Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The realty of a street by Pedro Mateo


Pedro means the street Dafnomili in Athens which starts from this Platia


I would like to tell you a story with some lightness the way Robert Walser did it. He was a poet-narrator who used to give tender accounts of his travels. I will try to tell you a story in the limited area of a city, Athens, and more precisely of a street that, I a foreigner living in Greece, have made mine by staying and acquainting myself with a few of its inhabitants. My story is connected like the links of a chain so that it will be easier for you to follow the succession of moments, visual impressions and moving sensations. Unavoidably I will speak about the past but I will not do it by using the famous “once upon a time” or equally old phrases. The reality of today concerning places throws light on my imagination and guides me to conduct comparison.


The dead man is left alone. Who is going to bridle, to put the break on the runaway horse of Capitalism, which is galloping on the deserted beaches of Power and of Mr. Money suffering from cellulites? Money does not bring happiness, nor power. The mines are drying out; let us burn the future vessels of the State Reason.

Cities were always built and re-built with trophies of violence, iron sulfur and the drying and burning salt, trophies obtained through deceit, whose acquisition is always celebrated with raised glasses, exquisite wines in perfect agreement with the occasion and the protocol.

In the heart of the people of the cities rests the desire for recognition. In the cities “the conversion of countless relationships” takes place, the poet of the modern city, Charles Baudelaire, tells us. They also desire to remain anonymous and they consider it their right. Sometimes we say that cities are inhuman but if we focus on the mass of humans, and then there is a breath of fresh air. The variety of people along with the color of their clothing is a great school of life which flows in the streets. Streets are for towns what fountains are for mountains. Fountains for humanity for the renewal of life.

We don’t know exactly when the first street appeared in the world. The first village, Jerico, which was founded 10 millennia ago, reveals a tower and a temple. In Catal Huyuk, in Anatolia, the houses had no doors and no windows because they were stuck together. Their inhabitants entered them by means of ladders, through the terraces and then a hole in the ceiling. Imagine the block of houses in our cities with no other access than that! It would be quite amusing.

The street is a place of passing by, of meeting, of acquaintance. We do not know how the people of Phaistos expressed themselves they wanted to be understood, when they walked, or walked past each other, when they gathered to hear the news or to negotiate when they were just talking and a laughter would be heard…Maybe, apart from the language they didn’t differ so much from us. It is rare that when two or more people meet they don’t strike a conversation or that they don’t go through the ritual of shaking hands and smiling. This happens even in Athens, a warm and human city which resists the invasion of uniformity.

In Athens there are many types of streets: the wide, old style boulevards, lined with trees and stately buildings, narrow streets with steps, climbing, because of the morphology of the soil, wary with rocky hills…Athens does not have a monumental character because it was built piece by piece; at one place the commercial center, at another the new town, somewhere else a little-insufficient park. Streets dipped in light, alleys lost in the shade, covered passages and markets. Busy streets, deserted streets, practically useless but with a unique charm. The street: a concrete space observed by the vigilant eyes of the windows of the houses.

I’ve been living in Athens for the last 14 years. By now, for me it is an act of faith; I believe in Athens. I live in a small street near the center of the town. I go to work on foot. The street is narrow, ascending in zigzag; I live on the left-hand side where the street numbers don’t go beyond fifty. It is the last house, at the corner. I climb up and down the few marble steps that separate it from the street. The name of the street is Nikiforou Ouranou, name of a Byzantine Emperor. Most streets in my neighborhood are named after Byzantine emperors, murderers, generals. None-the-less the meaning of the name of my street is very poetic: the sky bearing victory. Basically it is an old street, associated with need, well adapted to its own soil; relatively quiet, filled with the cries of children in the morning when they go to school, of adolescents, of both sexes, who bursts open the buds of their age, of love and of their self-centered, still tender world.

Day and night the cats, masters of the place, roam about. You walk and you hear the canaries singing, or some other exotic bird with green and yellow feathers dipped in blue. Dogs’ barking is heard less and less. Parked cars, seen from above, resemble a snake hit and broken into two: the part which is parked on the right and the part parked on the left.


