Street Art In Athens

This project has been published in the Internazionale webpage on 23th January 2015. It’s my first project, the one I worked on after the master in Reportage in Rome.

During this 20 days-trip, I had the opportunity to meet so many different people, and to really live the soul of this wonderful country. I a grateful, for all that it gave me.

Hydra, my first Greek island


“You can’t come to Greece without seeing at least one island!”
How do you blame her? Celeste arrived in Agios Dimitrios three days after me. But she had already prepared every detail, so that her mother, grandmother, aunt and cousin would host me properly. And “proper” hospitality, in Greece, is just amazing. Breakfast ready on the table in the morning as soon as I wake up, bed made, lunch and dinner (and, oh my God, what lunches and dinners!) served, against all my attempts to help, to thank, to make myself useful. No way, in Greece the guest is a pasha, it works like that, because there will be other ways, other times and other trips to give back all this.

Agios Dimitrios is a small country village, a few kilometers from Livadeia, in central Greece. Just before arriving there, there is a tree in the middle of the road: it grew up there and the two lanes run along the sides. All around, like a valley, even if it is a plain, mountain ranges. In less than an hour, by car you can even reach the sea, and in an hour and a half you can reach Delphi, the infinite magic Delphi, the navel of the world, the Centre. Although not usual as a “tourist” destination – in fact, that’s exactly what I love – the holiday here is wonderful, the colors of light, landscapes, the friendly ways of the people, good energy and serenity.

But you can’t come to Greece without seeing at least one island! Mother advises us Hydra. To me, only its name is enough to convince me, even if it seems to be an expensive and very “touristy” place.

Agios Dimitrios – Athens – Piraeus – Hydra, train and ferry.
Piraeus is terrible. You can’t breathe, it’s a concrete casting on the sea. As soon as we arrive, we have to walk half an hour to find a bar. Shops of junk, hardware, low quality clothing, closed shops, sprinkled shops, decadence, dilapidation. Piraeus is a place of passage, the port of Athens. A chaotic and noisy comings and goings of travelers of all kinds pours into the streets, waiting for ferries, looking for ticket offices, and escaping the huge amount of beggars. The gypsies and homeless are no longer in the center of Athens, the Golden Dawn must have hunted them down, and so, on the sidewalks of the suburbs, including Piraeus, the rows of begging cans, makeshift mattresses, dirty rags and supplicating glances stretch out. We set off on the quay to avoid being swallowed up by the concrete and to look at the sea, even if it is more than an hour before the departure of our fast ferry. It will pass in a flash, as will the two hours of travel, drinking beer, eating chips and looking at the blue line of the horizon.

The fast ferry is a delight, a slow and relaxing cradle, even if outside the sea hurtles. The children sitting in front of us speak Greek and Spanish, and we study each other, attracted by the new languages.

I am curious to see this island where there are no motor vehicles, curious to see the sea of the Greek islands, curious and amazed by Greece and its continuous kidnapping me.

As soon as we dock we realize that we have made an unforgivable mistake: it is the end of July, in full season, the port is crowded and we have not booked any room to sleep. For a moment, total panic. We don’t even have sleeping bags, we wanted to travel lightly. But since I got here I’ve learned a beautiful expression – which, thinking about it, perhaps exists in all languages, something like hakuna matata in Swahili, I don’t give a fuck in English, ‘sti cazzi in Roman: the variesai. In short, WHATEVER, we’ll find a solution, the only free room in Hydra will fall from the sky, the universe will help us.

He who seeks, finds. Let’s enjoy a moment the view of this pearl on the sea, white perched houses, pebbles, narrow and intricate alleys. Let’s ask the first office. Nothing. They recommend a room rental nearby. Nothing, all full. A “taxi driver” of donkeys tells us to go up that road, to turn right, then left, then to go up that small ramp … the suitcases, although light, begin to weigh, it is an absurd heat and the climbs do not help. I leave Celeste sitting on a step with the suitcase and go up in random exploration, I’m away for at least half an hour, losing myself on purpose and finding myself again, because the atmosphere is magical and white and silent and I enjoy the walk. But nothing. There is no cot, the people I ask begin to send me back to structures that we have already seen without success. It must have been two hours now, searching in vain.

