“ATHENS NOTES AND QUOTES FOR AN UNMADE MOVIE” by Iain Sinclair (with pictures by the Author)

DATELINE

Three days, exploring the city and its satellite Olympic parks and stadia, in January 2010, when strikers and students are beginning to take to the streets. And the extent of the economic catastrophe is being felt. ‘All for the best in the best of all worlds,’ say the Greeks. ‘As long as we stick together.’

DOGS

They were going to hunt dogs with guns, the Berliner said, to clear the streets for the Olympics. A fertile myth – and the starting point for an essay, which is due to appear in The London Review of Books. Dogs everywhere. Unculled, collateral victims of the Olympic gaze: cleaned-up, neutered, turned loose. Tagged with blue collars. On film footage, shot two years after the 2004 Games, I noticed the loping beasts, freelance caretakers, patrolling the overgrown wilderness of the Olympic complex, out at Maroussi. Those who are condemned without justification become the sole occupiers of the deserted palace.

dogs02

THE COLOSSUS OF MAROUSSI

An undervalued travel journal by Henry Miller, time out, between Paris and an American return: in the shadow of war. The first Miller title published by Penguin Books (1950), after original publication in 1941. Miller mythologizes the Falstaffian poet, George Katsimbalis. A war-damaged man, ever-thirsty, indulging epic flights of fancy. With all the madness of a grand project promoter.

He was talking of cities, of how he had gotten a mania for Haussmannizing the big cities of the world. He would take the map of London, say, or Constantinople, and after the most painstaking study would draw up a new plan of the city, to suit himself… Naturally a great many monuments had to be torn down and new statues, by unheard-of men, erected in their place. While working on Constantinople, for example, he would be seized by a desire to alter Shanghai. It was confusing, to say the least. Having reconstructed one city he would go on to another and then another. There was no let up to it. The walls were papered with the plans of new cities… It was a kind of megalomania, he thought, a sort of glorified constructivism which was a pathologic hangover from his Peloponnesian heritage.

 

GIORGIO de CHIRICO

Dreamer of ruins. Lived in Athens as young man. Attended the Polytechnic. Was present at the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896. The currant trade had collapsed, the country was bankrupt. De Chirico scorned the attempt at staging a parallel cultural Olympiad.

Dreary, tedious and above all artificial. A destructive atmosphere of intellectualism lay over the public and the actors. It looked as though everyone was stifling huge yawns… But the organisers of open-air spectacles do not want to understand and continue, more through stupidity than through obstinacy or conviction, to give these clumsy performances in all countries.

 

NEW AIRPORT

Familiar sheds: IKEA as a complimentary flightpath hangar in yellow and blue. Whisky hoardings for Johnnie Walker in terminal corridors and Metro station. HOPE WALKS FASTER THAN FEAR. THERE’S A GREAT BIG WORLD OUT THERE – & IT’S ALL YOURS.

OLD AIRPORT

Abandoned. Serviced by a padlocked bridge. Expensive sheds, ghosts of trade fairs and expositions, waiting for retail park funding. I am arrested, driven away, for wandering the site taking photographs. Unlike the paranoia of the Lower Lea Valley, nobody cares about the images. I’m dumped back on the main road.

GRAFFITI

Universal underclass babble. Not an audition for gallery space and alternative celebrity status. Football, music, Mao. Stencilled Uncle Sam: I WANT YOU TO PAY. Finger jabbing like Quentino Tarantino on his whisky billboard: I WRITE MY OWN SCRIPT. Trains, by unspoken agreement, are only sprayed up to window level.

moped and graffitis athens greece iain sinclair

MARKUPOLO STADIUM

A post-Olympic use has been found for one of the stadiums. Australians run a limited-over cricket league.

LEGACY EXERCISE

No Greeks sweat around the splendid new path at the base of the Acropolis rock. A few Coca-Cola executives and more Aussies come out in the dusk. When my niece gives the circuit a try, she is bitten by one of the guardian dogs.

NOSTALGIA

When we are thrown off the Metro, heading out for the Olympic Complex, we are decanted into a bendy bus, a viral torpedo, going nowhere very slowly, which makes us feel very much at home.

ARISTOTELIS (film-maker) INTERVIEW. London: 4/2/10

‘I grew up in Athens. Like most of the people who live there, I am not from Athens. I had a happy life. I lived in the suburbs. I studied architecture at the University of Athens. I was living near the centre, Omonia Square, part of the historic triangle of Athens. Omonia Square is a place where crime has increased. Prostitution: drugs: it’s an interesting place.’

‘The riots were not something new, this was happening for many years before… The riots started with one incident, the death of a young

student. Then everything broke loose. The sad thing is that nothing happened after that event. And now Greece is in a worse economic state. With the change of government almost everyone is in a bad situation and it’s a hard place to be and to work. The structure of society, based on family, based on friends, is what keeps us going: everyone helps one another. It’s not like England, where everyone is an individual.’

‘The Olympic Games were a great thing to have for historic reasons, but the Games were not well handled… Now the legacy of the Games is just empty buildings, we have no use for them. They are monuments for us, historic monuments, so we can handle them and live with them. We are used to living next to ruins. They are just ruins, they were never anything else. ‘

‘Yes, definitely, the Olympic project contributed to the situation we are in now. We have an increased debt. It’s the attitude Greek people have towards things. “It’s fine, it will get better – as long as we’re together, having fun. It will work out.” That’s history.’

