Today, negotiations were ongoing to agree the next tranch of bailout funding before Greece runs out of money to pay its way in November. No agreement was reached, even if it had been it would have been no solution to the ongoing crisis, for this is a strategy with no endgame, a perpetual state of fiscal anxiety that engulfs the whole of Greece. This jangly state of tension can be seen directly on the streets in the form of “worry beads”.
Looking very similar to rosary beads, I initially thought that these were a religious items associated with the Greek Orthodox church, but after checking with a few people, it seems that although they have a distant religious connection, that meaning is now all but lost. And they are everywhere. More commonly found in the hands of men, they click and clack. Sometimes it is subtle, held to one side as people fumble with them inconspiciously walking along the street and you look around to see what is making the noise; sometimes their their worries are more open as people play with them as they sit in cafes or waiting for public transport, sometimes men sitting on the sidewalk will swing them round, using them to take up even more of the available public space then they already command.
When a number of people in a small space, particularly at bus stops have them, it gives an eerie air – the clicking sound is multiplied as more people join the queue and it builds to an Omenesque state of discordant harmony. Although it may give comfort to those doing the clicking, its an aural reminder of the worries that people have – a way of constantly informing you that there are problems here and people are resorting to methods of self-soothing in an uncertain world.
The beads, although , are ultimately harmless. A more worrying observation of the street is the pools of blood which appear from time to time in shop doorways or on the sidewalk. I never know how much these pools of blood have become so much a feature of Athens life that no-one ever notices them anymore, how much people pretend not to see, or how much they are discussed among the locals, speculating on their cause. Seeing blood on the pavement is not a spectacularly unusual thing, for anyone who has lived in Glasgow, most Sunday mornings you would usually be able to find a few drips here and there if you looked for them, but it is the sheer quantity of blood and the frequency with which they appear which gives pause.
Many, both migrants and indigenous Greeks, live on the streets huddling in to the doorways of semi-empty apartment blocks with multiple “to let” stickers plastered all over them, or hunt around the bins at night in hopes of finding saleable scrap or recyclable bottles which can be sold for a few euros to keep them fed for another few days. Going into derelict buildings in the hope that they will find something of value inside that other scavengers have missed that may be of use or worth money.
The streets of Athens are not safe. Almost every migrant I have met here had told me a tale of being attacked by groups of men, several have serious scars which bear testimony of it. Oftentimes it happens as they sleep on the streets at night, they awake to find themselves being beaten and sometimes attacked with knives or glass bottles and have no clue who the culprits are. Sometimes they are ambushed from behind as they walk, sometimes it starts with an insufficiently humble response to being the victim of an initial small act of violence. The idea of going to the police in such circumstances is laughable. The careful scrutiny, and even destruction of their identity papers – if they have them – followed by trumped up charges would see them gaoled in a weakened state.
The beads and the blood are a constant feature of Athens life. The noise of the beads and the sight of the blood, however much it may have become normalised, forms a backdrop which is ever present. Just like the bailouts, the street cleaning and the arrival of a bus only give temporary relief, while the underlying issues which give rise to it are accelerating at an alarming rate.