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Ida & her Magic Camera - Part III
by Nikos Laios
2016-04-30 09:49:07
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Ida & her Magic Camera - Part III
Fun & Games

It was a sun-drenched spring afternoon and the flowers in the parks and balconies of Thessaloniki shone brightly and aromatically as the crowds slowly spilled out onto the squares and promenades meandering among the cafe tables, with their babbling voices and clinking glasses. The sky was a deep blue except for an occasional wisp of distant white cloud hanging in the sky, as Ida walked back from Modiano markets on her way to Freedom square. A week had passed since Ida and her friends visited the refugee camp at Idomeni, which was an experience which disturbed her slightly at the time, but where she was now happy to be back in her town, back in her neighbourhood, and back in her daily routine, in her comfort zone. She prided herself on her good taste in food and fresh produce and made her weekly ritual of selecting her gourmet produce at the Modiano markets of Thessaloniki, which is the largest enclosed market in Thessaloniki spread out over several blocks with a stone neoclassical facade and built between 1922 and 1930 by Eli Modiano; a member of a well-known Italian-Jewish family of the city at the time.

booksShe walked through the small elegant streets with a stick of celery and a loaf of bread sticking out of a paper bag and her beloved prosciutto ham and favourite kefalograviera hard cheese safely packaged up as she caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the passing shopfront windows; wearing an elegant chic white Chanel dress decorated with rose motifs and blue leaves, Grecian sandals, aviator glasses and waves of her blonde hair shinning under the sunlight, she took pride in her own reflection. As she walked back home, the labyrinthine streets narrowed and she came across more shuttered windows and dilapidated shopfronts and buildings, she had come across one of the pockets of poverty and where she held her breath - or tried to - whenever she walked through these neighbourhoods on her way back to her bourgeois haven. At that moment Ida spotted her friend Voula across the other side of the street walking towards the opposite direction, raised her arm and exclaimed: 'hello Voula!'

'Greetings Ida, how are you gorgeous?' said Voula as she also waved her arm in response.

'Excellent darling, I'm well, are we still on for cocktails tonight?' Asked Ida.

'For sure... ciao bella, see you tonight!' responded Voula.

Ida continued up the street and nearly fell over a group of haggard homeless people and stepped around them and looking down recognised these people; former friends of her father and former members his own upper-middle class, and further up the road, former employees. They made her somewhat uncomfortable and she quickened her pace; she wanted to escape their stench, their filthy rags and their naked stares, those eyes that searchingly bore into hers that if she looked at them, made her feel as though she would turn into a pillar of salt. She felt more sympathy for the Syrian refugees than for her own people; she thought that her own people deserved their fate, to push their economic builders up the hill as punishment for the sins of their economic profligacy. Regardless of the fact that the whole banking system was mostly to blame in the global financial meltdown that compounded bad fiscal habits, and regardless of the fact that she was an entrenched member of the left political movement in Greece that should actually care about these people; but who were more preoccupied at the moment with maintaining political power and who had sold out their own people.

She got to the end of the street and turned right and came upon freedom square, with its central marble fountain splashing water over small figures of griffins, gargoyles and mythical heroes decorating the edge of the fountain, and the luminescent leaves of the chestnut trees casting dappling shadows on the cobblestones. As the thin soles of her Grecian sandals gripped the polished round stones and their collected warmth radiated through to the soles of her feet.

She came upon her beloved Iguana Cafe where her friend Joubert worked and stopped in front and admired it: the pastel mint scraped wooden French doors framing the cafe front glazing with a colourful painting of an Iguana on the glass, a black and white striped awning fluttering above and over that three apartment windows of the cafe owner Kosta. The whole building framed by oblong neoclassical Corinthian columns on either side, with a warm inviting wooden interior lit by Art Deco oyster shell lights and the walls decorated with vintage twentieth century posters. She smiled warmly, but had to continue two more doors down as she was heading for the Atlantis bookshop as she needed to stock up on photographic books for research for her next photographic project.

The Atlantis bookshop was a landmark in the neighbourhood, established in 1910, framed by a beautifully worn sturdy black wooden framework and antique shopfront glass window, deep burgundy canvas awning and big gold lettering on top of the building 'Atlantis Bookshop.' Ida rather liked this place, but more so for its collection of photographic books, fashion magazines and its warm luxurious interior. She stepped inside into another world: dark blue book wooden shelving floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall with a spiral staircase leading to a second floor level of books, and warm yellow lights placed behind the bookshelves illuminating the thousands of books with a soft glow. The proprietor of Atlantis Bookshop also decorated the shop with lounges, tables and lamps that one would usually associate with a home study. Sturdy wooden couches studded with leather, deep burgundy velvet upholstery and dark chocolate coffee tables also were positioned in the corners for the customers; with ambient music playing in the background. Besides the visual impact, the first thing that always struck Ida was the scent of the lemongrass aromatic oils that were lit throughout the store which cut the air. That rustic herbal lemon aroma always cleared the cobwebs, always gave her some clarity to think; and in the corner sitting on a stepladder with a pile of books around him was Stavros, completely absorbed.

'Stavros!' She shouted, and no response from him.

'Hey, Stavros!' she shouted again, and nothing, he was completely focused.

She slowly walked up to him and observed him, and this time he wasn't wearing his fisherman's clothes; he wore a blue Nautica polo shirt, stone-washed skin-tight Calvin Klein jeans, Italian blue moccasins and a military style Luminox watch, and with the hint of a masculine cologne lightly lingering on his neck and behind his ears; Versace, she guessed.  She came up to him and lightly touched his shoulder and bent over to kiss him on the cheek: ‘hello darling.'

Stavros looked up suddenly, kissed her cheek, smiled and responded: 'hello Ida.'

