the Euro-crisis, though it is also very much its own space, as I am with others in line at the post office. People are tabulating the year’s gains and losses. Mostly people talk of ways the government could have made things better. I am waiting for my turn to send Christmas cards. There’s a lot going on in the streets, and there seems to be more grandparents pushing children in strollers than usual. More cars jumping the pavements to park where there is no parking space; the space in front of the post office is reserved for pick-ups and drop-offs. I see a woman get out of a car and remove the No-parking sign as a small blue car drives up. She speaks with an accent when someone asks what she’s doing. She is making room for a coiffed 70ish year old motioning us to move out of the way so she can park. I see the sticker on her windshield for the handicapped. The woman helping her is from Romania, and brings out her two crutches from the backseat. A heavyset woman gets on her two crutches rather gingerly and makes her way into the crowded post office as another car drives up right next to hers. The guy’s on his cell phone and barely looks the way of the grandmother pushing a stroller who is now yelling that he’s blocked the pavement completely. He backs up into the traffic, still on the cell, then drives back up on the pavement as another stroller is about to negotiate the pavement. At that point he rolls his eyes, still on the phone. I say, “not only are you parking where you aren’t allowed but you have an attitude.” Someone nods next to me, and continues the conversation with the man who is saying he too is handicapped. But he has no sticker on his car, and seems to move fluently into the crowded post office after he gets out of his car. The man who spoke to him says, “We’ll never learn. It’s why we’re in this situation.” A younger guy next to me says, “we’re all handicapped at this point.” The woman who had gone in on her two crutches, now comes out looking pleased to have accomplished her task. Meanwhile the post office director is outside and sees the cars have parked in the no parking space and grabs the battered sign with a look of complete frustration. “They’re handicapped,” someone calls out, and he shrugs as the Romanian woman motions to people to move so her charge can back out again. But as she gets into her car and gives her her crutches she says, “I had to send those 20 euros, my children need it.” The man next to me hears it too and shakes his head, “She can barely walk and here she is driving.” I take this as a euphemism for his admiration of her purposefulness. “Some women are petty dynamic,” he goes on and I smile. The time it takes to make the effort to help out, what can slow us down, somehow our humanity feels implicit in this. Like the body. Like the brokenness of our streets and sidewalks, the coming up short in our calculus of empathies. Near work an elderly and decently dressed man was yelling at the top of his lungs, “This is the country for the low life!” Drug addicts were shooting up on some benches. A woman yelled back, “Say it like it is father!” I don’t agree, I think what we see is the wound and woundings that have brought us to another place, and another way of understanding time. Time is not so much money as it is the exchange of what money can’t buy, cliché as that expression is. At the cash register yesterday a woman ahead of me didn’t have enough to pay for all her groceries. The overworked and clearly exhausted cashier started to subtract what she wasn’t going to pay for: a book, a shaker of salt, a box of cornflakes, two pairs of socks. The cashier was doing the math to see at what point she could stop subtracting as the young woman who was with her perhaps 10 or 12 year old son was counting out change. “I have some more in the car,” she said, and the woman at the register said, “It’s okay, 53 euros right?” “52.80 cents” she said, and the cashier took it, and wished her a happy new year. The Seferis poem is short: “Bells like coins falling sound today all over the city/between each peal a new space opens/like a drop of water on the earth: the moment has come, raise me up.//” IMG_4180

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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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2 Responses to “Είμαστε όλοι ανάπηροι” (We are all cripples)

  1. Joe Powell says:

    Poignant piece, Adrianne. Those stats blew me away, too. I didn’t know it was that bad–67 percent unemployment for the young. Geez, where’s the hope?

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