MELINA MERCOURI

Movie diva, government minister. Mercouri invents the notion of a ‘City of Culture’. ‘Culture,’ she pronounced, ‘is Greece’s heavy industry.’

There is a clip of Mercouri on YouTube, like a superimposition of Never on Sunday and Psycho. She prowls up to Anthony Perkins and perches beside him to croon. ‘What’s it about?’ he asks. ‘Like all Greek songs, about love and death,’ she replies. ‘I give you milk and honey and in return you give me poison.’

OLYMPIC COAST ZONE AS JG BALLARD THEME PARK

Permitted paths vanish into dunes of landfill, into neurotic traffic, into rail tracks and tramways. But the old road, the ghost road, the one that was here before all this madness, has become a favoured route for joggers and cyclists. The Olympic Park, that corrupted legacy, is like mid-period Fellini: kite flyers, moody urbanists in long overcoats, white cars parked in unlikely places, a glitter of sea you can never quite reach. Across the coastal highway, over the tracks, is an area of balconied flats, steel-blue offices, and sex clubs with scarlet promises: STRIP LIVE SHOW. The final doodle on a white board marking the end of the Olympic zone confirms Neo Faliro as a JG Ballard theme park without content: THAT HEAVEN WOULD WANT SPECTATORS.

HELENA SMITH: 14/2/10

‘The peak, and the beginning of the end of the boom, came when Athens pulled off a successful Olympic Games in 2004. Hosting the world’s biggest sporting event was seen as a national triumph, but, at nearly €9bn, the games also stretched Greek coffers to breaking point.’

Iain Sinclair

Note from the webmaster

Below is a slide show of Iain Sinclair’s pictures taken during his trip to Athens. The pictures are of a decent size, so please be patient as it takes time to load them. The slide show will automatically show all pictures but you can also use the arrows to go forward and backward. You can maximize the slide show and view the pictures full screen. To exit the full screen slide show, press the ESC key. If you have any problem with the slide show, please use the Contacts page to email me.

3 comments to “ATHENS NOTES AND QUOTES FOR AN UNMADE MOVIE” by Iain Sinclair (with pictures by the Author)

  • Laughing at You

    Mr. Sinclair, you clearly went looking for the ugly and, naturally, you found it. One always can. You always have. You also clearly missed Athens’s indescribable splendour! Don’t ever bother coming back! Miserabilists like you are not needed here.

  • admin

    The reason I love so much Iain Sinclair’s books, stories and perception of the environment around him is exactly this feeling of disillusioned realism that some people might call negativity, ugliness but that is the pure essence of reality. The world out there is dirty, it stinks, it’s filthy and the splendour is mixed with the ugly. The glass can be half empty or half full. Misery and ugliness are around us and Iain Sinclair, to me, has a unique and unmatched clarity in putting all of this in words.
    I think Iain Sinclair represents a unique point of view which has the same right to exist and be expressed as that of the self-celebratory story tellers of touristic offices and boards who must focus on the “splendour”.
    We also need to account for the fact that the “splendour” of historical cities like athens or rome or london itself, if partly the splendour of long gone civilisations and that the modern state of things has nothing to do with that long lost past.

  • PJV

    At 63, almost 64, I’m probably too old to be naive or unsophisticated… But maybe I am, because I think the ideas, the images — mentally or emotionally evoked and physically posted — and the words written here are wonderful! I see Truth in it, no ugliness, just what is, what exists. Stark reality, yes, but not ugliness…

    “Life, it IS.” -TBG

    When reading, whatever I am reading, I KNOW that the writing is far and away better than good when I can feel my pupils dilate, my body relax and my brain start putting out what it recognizes as high-alpha.

    That’s what I experienced while reading this page, thanking whatever fates may be who tossed it into my path, as I read it.

    Maybe it was the ghost of Melina Mercouri who brought me here.

    I loved her, throughout her career, and something made me think of her, today, so I went looking for videos of her and specific quotes.

    One of them was “I give you milk and honey and in return you give me poison,” a quote that has proven effective over the years in making people who return bad for the good they are given, mindful of just exactly what they are doing. And it was the quote that brought me here.

    The first quote I thought about, though, I couldn’t find.

    Melina was a passionate Scorpio woman — as I myself would like to think that I am *L* — and she was being interviewed one time and the fact her astrological sign was a Scorpio came up and she said, something like: “Yes, darling, I’m a Scorpio, you know, we all have a stinger in our tails.” But I cannot find the interview.

    I did remind my husband today how much he used to love to hear me quote that line.

    Oh, enough about me, I just wanted to say how glad I am to have found this page — the images, the mention of JG Ballard — one of my favorite authors and Fellini — nostalgia, graffiti, passion — and it’s as if it was written just for me, as if you wrote it, knowing that I’d come here and find it today!

    And really, that’s one of the reasons an author writes, isn’t it?

    Didn’t mean to gush, or ramble, hope what I said wasn’t too florid or purple or Walt-Whitmanish in its I-ness — just wanted to say it all — to let you know the impact of your words on one of us out here.

    Thank you.

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