The Village Called Kolonaki

The Village Called Kolonaki

Unless you’ve actually lived there,
when you think of Athens, Greece,
chances are you think
of certain charming clichés,
of the Parthenon on the Acropolis
or the maid whom Byron loved
or the whitewashed windmills of Mykonos,
but these days you’ll find
new images to contemplate
not of sun-drenched beauty
but the dark sides of disaster
of migrants crawling through holes
in barbed-wire fences
or falling off flimsy rafts
to drown in the once-blue Aegean.
Clichés carry their truth
but it’s current history and its horrors
that now clear the screen
for what the fates have in mind
though there still may be room
if very little room
for those who can’t escape
from a slow-dying nostalgia,
from images of a life
now no longer there
but still sharp in memory,
Athens as a gathering of villages
named on the map as districts
but each with a certain soul
that could rouse the same embrace
the same homeland longing
that life in a Greek village
offered in those better days:
Faliron, Imitos, Maroussi,
Kaisariani, Psychiko, Pankrati,
Mets, Exarchia, Hilton,
the list goes on as you choose
what you may have come to know,
but most any list would include
the village called Kolonaki,
named for a little column
still preserved in a little park
that the cliché map would say
marks the ritziest district in town,
while those who have lived there
enough to call it home
will surely remember how
the gossip travelled easily
from one street to another
by way of the concierge couple
sitting in the doorway
of almost every building
still able to afford
service of that kind,
and the local pharmacist
would always know what was best
whether on prescription or otherwise
before you wasted your money
getting a doctor’s advice,
and the local taverna would know
your preference for fried mussels
or porgy or suckling pig
before the waiter bothered
to recite the day’s offerings
in his modern epic mode,
and the restaurant across the street
a converted kafenion
could boast the fastest waiters
anywhere in town
even if ancient in their manners
and generous in the midriff
and ready to pause for a comment
on the dangerous political situation
with a sigh and a knowing headshake
before swinging in with an order
of marinated octopus
that you wouldn’t dare refuse
though during the last dictatorship
hand and facial gesture
were all the argument available
until you heard quietly
that this too will pass,
as was true of much else
in the village called Kolonaki,
including the darkened brothel
and the madman charging up Lycabettus.
Volunteers from abroad
now arrive to help the migrants
make home where it’s possible,
and they both find another land
from what tourists on the grand tour
once created as paradise
and the trade in souvenirs
is challenged by the need to gather
the remnant signs of evil
in fate and human avarice
on the beaches with pretty stones.
Some good winds are still there,
and ample wooded mountains,
but the winds given Odysseus as a gift
and lost in a mutiny while he slept
are still scattered at large,
and there is still no sure sign
that this country of the gods’ playground
can gather them up again.