I've been to Athens a handful of times in the last couple of months, but never actually had the time to see any of the place yet. More often than not I arrive late in the evening jet-fucked and have to leave early the next morning to make a connection, so it's not really been possible until this evening. I arrived at about 7pm and, as my hotel was right on the seafront, decided to go for a walk up the coast a little as the sun went down.
I wandered up the promenade by the water, the breeze from the sea warm on me, ever so gently blowing away the sticky stale tiredness that flying brings. Looks like most of Athens had the same idea as me as the wide path that stretches in long lazy curves ahead of me is full of people, all of them seemingly made calm by the inescapably relaxed atmosphere. The air carries with it the ripe salty smell of the sea, mixed with the occasional extra sweetness - pizza dough cooking in a nearby restaurant, a joint being enjoyed by a young couple sitting on the rocks in the water, or the sudden flowery zing of a middle-aged woman's perfume.
The more I people-watch, the more I notice the couples. Seems like everyone brings their lover here. People of all ages, sitting by the waters edge, sitting outside cafes, sitting on the little slivers of beach, all - for want of a better word - canoodling. Giggling together, watching the sunset in the water, laying on each other. Not just young people, although there are plenty of those, but everyone. I see a chubby cheerful round-faced man in an old blue t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Athletic performance" almost lift his wife up by her ass, such is the determination with which he caresses it. She responds by giggling and lunging towards him to bite his ear before resting her head on his shoulder. One of the few solo walkers also catches my eye. An elegant middle aged woman walking her tiny dog while she wears huge sunglasses and high heels.
What a very nice place.
Then I start to imagine how close an English city could get to this relaxed, sexy, gently intoxicating atmosphere. Not very, is my conclusion. Which begs the question, where are the things that would ruin it in my home country? Where are the gangs of lads pushing each other around and spitting? Where are the kids with football shirts and freshly gelled hair seeing who can throw their empty can the furthest into the water? Where are the shrieking girls, their pale thighs squeezed into Primark miniskirts? Where are the city boys talking on the mobiles? Where are all the things that make my country..um..great?
The obvious answer is that they're there if you look, that I was just seeing the nice things because I was in a good mood and seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. But I had these thoughts as I was walking back. I actively looked for signs that all cities have the some of the same foul people. Couldn't find one. Not a one. Nobody was even talking loudly. I was meandering along having mingled with a crowd of hundreds of people, all also meandering along, and the loudest sound was the gentle lap and fizz of the inch-high waves.
I have no answers, but maybe it's good sometimes to at least notice that there are questions