“Let’s go back to the port, maybe we missed something.” But we are quite resigned, and in the spirit of the variesai we sit at a tavern with a beautiful Alpha 66 ml, laughing at how unprovided we were and how much fun if uncomfortable will be looking for a sheltered corner and sleep on the beach.

Our host hears us and probably understands that he can’t leave two young tourists without a roof at all. Gionis arrives walking slowly and sits at the table with us. He is about sixty, has white hair and an apartment that has just been freed. He gives it up for two nights and for a little money. We rejoice. The universe takes care of us, just ask! We are exhausted by the search and drunk for the second round of beer. We laugh and release, while Gionis tells us about his family, the museum where he works, he says we can go and see him there whenever we want. The last effort and we arrive in a WOW apartment, all made of stone, with an inner courtyard and a staircase that goes up to a terrace from where you can see the port. Paradise.
We place our things, swimsuit on, and go!

We find a place that goes down to the sea, with a small space to lie down, music a bit too “in” for us, travelers on the road. And this will be our beach for the whole weekend, apart from a small exploration and a boat trip around the island. Here everything is “touristy”, the luxurious restaurants, the terraces of the restaurants all busy, the very expensive souvenir shops, the huge yachts with the sliding doors and the tables set in silver and crystal on board.
But the sea is blue and fills my eyes, the pita gyros is the best I have ever tasted and for two days we turn off our brains and the only thing that remains is contemplation, of the sunset, swimming until we can’t feel our arms, of the boats docked in line, in front of an abundant breakfast, of the steep alleys, of the night, from the terrace, listening to suggestive songs from our mobile phone and watching the port that lights up.

Yes, I couldn’t come to Greece without seeing at least one island.

I gave a day to the sea


9:30 pm, all set. Or maybe not, maybe you’re forgetting something. Every time you pack your suitcase, it’s like that. Even though you’ve checked your mental list a thousand times, there’ s always that feeling: “yet I’m about to forget something fundamental and I don’t know what now”. Then it will come to your mind as soon as you get on the bus to the station, but you can’t go back, because even if you left an hour early, you can’t make it, with Rome’s public transport.
In the end, then, nothing was missing. The one who forgets things is Laura. She’s forgotten all the documents, she’ll come back to retrieve them and take the train later. We agreed to meet at Ancona station: me, from Rome, her, from Venice, with a few minutes difference. Not bad, I’ll take a look at the city while I wait. Never seen it before. And we’ll be able to catch the ferry in time. I hope.

Rome – Ancona, Intercity, place corridor. A little boy, elegant dressed, blocks the entrance of the passengers looking for his place. At a certain point, feeling the pressure, he decides to sit next to me and tell me the story of his life, asking me the favor to wake him up before Fabriano, if he falls asleep: he has an important job interview, the only one he managed to get after months he was looking for it, in fact.

In the meantime, the railway approaches the sea, touches the coast, it almost seems to be already on the boat. There’s nothing to do: when you grew up on the Po delta and until you were twenty years old you saw only brownish and murky water, the color blue of the sea is an explosive emotion, every time. Emotion which doubles, now, with the adrenaline of the journey that is about to begin.

I eat in some seconds a very spicy mega kebab in one of the squalid bars in front of every holy station in every holy city. Inside there is only one gypsy family, indifferent and busy, devouring sandwiches and slices of greasy pizza. I ask the guy in the restaurant for directions to a supermarket, but he helps me very little, stammering and looking down. Backpack and suitcase weigh on me, but an oxygenated lady full of wrinkles and with reddish and smiling lips, the only soul at this crazy time of summer, finally shows me a giant Coop supermarket along a tree-lined avenue lined with anonymous buildings, and I can buy something (too little) to eat during the crossing.

I’ll visit Ancona another time: in the meantime Laura has arrived, I haven’t seen her in three months, my joy, cosmic embrace to my tested trip companion, real and mental.

The port is a concrete casting, the queue begins to form to get on the ferry, composed mostly of screaming and very excited groups of young people leaving for the trendy holidays in Corfu, and some Greek family, elegant and posed, returning home. Couples and lonely travelers silently blend into the noise of the departure.

After an endless half hour of waiting under the sun, we are finally on board. Red carpet, super kitsch, we don’t have the “cabin ticket”, so straight on to the deck. The turquoise floor is wet and slimy, the chairs sticky, the air heavy. It doesn’t look very promising, but it’s precisely to live the whole crossing that we chose to have our first ferry trip, and not to take the plane. So, let’s enjoy it. We dry out two beers and devour the sandwiches I bought at the supermarket – what was supposed to be dinner becomes an afternoon snack – when the ship sets sail. The Conero mount fades slowly.

