Well, finding my feet in Athens with no solid contacts and not speaking the language proved challenging. You cannot avoid politics in this city, every street corner is plastered in posters and graffitti, but I have no clue what they say. So where better to find a base than in one of the many squats. One of the best known and most political squats in Athens is the Skaramanga squat in lower Excaria, so off I set to find it.
I found the address online and quickly found it, a decaying yet still beautiful building, with scaffolding around the outside. I was aware that it had been evicted last year, however according to online reports it was quickly re-occupied and was still a live squat. There seemed to be two entrances, one on Skaramanga, and one on Patison which had a doorbell, but ringing said doorbell seemed to have no effect, I gave up and figured I would try later. That night, I again tried ringing the doorbell. I could see lights on the inside so it was clearly occupied, but peering through the door it didnt look like that entrance was particularly in use. Going round to the Skaramanga entrance again I could see no way in and again I figured it was best left for another time.
On my third attempt when ringing the doorbell had no effect, I figured that it was probably not the correct entrance. Given that it was called Skaramanga squat, chances were that it was the entrance on the Skaramanga street that was in use, but there seemed to be no obvious way through the gates of the grounds,where chairs and ashtrays sat, even tho peering through, I could see the entrance. After maybe an hour of waiting for someone to emerge, and examining all possible ways from here to there, I figured that I could climb up the scaffolding, climb up onto the plinth that the gates hung from and shimmy down the scaffolding at the other side.
So up I climbed onto the rickety scaffolding, chucking my bag into the complex and pulling myself up on the plinth. And it was at that point that I realised that there was no scaffolding at the other side – the scaffolding that appeared to be there from the outside, only descended around 6 inches, and it was a 12 foot sheer drop off the plinth. I was stuck. Like really stuck.
I sat at the top of the plinth for about an hour contemplating my predicament and hoping that someone would emerge. No-one did. I could possibly go back down the way I came, but the scaffolding was severely rickety, and as I was also some distance away from it by now, there was a damn good chance that in trying to get to it I would fall hard on on the concrete below. And besides, all my worldly possessions were now on the inside of the complex and I had come this far and wasn’t giving up without a good try. I could go up, but the first floor was fortified with razor wire and there was a damn good chance that I would cut myself to ribbons in the attempt and then fall hard on the concrete below.
As I sat, smoking and wondering if the Athens fire brigade rescued the human equivalent of cats stuck up trees, I spied a hose in the garden and it occurred to me how useful it would be to have some rope right at that moment, only I had no rope. Rope huh? I had tights in my bag, which could have been used as rope, but my bag was now on the ground 12 foot below me, so that wasn’t really an option. All I had was the clothes that I was wearing…..of course….the clothes that I was wearing. Eureka!
I quickly took off my top and tied it to the internal scaffolding, thinking that would give me a bit more length, but it only gave me another couple of feet. Hmm, still too far to jump, so I took off my skirt and tied it to my top, the makeshift rope now descended around four feet, but the skirt was made of stretchy material and I figured that it would probably lengthen as I descended. I must have sat around another half hour on top of a twelve foot high plinth in my underwear, contemplating the sheer stupidity of what I was doing, but I couldn’t stay up there forever. So summoning everything I had, I held on for dear life to the knotted together clothes…and jumped.
I immediately heard the tearing sound of the thin material of my top ripping as I descended landing in a heap on the inside of the complex. Picking myself up from the mud, there were a good few scratches and bruises and I was absolutely filthy, but no broken bones, and hey, I was in! While I was still pulling myself together I heard a voice in Greek outside the gate and realised what a sight I must have been standing in my underwear covered in mud. “Oh my God, your head, your head” she said in English. “Acht, I;m fine” ,I replied, reaching round to the back of my head where it was wet, but my hand came back covered in blood, and I realised that what I thought had been muddy water running down my neck, was actually blood. I quickly picked up my skirt, untied it from the remains of my top and put it back on – more concerned about the general humiliation than the blood.
She called for help, and a man came over quite alarmed, and ran round to the front door of the squat, (which was actually the way in after all), to get them to open the backdoor and passed me through water and gauze as we discussed the political situation of Athens and the recent events in Madrid. A stoney faced anarchist eventually appeared “This is not the way in“, he said firmly, as he led me through the unlit staircases that led to the main area of the squat, calling for an ambulance en route ignoring my insistences that I was absolutely fine. Another occupant came to wait with me on the ambulance outside, and we had a lovely chat about renting in Athens, who I should make contact with and how I should go for red next time I dyed my hair.
The Athens healthservice was as I remembered it. Frantically busy, confusing and noisy, after six stitches, several x-rays and a consultation with a neurologist, they eventually let me go, seemingly amazed that I had tore open the back of my head and had absolutely no idea that I had done so. In my life I am sure that I have done stupider things than try to get into a foreign squat by scrambling down dodgy scaffolding in my underwear aided only by the clothes that I was wearing at the time, but I cant actually think of one right now, and to be honest, I don’t really want to reflect too much on it.