Present Day Plaka

After wandering through downtown Athens trying to fix the extension speakers to my walkman I go to the flea market to find Nick Nikalau, my friend from high school and currently a junk dealer in Monastiraki. He has his wares laid out on the sidewalk and we greet each other and go to a cafe for a soda. He talks of his problems and how he is going to move with his wife to Romania and also open a shop on Akadamias street. The life of a junk dealer is not what it used to be. Refugees have come from Eastern Europe, along with gypsies and Albanians and the police are starting to crack down, even on the noble professionals. He looks like hell, as if he has been on and off heroin for years which he most likely has. I suggest that he goes back to school. He tells me the ins and outs of being a street merchant. He finds a fortune in garbage bags in Kolonaki, the wealthy section of downtown Athens that sits on the slopes of Mount Lykavittos. He gives me a list of stuff that sells so I can send it from the states and be an international junk dealer. While he is telling me this a fight has broken out between two of the street merchants. There's much yelling and scuffling and I realize that one has been cut while the other holds a knife. Nick explains that this feud has been going on for days. Nobody is sure how it actually started but tensions have been escalating. The other merchants are afraid the police will use it as an excuse to clear the streets and close down the whole operation.

As I'm getting ready to leave we spy Dorian crouched down looking at some old books on the sidewalk. He doesn't even say hi when he sees us but goes straight into a dialogue about how he has been teaching for 5 hours straight, going into detail about the walls in the classroom, the blank faces of the students and whatever appears in his suffering mind. I should go back and meet up with Andrea but I ask him if he wants to go to a nearby cafeneon and have a drink and talk. He seems as if he needs it. He'd like to but first has to look in a bookstore or two. His apartment is piled high with cheap novels and there are several he must have for his collection. Rumor has it that a truckload of cheap novels had been hijacked on the national road and some of them are sure to turn up here in the flea market at one of the notorious second-hand bookstores. We walk into one of the nearby shops. It's more of a shack then a store with books piled up everywhere like a book dungeon. People wander the aisles in a daze sometimes knocking books that have been perched precariously on overcrowded shelves to the floor where they are trampled and left for days. There are many books in English but almost all of it is garbage. Dorian notices my distaste and points me towards another bookstore around the corner because of my interest in Byzantine icons. I've been shopping enough with Andrea to know he wants to get rid of me so he can browse in peace so I go check it out. Sure enough they have a few icons on wood done in the style that I had been making in America, except these look as if the 'artist' didn't put much care or effort into them. They are just prints haphazardly glued on wood and I wonder about his commitment to this art form or to Orthodoxy itself. When I try to buy a book about the churches of Santorini so I can use some of the images for my own icons, the owner refuses to sell it to me even though he has several copies around the shop. Is he a psychic? When I try to buy a postcard of one of his icons he won't sell me that either and tells me I have to buy the awful icon he had made from it. How does this guy know I make Icons? There is no way on earth that he could and yet he refuses to sell me any of the books or prints that I can use. As for buying his icons, they are lousy and I don't want to encourage him by buying one, even if I am doing it just to use the image myself. I become irritated and walk out. Now I can understand the reasoning behind the Iconoclasts when they outlawed these holy images. It's a cutthroat business. He was suspicious of me and I angry at him and what are we fighting about? Holy Icons of Jesus and the Madonna. It's the equivalent of American parents fighting over the toy-store's last Barbie at Christmas. When I return to Dorian I tell him I've had enough and I'm leaving. He barely acknowledges me, lost in a trance in his trashy cheap novel paradise.

Of course when I get back to the Plaka I can't find Andrea so I go to Kostis' restaurant on the platia to eat. The waiter tells me I had just missed her and Amarandi. They have gone to feed the ducks and the perverts in the King's Gardens. Should I go find them and risk starvation? I eat a nice lunch of lettuce salad, and sadziki. I read the Athens News for desert. They'll certainly find me here if I wait long enough.

I spend the rest of the afternoon packing for the islands and taking Amarandi for a walk through the Plaka so Andrea can pack without being distracted by us. Amarandi seems to love it here. She is entertained by her surroundings and though she occasionally asks to see the Little Mermaid she seems to have been weaned of television. When she walks down the street people stop and smile. Some approach and speak to her in Greek. I have her in a backpack made for carrying children and people seem amused by it. I think they like the fact that they don't have to bend over to pinch her cheek. It's not often they get to communicate with a child at eye level while standing up and they realize it's a novelty.

We have a night on the town with Corinne at To Cafeneon. We drink plenty of ouzo and are serenaded by some of the best and worst street musicians in Europe. My favorite is an Albanian folk singer who does a great cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" in perfect incomprehensible English. It is my dream to record an album of him singing these favorites and then advertising it on late night TV along with Slim Whitman and Boxcar Willie. He's been playing in the Plaka for many years now and has made a career out of it. Sometimes I don't see him for weeks and I wonder if he has been rounded up during a sweep of illegal immigrants or is he vacationing in Mykonos with his earnings?

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