Here we go. Time now stands still. The vibration of the engines, at first intrusive, is already a habit for ears and feet, almost to the point of not being noticed. People are scattered on the deck, some people have dinner (or lunch? – I’ll understand later that Greek meals have no time), the powerful smell of pita gyros and souvlaki, and Laura and I move to the upper deck and sit down on the ground to chat and doodle on our notebooks.

Blue. I can’t get my eyes off the waves, and I would take a dive, here, now. The sky begins to blush; everyone leaning against the parapet to admire this great ball of light that is slowly swallowed by the sea, bathing the floor, clothes, skin, faces in contemplation with hot reflections until puf! See you tomorrow at dawn. And this is another of those moments of splendor that every time enchant me.

We enter in search of a dinner, in a huge hall used as a self-service. Usual red carpet, golden tables and chairs. For an unbelievable price that I prefer not to remember, they serve us a salad full of pink sauce and a woody stew. Disappearance appeased only by the idea that in a short time, yes, that we will eat real Greek meals.

We are tired, dead, but the discotheque is in the middle of the dances, with impossible volumes and with unplayable songs. We wait at the bar with a hot tea, speechless, in front of two televisions that broadcast two different channels, and try to familiarize ourselves with the Greek alphabet by studying the price list.

I go out on deck to smoke my last cigarette. Some brave people have camped with sleeping bags: despite an exaggerated humidity some are already stuffed in some corner of the bridge. All black, the line between the sea and the sky is gone, I look for some stars as usual. The first travelers were orienting themselves in this way, I don’t know how to do it, but I enjoy the stars the same way, always.

It’s time to look for a place where we can go to sleep, I find a secluded and quiet one, but at that moment a steward arrives and shows me the sleeping area for those who don’t have a cabin: he takes us to a room that looks like a cinema, blue velvet seats all facing a TV that passes football matches, all taken. Even on the ground, to pass, you have to climb over the sleeping bags. Laura slips into a shelf for luggage, me behind the last row of armchairs, near a door that will open a thousand times waking me up, a light pointed straight into the eyes and the air conditioning nozzle above the head. I have to use all my concentration and self-control skills to be able to close my eyes, and at six in the morning I’m already pretty perky and hungry.

Enea, the bartender, the same one who was there yesterday until late at night, is already at his place to serve breakfast, with an air of sad resignation to a job that seems to taste like captivity. But I rejoice in cheering him up, when I ask him, unaware, to try the Greek coffee without sugar. “Are you sure?” he asks me, at least five times. Yes, I’m sure, I’ll have to try it ‘this coffee! And while he’s making it, he laughs at me. The taste of coffee is very strange, unpleasant, metallic, but I finish it, almost out of pride now, and Enea gives me a brioche when I go to ask for an encore, probably out of pity.

I decide that, up until Patras, I will stay on the deckchair and sunbathe on the deck, while Laura does not hold it for more than ten minutes and goes to sit in the shade. I sink into the sleep that I had missed the night before, with the ipod in random, waking up sometimes, when the ship stops at Corfu and Gomenizza. All confused, I do not distinguish the dimension of time, the eyes open to take blurred photographs. I can’t wait to touch the ground, but at the same time the torpor crushes me, while the passengers, even if reduced after the stopovers, start again to speak and eat pita gyros.

A voice announces that in a few minutes we will arrive to our destination. We rush towards the exit, and while waiting, we meet the most singular character of the whole ferry: Michal, a vagabond-artist-artisan, born in Israel but based in India, who weighs much less than her suitcase and travels around the world selling photos of insects and T-shirts on which she prints them. We help her carry her luggage down and she asks me for tobacco even though ten minutes before she had said she didn’t smoke, and while she chases a taxi driver to negotiate on the price, we find ourselves in the middle of another concrete casting, the port of Patras.

Thanos, our friend who is to pick us up, has not yet arrived. We wait for him while we drink a beer sitting on the sidewalk. When we hear him scream, together with Nikos, for a moment it’s like coming home: he speaks Italian and in Italy he lived many years. Welcome hugs. The journey has not yet begun, even if we have been traveling for a whole day, twenty-two and a half hours, to be precise.

