92 Acharnon Street. A Year in Athens by John Lucas

By John Lucas

Greece has constantly had its admirers, even though none turns out to have loved the Athenian tavernas, the murderous site visitors and the jaded prostitutes, the petty bureaucratic tyrannies, the road noise and the heroic individualists with the irony and detachment of John Lucas. ninety two Acharnon highway is a gritty portrait of a grimy urban and a wayward kingdom. but Lucas's love for the realities of Greece triumphs – for the Homeric kindness of her humans in the direction of strangers, for the pleasures of her tavernas and for the proximity of islands in transparent blue water as a shelter from the noise and pollutants of her capital urban. this can be Greece because the Greeks might recognize it, visible throughout the eyes of a poet.

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There are lovingly-made model cranes, blocks-and-tackle, bales, boxes, men and pack animals at work. For a while George set up a small museum – in fact a vacant shop – in Agia Marina, the unattractive pleasure-town on the far side of the island, but then a sudden and wholly unreasonable tax demand forced him out. For him island bureaucracy is a nightmare from which it is impossible to wake. Now the ships are kept in the basement of a second house he’s built at Alones (the word means ‘threshing floor’), a village not far from Agia Marina, and he shows people his exhibition for free, talking them through Greek history as he does so, especially the history of Greek seafaring.

When the line cleared George wanted to know what had happened. ‘We’re probably being bugged,’ I said. George was indignant. ‘That is not possible. ’ ‘Lucky you,’ I said. The bugging, if that’s what it was, was in all probability at our end. It was early summer, 1984, both Pauline and I worked for CND and were helping to run a support group for the striking miners; and Thatcher had given public approval to police and MI5 tactics for keeping tabs on anybody ‘not one of us’. I explained this – no harm in letting the listeners know you’re onto them – but George was by now talking over my words.

No good,’ he said to us all and shrugged, an expansive world-weary heave of his shoulders. Then he gathered up his ladders and left. The shrug intrigued me. ‘It looked as though your father was thinking the Greek for “dolce far niente”,’ I suggested. But George shook his head. ’ I went to the balcony and looked out. And it was then I began to understand why George had been anxious about his choice of flat. In the first place it stank. Acrid fumes of cheap petrol and diesel, the hot smells of abraded rubber and brake shoes slammed against wheel rims, all drifted up from the traffic-clogged road on which my apartment block stood.

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