SQUATTING WITH ANARCHISTS
Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
44Trip End May 08, 2006
The second-funniest thing about my second week in Greece was that I moved into an abandoned building seized by a group of Greek anarchists.
The funniest thing was that, at one point, I feared I was going to get kicked out for breaking the rules.
(note: the only reason that's funny is because - at the time - I believed the only definition of "anarchy" was: no rules. Now, I know it's much more than that.)
When I moved in, they were having a party. That didn't surprise me at the time, because, I figured, if there are no rules, why not just always have a party? Whatever your definition of anarchy is, this was the type of zoo-wild, crazy party only anarchists have.
The abandoned building which they'd seized (called a "squat" in English, or "katalypsi" in Greek) was actually quite nice.
It was large with two stories, made of light-sand-colored mortar slightly deteriorating. The center of the building opened up to a concrete-floored courtyard which caught sun in the mid-afternoon and hosted the squatters' lunches and parties. The courtyard was surrounded on the first floor by a "kouzina" (kitchen), a "kafeneio" (cafe bar), and a "vivliothiki" (library): rooms of decaying wood, but kept very clean. The many other rooms in the complex building were squatters' personal rooms or bathrooms. (The bathrooms were sometimes gross. Apparently, "no rules" also applies to where anarchists aim.)
The "katalypsi" hung atop a Xania town hill, and the squatters could sit on the second-floor balcony and gaze out onto a purple-pastelle-blue sea, while they plotted which store's windows they were going to throw rocks through on the next "Looting Tuesday." - Just kidding, sorry no more anarchist jokes.
I had come to the katalypsi by walking up a long stone staircase cut between old Crete houses on the side of the hill. Below this hill bustled the touristy harbour of the town of Xania. Pretty, sherbert-orange or milky-blue or gangster-yellow, old houses lazed around a half-moon-shaped harbor. These lazy harbor homes have now been turned into competing restaurants, and smiling Greeks call to you, "Come, come. Sit down, won't you? Have a look at our menu. We have fresh octopus."
But, at least, Xania still maintained some culture. Deeper in Xania town were nestled narrow roads of square, flat-roofed, white buildings which had been dirtied by car exhaust. This was Greece, where store owners still spoke only Greek, and around the corner was a smelly fish market.
I had come to Xania from what I call, "The Strip." Outside of town, the coastline was congested with a newer development of hotels. These charm-less hotels were congested with Swedish and Danish families who sought to experience the travel thrill of flying two-thousand kilometers away from home to go to another spot full of Swedish and Danish people. I had been staying at a campground here, paying 8.5 Euro's a night.
When I heard about the katalypsi, I decided to go check it out. On the way there, I decided I'd just ask whoever was there: "Boro na meino edo?" (Can I stay here?) That "whoever" was Babis. Babis wore sedated eyes; a bushy brown moustache; poofy hair that reached past his shoulders to that point where it went perfectly horribly with a bushy moustache; no shirt; and sweatpants with no underwear. Man, anarchists know how to live! He said I could stay there for four days, no problem, and maybe indefinitely.
The next day when I moved in, the party was going on. I was invited to join twenty young people at a long table in the courtyard. We filled our plates with Greek salad, sausages, rice wrapped in plants, and healthy food from lots of pots and pans. We drank strong, Cretan wine poured from plastic bottles.
There were some interesting-looking people sitting at the table - some of whom didn't smell very nice. The party was for thin Yeoryia, who would be moving away from Xania; she wore tight, navy stretch-pants to her calves, and a mullet hair-do that looked like a chemistry experiment come to life. Babis was there. "Hey, Babis!" There was a big guy with dirty dread-locks and a happy, short Greek skateboarder guy.
Other than me, there were three Spanish guys and two French girls there. One French girl and her Spanish boyfriend had lived in the katalypsi all summer and made money performing juggling shows for the tourists.
To my right sat Adonis: king of the anarchae. He had buzzed, dark hair. He had the look in his eyes of a man who rips all the meat off a bone in one bite. He was barbaric. He had the stout frame of a Medieval ax-warrior. He pounded on the table often. He stood up to exclaim anarchist news and declarations. He instigated the Cretan tradition of having everybody at the table take turns drinking full glasses of wine in single swigs.
Greeks drunk full glasses. Girls drunk full glasses. I downed a glass of this biting, sour wine. A quiet writer from Spain named Javier was the only one who refused to drink an entire glass, and we rode him for it. He toasted, "To the ending of old traditions!"
The party was beginning to heat up. Adonis was pounding on the table and yelling. Yeoryia was enjoying her rule-less friends. Babis was being Babis. Adonis picked up a plate and flung it at the wall. Crash! "Yay!"
Adonis broke a few more plates. Yeoryia broke some. And others followed suit. Eventually, we pushed the tables and everything out of the way but the wine. Adonis ran up to his room to put on music.
Greek girls, the little skateboarder guy, and we foreigners danced. Mullets danced on their own. We danced to belly-wiggling Turkish music, theatrical stomping Greek music, and the music where you hold hands and turn circles. The sexy French juggler stepped about in a short skirt and blew bubbles - whoowee!
People blew bubbles. People poured water on dancers and sprayed hoses at the courtyard. Some sort of cement mixture exploded all over everything. The second story of the building was open in the middle also, and people threw bread-pieces down at the people below. The Spanish juggler climbed out from the second story onto a hanging trapeze and started performing acrobatics.
The party was beginning to wind down at the time when the televisions came out. Anarchists launched two older televisions from the second story which came crashing down in the courtyard. Everybody cheered. Yay! And somebody pulled Babis's sweatpants down ...
So, I had a free place to stay. But, I still needed to work.
One night, I was able to convince a potential employer - by using deep concentration and making a lot of lucky wild guesses - that I competently understood his Greek. He didn't even mind when I couldn't think of a lie and said I lived with the anarchists. He said he'd try me out as a "waiter's helper" in his restaurant.
The next night, I was in for a disaster. Let's just say my wild guesses weren't so lucky. I never worked there again.
Back in the anarchists' katalypsi, everything wasn't all a big party.
The French and Spaniards left, leaving me alone with Greeks. The Greeks tolerated my presence and always called me to lunch, but rarely did they talk to me. They wouldn't talk to me in Greek, because their English was better than my Greek. They wouldn't speak to me in English because they hated speaking English. This was a touristy place, and it would take a while before they'd accept me as one of them.
My job hunt wasn't going well. I could speak Greek, but I couldn't understand it. My squatting wasn't going well. I wasn't writing. I couldn't grow a cool, bushy moustache like Babis. I considered leaving Crete and Greece altogether.
Before I made my decision, an English girl named Sam came to stay at the squat for a night. Sam lived in a squat in London. Not all squats are "anarchists'" squats. But, Sam knew politics, so I was finally going to have this whole "anarchy" business explained to me once and for all.
Sam said anarchists are anti-government. They think the people should be free to govern themselves. The Xania anarchists have meetings every Sunday night: I presume they discuss important group matters in them. It seems anarchists aren't necessarily anti-rules; they maybe just think the rules should be agreed upon by smaller, more intimate, local groups of people.
The anarchists' squat had a lot of very nice things about it. Newcomers were often accepted as residents. Residents and visitors were always invited to the group lunch. And, the anarchists' styles were refreshing when compared to the made-up, sunglasses-wearing, "look-at-me!" fashions of many young Greeks.
But, should I stay or should I go?
I haven't mentioned yet the most-fun person I met on Crete ... she even helped me break the anarchists' rules.
the epic continues ... - peace, Modern O.