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Thursday 25 July 2013

Thoughts from Thessaloniki

We walk across the road in a crowd, silent to each other. Two people who will never meet. So close, a pulse sensed for a second.  The glance of a nervous curious eye.  Then, nothing. Footsteps away, thinking we are only ourselves.

A million people in Thessaloniki point to the sky for a message that never comes to anyone.  Just like everywhere else. The city's apartment horizon still has TV ariels, spindly shapes of skeleton trees twisted in disbelief.
Sun pierces the evening, daggered through my armour of cotton and factor 50 cream.  I squint to hold my sight on the sea ahead.  Breeze hits me with memories of cut grass, bales of Welsh hay, splinters in the thumb. The day John sliced his finger off at the joint and hid in a tree.  I smile to the man looking at me, who wants to offer things I don’t need.  I feel his pain in the tattered edge of a stained shirt, his cigarette always at the butt, everything thinning. I think of him at his birth.  The moment.  How much he might have been loved in that first innocent breath, for this lost being.
I am watched by sale signs, mannequins, reflections of wealth.  In the middle of an economic meltdown, chocolate sculptures are kept perfectly chilled under glass behind shopfronts. People purchase objects with bits of paper, plastic cards, things of value drawn from pockets and purses like water from a well.  The sound of possession fills the evening like every city in the world, never reaching its bottom, perpetually falling.
We head into the twilight zone of Dendroporamos. 'A second Africa,' it has been called. Broken buildings, suspicious glances, a simmering sense of fear.  At the project for young people, we are welcomed inside with a Priest’s affection.  His radiant smile is a lighthouse. There are generous hugs, open hearts, so much crammed in so little space, chaotic, everything beautifully real.  Volunteers keep arriving with bags of food, spotlights for the garden. Inside the house, a group of young people click through pictures on Facebook, fascinated by its imagery. I am kissed like a returning son, for doing nothing but being here. The kids offer me a seat on the bench to share their meal. They tell stories, translated from Roma into Greek into English, until we all laugh at the same mystery.
Then we return, driving past the ugly graffetti that says 'gypsy’, back to the bars and neons that imprison and free our souls in equal measures. This place, that displaces us from who we are.
I sleep under the heartbeat of aircon and dream of stars twinkling from the window.  In a city whose history has connected so many religions under the same sky for thousands of years, the one thing that remains is our faith for tomorrow. How strong it feels when we touch eachother.

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