In spite of the fact that the obsession to pull down old stone house in order to build apartment blocks still prevails, it is important if one loves the street he lives in. In my street one can appreciate the passing of this – already aged – century and detect its social inequalities by the sight of its habitations. The great grand father is a closed spacious house with tall ceilings, two window casements a door leading to the main staircase, a yard a ground floor, a central balcony surrounded by grid iron bars and resting on spiral shaped marble supports with one window from each side on the first floor. Two beautiful pillars decorate the façade of the house. There are houses that look like grandmothers and in one of them lives a grandmother who seems to have been all her life a spinster. Here and there we find old antes, widows of military men or of modest merchants from the provinces. Some are quite well dressed because they lived all their lives surrounded by money, for others plaster falls all over their place, pink and ochre walls. We do not have very strong earthquakes in Athens, but there again one can discover a patched up wrinkle on the old surface. The young habitation have balconies resembling eyelashes platforms hanging over the pine trees which at the beginning of the street hold in their arms the new church of the old parish; the very young girl-houses have very neatly painted eyebrows and their features are not yet lost in the green plants of their freshly bought flower-pots.


In this street we see the signs for a dentist, an enterprise of electronics and a fashion designer. Only two shops have their door open, a chemist and a newspaper shop which also sells cigarettes, wine, refreshments and milk. There used to be still another shop which used to sell honey and biocosmetics, but it closed down, not for lack of customers; some rival pharmaceutical company took care of that. I don’t know if it was because of the sweetness of this pure flower-honey or because of the pleasure radiating from the face of the honey seller – a young man who had come from the mountain of West Peloponnesus – a healthy person, both physically and mentally, capable of conducting a pleasant conversation. He had always a smile and the right combination of surprise and curiosity to back his words; there I would always stop on the way home – about hundred meters from my house – usually coming back from work and a chair, a coffee and a cigarette were always offered to me.

A few yards away, hammers and saws attract the attention; an ironmonger and a carpenter and next to them a third workshop of pottery; argyle going around on an electric wheel. Going by this on a hot afternoon, I can see the potter, usually on the phone; he puts the phone down to talk to me about his future plans, his expectations, and his hopes for success.


As the street is situated at the foot of Lycabetos – a hill where wolves hid in the ancient times – other streets converge, steps and abrupt turns. Over penthouses and television antennas one can see the blue stain of the mountains, toward the north. The shapes of the mountains feed the imagination before one lets himself be seduced by the pure blue and the slow, wandering clouds. The days when pollution reaches dangerous limits it is better if you walk the head down thinking of everyday trivialities, words that were said, those that could be said had the opportunity presented itself.

Beggars you will not see but sometimes hefty gypsy-girls go by, clean and with a beautiful make-up who wants to tell your fortune, while their golden teeth shine in their mouth. Street-flower-sellers advertise with loud voices fertile earth and little baby trees. They greet the old people in the old way: by raising their free hand. Some artist painters and musicians also live in this street.

This is my street. Its people away from the centers of the democratically elected power, are the soul and heart of the middle class, the safeguards of a treasure that never perishes, i.e. accepting without a dogma. Nowadays many movements of young people support destruction, as if time and the crazy fire which expiates everything with death and suffering was not enough, in all of Asia and Africa and America, of the world, even in the “abducted Europe”.


To conclude the chain of my story I will tell you the story of a worker of the stone who made a stone chain. In the Cathedral of Murcia, the Southeast end of Spain the chapel is decorated by a chain ordered by the family of Kelez. The legend has it that they pulled the eyes out of the creator of the chain because the work was so perfect that they were afraid that the artist would make something else, equally or even more perfect. Reversely, in our societies, architects and town planners remain unpunished, in spite of the fact that with their creations they saw the seed of ugliness.

Let us, then cash in the positive feeling that we get from stepping on those stones which were chiseled and arranged for us thousands of years ago, before returning to our cement cities.




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