Sunset on Strefi

Two things happened in the last week that more or less capture the vagaries of moving to a new city.

Firstly I did a search online for an Ultimate frisbee team in Athens. There is one, and only one. Remarkable, whichever way you look at it; after all, Greece is the home of the flying disc.

From this very modern connection, I made new friends and cracked a chink in the armour of Athens, more familiar with friendly faces. One of the women on the team passed me the number of a Greek teacher, so that’s another slab in the pavement of life.

The second occurrence was the opposite. I tried to get in touch with the Khora volunteering team over email. No response. So I cycled over to the building. No one there. Neither outcome was particularly surprising because the community centre closed a month ago, threatened with a €300,000 fine for unregulated activities.

Somewhat deflated, I returned home. The heat was melting the roads and I hadn’t got much further along in my search for some good to do.

Then I got a message from a friend who’d been to Athens many years ago. ‘Make sure you go up Strefi,’ she wrote. Well, I thought, I’m not doing anything else this sunset.

Strefi is one of the smaller hills of Athens, a rock outcrop that until the 1920s was a stone quarry for the city. Dog walkers prowl the lower tier, there’s a football pitch full of screaming and a cafe for more gentle pastimes.

But climb into the more rarefied air, and you start to spot blankets cast between trees, over mattresses, beside the scorched stones of a fire pit. In the Anarchic endroit of Exarchia, Strefi is the hilltop redoubt of the redoubters.

On the rocky peak of the quarry, people perch on stones to smoke cigarettes, smash beer bottles, and spend quiet moments gazing out at the city spread of Athens, a skyline still topped by the ancient Parthenon.

There, I wrote my diary, half listening to the newly-acquainted couple behind me talking about their international experiences of coming out. Behind them I could also catch the higher frequency of English – Home Counties English, not the Globish of the gay guys.

I stood up, took a few steps towards the English voices. And pretended to become sublimated in the sundry shades of pink performed by the dying sun.

I shuffled with my camera, listening, glancing, side-eyeing the group. No, not now. She’s in a deep and meaningful. Approach from the front, not from behind. Then I break the circle.

They turn and stare.

‘Hi…’

Now.

They were a group of volunteers from Khora. The self-same group of volunteers I had been trying to contact by email. They smiled and passed the wine.

Which just goes to show. Sometimes the internet smooths our passage (especially when trying to contact a frisbee team predominantly comprised of computer software engineers), but sometimes the internet is hopeless.

Far better to climb to the top of the nearest hill and start talking.

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