One day to the sea, twenty-two and a half hours in his honor, given to it, in an indolent and hypnotic wait. Some find it boring. But all that is needed is to let go and enjoy the journey… I am already ecstatic with this. Just imagine what awaits me.

The Post Internazionale – La speranza di Atene

Hi everybody! Here‘s my pictures published yesterday on the italian website The Post Internazionale!

Take a look if you like!

Ciao a tutti! Il mio reportage su Atene post-elezioni è stato pubblicato ieri su The Post Internazionale!

Date un’occhiata se vi va!

Demostration in Athens, 31st January 2015

©Elena Mantovan

Internazionale (!!!)

Today has been a great day and I’m grateful and full of joy. It’s hard, here, but when I thought I’d lost all hopes, my work and my photographs of street art in Athens has been published on the website of the magazine Internazionale. Take a look here and hope you enjoy!


Oggi è stato un grande giorno e sono felicissima e piena di gratitudine, perché, quando ormai non ci speravo più, l’Internazionale mi ha contattata per pubblicare le mie foto sul sito! Date un’occhiata qui, spero vi piacciano! :)

Hydra, δε βαριέσαι

«Non puoi venire in Grecia senza vedere almeno un’isola!»
Come darle torto? Celeste è arrivata ad Agios Dimitrios tre giorni dopo di me. Ma aveva già predisposto ogni particolare, in modo che mamma, nonna, zia e cuginetta mi ospitassero come si deve. E l’ospitalità, “come si deve” in Grecia, è strepitosa. Colazione pronta sul tavolo la mattina appena sveglia, letto fatto, pranzo e a cena (e che pranzi e cene!) serviti, contro ogni mio tentativo di aiutare, di ringraziare, di rendermi utile. No way, in Grecia l’ospite è un pascià, funziona così, perché ci saranno altri modi, altri tempi e altri viaggi per ricambiare.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Agios Dimitrios è un piccolo paesino di campagna, a qualche chilometro da Livadeia, nella Grecia centrale. Appena prima di arrivarci, c’è un albero in mezzo alla strada: è cresciuto lì e le due corsie scorrono ai lati. Tutt’attorno, come fosse una vallata, anche se invece è una pianura, catene montuose. In meno di un’ora, in macchina si arriva anche al mare, e in un’ora e mezza a Delfi, magica infinita Delfi, l’ombelico del mondo, il Centro. Per quanto poco usuale come destinazione “turistica” – appunto, bene così – la vacanza qui è splendida, i colori della luce, dei paesaggi, i modi cordiali della gente, energia buona e serenità.

Ma non si può venire in Grecia senza vedere almeno un’isola! La mamma ci consiglia Hydra. A me già il suo nome basta per convincermi, anche se sembra essere un luogo caro e molto “turistico” – mi sembra quasi una parolaccia, ormai.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Agios Dimitrios – Atene – Pireo – Hydra, treno e traghetto.
Pireo è terribile. Non si respira, è una colata di cemento sul mare. Appena arriviamo, dobbiamo camminare mezz’ora per trovare un bar. Negozi di cianfrusaglie, ferramenta, abbigliamento di bassa qualità, negozi chiusi, negozi sprangati, decadenza, fatiscenza. Pireo è un luogo di passaggio, il porto di Atene. E quindi un andirivieni caotico e rumoroso di viaggiatori di ogni tipo si riversa per le strade, aspettando traghetti, cercando biglietterie, e scansando l’enorme quantità di mendicanti. Gli zingari e i senza tetto, nel centro di Atene non ci sono più, deve averli cacciati l’Alba Dorata, e sui marciapiedi della periferia, Pireo compreso, si allungano le file di barattoli per l’elemosina, di materassi di fortuna, di cenci sporchi e di sguardi supplicanti. Ci avviamo sulla banchina per non farci inghiottire dal cemento e per guardare il mare, anche se manca più di un’ora alla partenza del nostro traghetto veloce. Passerà in un lampo, come passeranno le due ore di viaggio, bevendo birra, mangiando patatine e guardando la linea blu dell’orizzonte.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Il traghetto veloce è una meraviglia, un cullare lento e rilassante, anche se fuori il mare sfreccia. I bambini seduti davanti a noi parlano greco e spagnolo, e ci studiamo a vicenda, attratti dalle novità linguistiche.

