Thursday, 26 January 2012

Snapshots of fear and uncertainty: 21st Century gargoyles

There is an air of the medieval lurking in some corners of the Greek capital these days, and I’m not talking about flagons of mead, twanging lutes or court jesters (though we do have our share of fools, particularly in Parliament).

A strange triptych of modern misery and consumer mania greets commuters emerging from the bowels of the Metro into the daylight at Syntagma.

Heralds of the Age of Buy! Buy! Buy! stand at the head of the steps leading to the Square overlooked by the imposing Parliament building, waiting to thrust flyers from supermarkets and electronics chain stores into unwilling hands.

They are flanked, in almost perfect triangular symmetry, by the slumped figures of the desperate. Sitting on the steps, curled semi foetally into themselves, heads bowed with eyes staring unseeingly at the cold marble beneath them, they hold their arms up offering a plastic cup in supplication and hope of some loose change from passers by.

Their angular limbs and grimy hands are reminiscent of the grotesque figures that were carved into the walls of European cathedrals hundreds of years ago to ward off evil spirits or remind sinners of the torment that awaited them in the afterlife. But these 21st Century gargoyles bring no warning for the afterlife, just a reminder of the worst of the here and now.

They’re the ultimate in the disenfranchised.
Many, though not all, are illegal immigrants, who gave their all for a chance to escape extreme poverty or prosecution in their home countries. The grass would surely be greener, they were told by the traffickers, in Europe. Even in Greece. But while the grass may be green, their future looks black. Desperation has driven some to crime, drugs and debasement of all kinds. Others simply have given up and planted their bony bodies on the hard station steps, waiting for oblivion.

Discarded flyers litter the Square beyond them, punctuated by knots of protesters, the homeless roused from a night in a nearby doorway and the tide of working folk looking resolutely past it all as they rush to get to their job on time and try desperately to maintain their version of normality.

Meanwhile, in the Big House that looks down on the early morning scene, preparations are being made for yet another day of bluff and bluster by the privileged pontificators who created this new face of the country they laughingly claim to serve.

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