Written by Brittany Paletta ’19
Our first stop in Greece was Athens. The capital and beating heart of Greece, Athens is the central point of civilization. It contains the living, and active polis. All of the buildings are decorated with spray-painted words of wisdom, name tags, and various symbolism. Finding space that doesn’t have some 21st century addition of graffiti would be worthy of a scavenger hunt item. The amalgamation of historical buildings, youthful and rebellious graffiti, and growing vines comprise the city of Athens.
It’s not just names of taggers that you’ll find lining the building’s exterior. Jejune cries for a change in collective mentality can be found around the corners of museums, like “F**k the police”, and “Smash rape culture”. While the language has a potentially off-putting effect for older and more modest generations, I find the sentiment to be a rallying plea for us all. These kinds of ideas aren’t universally accepted. The existence of rape culture, police brutality, and paternalistic authoritarian government involvement are all major topics of discussion and concern, not only in the US, but all over the world. Our universal struggle for autonomy and mutual respect is felt by our fellow citizens across an ocean in what seems like another world.
What I’ve learned during my time roaming the streets of Athens, devouring the courage and the culture, is the pride and dignity radiating from their people. Athens and its citizens aren’t stuck in a mentality from the past. They remain close to their roots while still projecting into the future. We could benefit from observing their city square. Instead of cutting down trees and plant life to put up restaurants and awnings, they cut the awning to fit around the trees. They allow the shrubs outside the government buildings to grow and flourish. They don’t paint over the political symbolism of anarchist groups. The people of Greece perceive social and political activism as a sign of a flourishing peoples.
Conversely, in America we restrict the ways in which people are allowed to express themselves. If you protest, you must do it quietly and with permission. Permits are granted by local government buildings according to the district you desire to protest in. Law enforcement are called in for crowd control, and tensions are high. Graffiti is perceived as a nuisance; something that must be eradicated, covered over, and frowned upon. We destroy the nature that sustains us in order to construct commercialized buildings, and parking lots. More parking lots. For an industrialized and seemingly civilized society, we seem to have our ways of living backwards.
Turning towards the ancient and ever-renewing culture of Greece could help us reorient ourselves. We can start small, like putting away our phones at dinner. In a restaurant in Athens, I was told by the waiter that I was family. “Put down your phone.”, he said. “You don’t need a menu. Are you a vegetarian? Drink this wine.”, he commanded and I was grateful to oblige. The stranger treated me the way a trusted friend does. At this dinner, although it was more like a feast, my friends and I reflected on our experiences. Without the distraction of our phones, we were able to absorb all of the energy of hope and progress into contemplation. There’s a lot we can learn from Greece and its people.