Athens

Arriving in Europe, the same as always: cool grey light. This time, there’s a chill, too: coat and jumper are barely sufficient to be comfortable at night, and there’s a sprinkling of snow on the higher hilltops around Athens. The downside is the dullness: everybody but everybody is dressed in black, grey, dark brown, muddy mid-brown, or blue so dark it’s almost black – including me, I have to say. I should have worn my purple Mongolian herdsman’s coat, to at least provide a splash of colour somewhere.

Last night I took a walk up to my old stamping ground from almost 22 years ago. I set off in a general direction and stumbled by accident on the very bottom of Kipselis, ascending it all the way to the Plateia. The guy in the hotel had told me it had changed a lot, but I was surprised at how much I remembered – surprised, in remembering what I did, how little I was prepared to settle for back then. I should have done better in my twenties. I had a little trouble identifying the place I used to live – it was further up from Plateia Kipselis than I had remembered it – but the street name (Filotimou) came back to me when I saw the sign. I followed it to the top of the hill, and was able to narrow the flat down to one of two adjacent basements – twenty-one-and-a-half years, perhaps to the day, since I walked out of that door and down that hill for the last time. I didn’t linger.

The fish restaurant in which, along with Ian Winter, I had watched David Platt’s thunderous last-minute volley sink Belgium in the second round of the 1990 World Cup had disappeared, so instead I turned into Fokionis Negri and watched Man U thrash Wigan 5-0 as I ate a dinner of fried sardines and boiled vegetables ( the way the Greeks boil them, that tasted better than it sounds). There were quite a few people out – this is perhaps normal for the time of year. Certainly there is no sign of trouble beyond some nonsensically juvenile graffiti (“no-one is free until all are free”) – nobody that I could see sleeping in the streets – but then I am sure there is much I am not seeing, and in any case there are degrees. An example, perhaps: the tariff on the door of my hotel room stated €100 – no doubt this was always a fiction, but it does seem a bit of a giveaway that I got it for €27.50. Then again, apart from one French family, I did seem to be the only person in the hotel…

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