Athenian Voices

Erin Worden Athens Internship Program, Greece


February 8, 2016

Greeks can be loud. Athens is often noisy. There are buskers in busy plateias (my favorite one of whom covers Britney Spears hits from the early 2000s). There are flat-bed trucks that drive through my neighborhood’s tiny streets, while loud recordings played through megaphones fixed to the roofs announce the laborers’ services. There’s a deep-voiced migrant worker who walks through Pangrati on Wednesdays offering her housekeeping services; her shouts are her advertisements.

These loud voices can be heard at protests, too. Yesterday, during a general strike that effectively paused Greek life for a day, more than 50,000 Greek workers occupied Syntagma Square to challenge the government’s proposed pension cuts. I walked through the square early in the morning before the protests began; there were kebab vendors warming their grills, stalls selling hundreds of Greek flags, and lines of police decked out in their riot gear – all of which was set to the beat of Greek music that played loudly from the square’s speaker system.

But these voices can be quiet, too. There is as much of a hush to this city as there are loud shouts. Cars rarely honk, despite Athens’ general traffic anarchy. Apartment buildings are silent during siesta. The street cats rarely meow. And resistance can be quiet too. Last week, a group of Greeks hung neckties from trees in Syntagma Square to challenge the prime minister’s casual approach to dress codes and -- in their eyes – Greek governance. And there’s graffiti everywhere. It’s colorful and intentional and quiet and claims the streets of Athens for its people.

There’s a giant metronome in Prague that was installed when the country gained independence from the Soviets. When the metronome ticks, democracy is said to be alive and well in the Czech Republic. Athens doesn’t have a metronome, but the beat of Athenian voices is palpable and reverberates throughout the country.