Daily Dérive #1: Agios Panteleimonas ~ Exarcheia

The air is cool, but the sun is hot. I can smell that smell of hot stones and gasoline, sweet rotting rubbish, atomising flowers, or charring meat. It’s what my nose knows as the southern Mediterranean.

A man tidily dressed in a cotton shirt and trousers sits down beside me. He’s looking around like he’s lost a friend. He yawns ostentatiously. His beard is frizzled with grey and white. A toddler cackles and runs toward and away on the flagstones.

The square itself is divided into blocks with railed off grassy patches, where hardy shrubs grow stunted. Pairs of palms do better in the two segments either side of a statue of half naked youths cavorting with a centaur. At the head of the square is a metro station and lining the flanks are the chairs and canopies of cafes and restaurants.

Trees grow on the perimeter and in this part of the world take on a very utilitarian purpose: without shade this square would be empty. People mill in the square, and even more rest on benches. The bleached benches in the sun are bare, the ones in the shade are full, with standing room only. A kid walks past wearing a No kangaroos in Austria t-shirt.

The square is overlooked on all sides by apartment buildings of staggered heights, each one uncommonly common in its own way. One balcony is stuffed with trees and shrubs as if the owner were desperate to photosynthesise the pollution. The roofs are nested with antennae, on forests of scaffolding, and solar water heaters to the efficiency of which I can attest.

Two friends hugs in the square, stroking each other’s hair, and clasping hands as they walk into the metro.

Two pigeons flutter under the shade of the statue’s nether regions, cleaning themselves under the centaur’s belly and pecking at their feathers in a desperate woman’s loins. Onward!

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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