Moving to the city where democracy began
“Are you in love? It must be a man,” people say, looking at me searchingly for signs of heartsore pining and impulsive romance. I’m not. Nor am I running away from something. Nor do I have a job waiting, nor a sudden urge to learn the language. I am moving to Greece just for the hell of it.
I’ve always wanted to live abroad, and earlier this year hit upon the idea of Athens as the perfect place. It’s cheaper than Paris or Florence, sunny, near the sea and has a cosmopolitan gritty-glamorous atmosphere that I think will suit me. It’s a melting-pot of different cultures, it’s where democracy began, and it’s full of wonderful Greeks and their delicious food.
I handed in my notice at the glossy magazine where I worked and started to daydream about griddled octopus under jasmine trellises and white curtains billowing through the blue-painted windows of charming neo-palladian villas. But as my departure approaches, I’ve become increasingly nervous. “I did know a lot of people there,” international friends say doubtfully when I ask for introductions, “but they’re all looking to move away.” And such is the prevailing theme.
Athens is a place where things begin, the origin of civilisation. Philosophy, learning, architecture, poetry, music, all emanate from Greece before the translatio studii towards the West. I’m going in the opposite direction. London, having sailed through the doldrums of financial crisis and into the calm waters of recovery, welcomes Greek bankers, shipping fortunes and diplomats. I face going against the tide, to a “brain-drained” Athens where the streets are either deserted or full of protesters with placards.
Even more frightening is the prospect of missing a British summer, than which there is no more precious jewel. Peppery radishes straight from the garden, long evenings chatting on sun-warmed pavements, the joyous vibrant lime-green of the London plane trees: these are the things that run through my mind when I picture myself, lonely and alone, friendless and fearful, in the simmering cauldron of Syriza-led Greece.
But I have no doubt that Athens will welcome me. The Greek sense of hospitality is legendary and ancient—think of Eumaeus in the Odyssey—and has been undimmed by the country’s recent political and economical turbulence. There is still the smell of pine and salt and oregano in the air, still the Parthenon looming above the postcard shops and chestnut stalls, still the Greek pride and passion. Athens is a place where things begin—and I hope it will be a new beginning for me.