Vatazi Street

Growing up in a small New Jersey town, I always had this nagging feeling that there was something more out there. As a child playing on the beach, I would squint as far as I could into the ocean’s horizon and wonder what was out there, who was out there, and if anybody was squinting back.

It is funny how these things happen.

I didn’t find Greece, Greece found me.

Like love, it pulls you into a whirlwind. All you can see is walls of the vortex around you. Every fiber of you is charged, every neuron is on fire, every thought is consumed with distraction. And you know that life will never be the same.

I literary immerse  myself into the noise ridden center of Athens, to the treeless road of Vatazi. Dead smack inbetween the Greek Parliament and the National Technical University, in the shadow of Lycabettus Hill.

The locals regarded this area as hell on Earth.

One Summer’s night it was overbearingly hot. Even potted flowers seemed to hang over the balconies with purpose, trying to catch the slightest breeze.

Suddenly the lights went out.

You could almost hear the collective moan of my neighbors as the hum of air conditioners came to a halt. Everybody went out to their balconies with candles and flashlights, shouting over to the next person if their electricity was out too.

What to do? You pour a glass of wine, sit on your balcony and chat (loudly), complain (loudly), gossip (softly) to your neighbors.

There is a community of Africans on my street. I don’t know from which country, but I often eavesdrop in admiration at their ability to effortlessly switch from four different languages in a single moment.

That night a fight broke out and, to my delight, they were shouting in English. While my Greek neighbors shrugged at one another I smiled. I, for once, would understand what was going on.

Two men were fighting over a beautiful woman. She was in love with both of them.

She begged them to stop arguing, but soon fist were flying. Their friends swiftly broke them apart and dragged them down the street in opposite directions, to walk it off and clear their heads.

The woman was left alone, sitting on the sidewalk crying. My neighbors became alarmed at this. One woman, in her bathrobe, went downstairs and brought her a glass of water. Another guy, from another balcony yelled down a joke and everybody, including the crying woman, laughed.

Then somebody brought down a bottle of wine, then another brought some food. Suddenly the  street was alive in celebration – a celebration over the complications of love.

Around 3am the lights came back on. People looked at their watches and grumbled about having to get up early for work and slowly made their way back into their homes.

I looked up at the light bulbs that hung from rusty wires (what passes as streetlights in this town), and I smiled to myself.

A relative once told me, after I mentioned how I couldn’t imagine not living in a city anymore, he said: Yeah I bet it would be hard to miss all that glamor.

No. A city is not glamorous. It is raw. Raw with emotion, raw with frustration, and even raw with garbage. A city is everybody in your face.

But it’s also a mutual understanding, it is a common bond.

And I love that.

2 Responses to “Vatazi Street

  • You have amazing writing. 🙂 What happened to the lady?

  • Thank you for your kind comment! Last I heard, she moved back to Africa.

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