Sono curiosa di vedere quest’isola dove non si usano mezzi a motore, curiosa di vedere il mare delle isole greche, curiosa e meravigliata dalla Grecia e dal suo continuo rapirmi.

Appena attracchiamo ci rendiamo conto di aver commesso un errore imperdonabile: siamo a fine luglio, in piena stagione, il porto è affollatissimo e noi non abbiamo prenotato nessuna stanza per dormire. Per un attimo il panico. Non abbiamo neanche i sacchi a pelo, volevamo viaggiare leggere. Ma da quando sono qui ho imparato un’espressione bellissima – che, pensandoci, esiste forse in tutte le lingue, qualcosa come hakuna matata in swahili, don’t give a fuck in inglese, ‘sti cazzi in romano: the variesai. Insomma, chissene, una soluzione la troveremo, ci cadrà dal cielo l’unica stanza libera di Hydra, l’universo ci aiuterà.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Chi cerca, trova. Godiamoci un attimo la vista di questa perla sul mare, case bianche arroccate, ciottoli, vicoletti strettissimi e intricati, Chiediamo al primo ufficio. Niente. Ci consigliano un affittacamere lì vicino. Niente, tutto pieno. Un “taxista” di somarini ci indica di salire lungo quella strada, di girare a destra, poi a sinistra, poi di salire quella piccola rampa… le valigie, se pur leggere, iniziano a pesare, fa un caldo assurdo e le salite non aiutano. Lascio Celeste seduta su un gradino con la valigia e salgo in esplorazione casuale, me ne sto via per almeno mezz’ora, perdendomi di proposito e ritrovandomi, perché l’atmosfera è magica e bianca e silenziosa e mi godo la passeggiata. Ma niente. Non si trova una branda, la gente a cui chiedo comincia a rimandarmi a strutture che abbiamo già visto senza successo. Saranno passato due ore ormai.

“Ritorniamo verso il porto, forse c’è sfuggito qualcosa”. Ma siamo parecchio rassegnate, e nello spirito del the variesai ci sediamo ad una taverna con una bella Alpha da 66 a testa, ridendo di quanto sprovvedute siamo state e di quanto divertente se pur scomodo sarà cercare un angolo riparato dove dormire sulla spiaggia.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Il nostro oste ci sente e probabilmente capisce che non si possono assolutamente lasciare due giovani turiste senza un tetto. Gionis arriva passeggiando lentamente e si siede al tavolo con noi . È sulla sessantina, ha i capelli bianchi e un appartamento che si è appena liberato. Ce la dà per due notti e per due soldi. Esultiamo. L’universo si prende cura di noi, basta chiedere! Siamo sfiancate dalla ricerca ed ebbre per il secondo giro di birra. Le risate liberatorie e Gionis ci racconta della sua famiglia, del museo dove lavora, dice che possiamo andare a trovarlo lì quando vogliamo. L’ultima fatica e arriviamo in un appartamento stellare, tutto fatto di pietra, con un cortile interno e una scala che sale fino ad un terrazzo da dove si vede il porto. Paradiso.
Poggiamo le nostre cose, costume e via.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014

Troviamo un locale che scende a dirupo sul mare, con un piccolo spiazzo per sdraiarsi, musica un po’ troppo “in” per noi che siamo viaggiatrici on the road. E questa sarà la nostra spiaggia per tutto il weekend, a parte una piccola esplorazione e una gita in barca. Qui tutto è “turistico”, la gente sembra avere un po’ la puzza sotto al naso, i ristoranti lussuosi, le terrazze dei ristoranti tutte occupate, i negozi di souvenirs costosissimi, gli yacht enormi con le porte scorrevoli e coi tavoli apparecchiati d’argento e di cristallo a bordo.
Ma il mare è di un blu che riempie gli occhi, il pita gyros è il più buono che abbia mai assaggiato e per due giorni spegniamo il cervello e l’unica cosa che rimane è la contemplazione, del tramonto, nuotando fino a non sentire le braccia, delle barche attraccate il fila, davanti a una colazione ingorda, dei vicoli ripidi, della notte, dalla terrazza, ascoltando canzoni suggestive dal cellulare e guardando il porto che s’illumina.

Sì, non potevo venire in Grecia senza vedere almeno un’isola.

Hydra, Greece, July 2014
Hydra, Greece, July 2014