'What are you doing here?' She asked.

Stavros looked at the pile of books around him, looked up to her and said: 'feeding my soul.'

She flicked through the piles of books, Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible', the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology and an art reference book on Picasso: '...and you're going to buy all these, read all these?'

'Why are you here Ida, what are you doing in a bookshop?' Stavros asked, without dignifying her question with an answer.

'Well darling, after some shopping....thought I'd pop in for some books for my next project....but....'

Stavros looked at her searchingly, squinting his eyes: '....something has disturbed you? Unsettled your sensibility? '

'....well....these ghastly homeless people darling.....these homeless people littering the streets, I had to pinch my nose.'

Stavros stared at her wide eyed, the anger welling up his neck: 'well madam, I'm sorry that the poor of Greece offends you so, disturbs your sensibility....you stupid bitch!'

'What...what did you say?' She asked, shocked by his comment.

Slapping his hand down hard on the coffee table, Stavros said: ' you stupid little girl, here you are living off a monthly allowance from daddy, living in one of his apartments in comfort, and you have the temerity to dare criticise the new poor of Greece? People who cannot even provide their children with lunch at school, families who have taken wage and pension cuts, who now work much longer hours to receive the same wage, and who you dare call lazy, just like all those other mother-fucker German and Northern European cold-hearted Neo-fascists, and this from a supporter of the left, of the fashionably popular radical leftist party Syriza?'

'Well, who do you support darling?' She asked.

'You, who fashionably support those eunuchs of the failed leftist political movement in Europe; yet where your own grandfather was a supporter of the dictatorship in the 70's and also your great grandfather before that a collaborator of the Nazis?

'You're a damned fascist yourself darling, you must be to hate the leftists so, how kitsch, how kitsch,' said Ida accusingly.

'Listen here doll, I'm neither of the left or the right, or the middle,' he said.

'Then what are you? Who do you support? If you do not support the left or right, then who do you support, what do you believe in?' She asked.

'Neither the left, the right or the middle....I believe in man, in humanity, in the higher moral compass and destiny of man....I am a humanist, I believe that man is the measure of all things, ‘Stavros said.

Ida was shocked at his response, at his passion; she saw his penetrating green eyes, veins bulging under his bronzed skin, so alive, vital and real, and asked: ' then, what good will all these books do for you? What will the past do for you?'

'A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century,' quoted Stavros. He looked down at the books, looked all around him and made a sweeping gesture with his hand and continued: ' You know who said that, a famous Scottish Philosopher called David Hulme. The answer to the problems that plague Greece and Europe lie in our past, for it is by studying our past that we find out who we are now and what we will therefore become in the future. Countless generations before us Ida have gone through the same human experience; love, loss, pathos, passion, transcendence, good and evil. It is by studying the past that we understand how to navigate the future. But you my dear are a symptom of this age, for you and the rest of your deluded friends spend so much time combating fascism and racism, that you have in turn committed the greatest sin: you have excluded facts and truths that do not fit your illusion, where you now only relate to particular universal truths and knowledge that suit and have in turn become a relativist, a particularist and an instrumentalist. You have become mercenary with knowledge and value it only when it serves an economic purpose, and you have pissed the humanist truths and legacy of the enlightenment down the gutter. Where now you and your leftist colleagues have in turn become more reactionary than the detested right-wing fascists such as Golden Dawn. The right is a failed spent force, they are a known quantity, yet you Ida, you and the left of Europe are the biggest disappointments of Europe right now.'

Ida was stunned at his assault, stunned at his searching revelations; but revelations that she was not happy to hear whatsoever at that moment. She was settled in her reality, settled in her illusions that wrapped her up and protected her in the cotton wool of its embrace. Yet she paused, looked at him and asked: ' what then is the answer?'

'Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf,' he said.

'What darling? What does it mean?'

'I know one thing: that I know nothing,' Stavros answered.

'All riddles, what the hell is that,' asked Ida, screwing her nose.

Stavros gazed deep into her eyes, gently touched her left forearm and said: ' The ancient philosopher Socrates once said in Athens thousands of years ago that one has to destroy one's ego and admit that we know nothing before we can all undertake the journey together and search for the truth. That we need to strip our lives of our illusions for us to be able live more authentically, but that is a topic for a discussion for another time I think.'

Ida reflected on what he had said as it had struck a chord somehow, but inconvenient truths ignored for the meantime as they could potentially rock and overturn her insulated and comfortable world. She gazed at him affectionately, bent down to him and gently gave him a soft wet kiss on his mouth with her ruby red lips, stood back up and softly caressed his face and left in silence. As much as she and Stavros had grown apart, as much as they had evolved into different people, Stavros was the one person whom she could rely upon when the chips were down, that one person whom she thought was the most honest and authentic she had ever know, and the one person who staunchly persisted in their friendship as he saw something good and kind deep inside her. The youthful Ida he had known and she clung to his faith in her. He had given her much to think on, but she left the Atlantis book shop and headed around the corner to her apartment, for she had a cocktail party to attend later that night. She continued and walked outside and turned right and majestically towering before her down at the end of the street between the buildings and on the opposite side of Thessaloniki Harbour in the distance was the magnificent blue haze of Mount Olympus with its snow-capped peak. She continued down the street on towards home with the sun dancing on her blonde hair and the spring flowers splashing from the balconies on either side. She enjoyed these small journeys, enjoyed her walks for she had captured much of her city in the lens of her camera; but at this moment in time regardless of how magical she thought her camera was, she felt as though she was blind; for she had yet to capture the depth of the world, to dig deep into the marrow of existence like Stavros had. She had much more to see and this thought danced in her mind as she walked back home.


Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV 


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