Friday, 11 November 2016

Athens 2016 #5 - Embassies


(A few days ago, I went for a stroll and found myself in the Embassy quarter of Athens.  I drafted this blog immediately afterwards.  Since then (a) somebody yesterday threw a hand grenade at the French Embassy, (b) I learned that someone called Barack Obama is visiting Athens next week, (c) someone called Real Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America and (d) Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to said election with the most important statement of Enlightenment values for decades.  All of which throws new and interesting light on what follows...)


It had not been my intention to be photographed by the security system surrounding the US Embassy in Athens, but given the vaguely circular route of my walk it was probably inevitable.  I didn’t know it was the Embassy at first: it looked more like a prison, or a fort.



I was disguised as a heavily tanned middle-aged white man wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.  I was carrying a black rucksack slung over one shoulder.  I stopped provocatively in front of some gates and took photos.  Of course they were going to react.

The US Embassy occupies an entire city block.  I was able to walk around it.  By the time I reached the third and, especially, the fourth sides, they knew I was coming.  Burly uniformed men on walkie-talkies watched me.  I couldn’t decide whether to try to look more threatening or less.

I stood on the opposite side of the road, here:



and took another photo:



Ha! I am protected from the mightiest nation on earth by several lanes of Athenian traffic!  (As anyone familiar with Athenian driving habits will know, this is actually more reassuring than it sounds.)

I wandered off, satisfied with the pebble I had thrown, through the rest of what I now realised was the ‘Embassy quarter’ – Portuguese, French, Argentinean…  A goodly chunk of the north eastern district of central Athens is maintained, it would seem, entirely by ambassadorial largesse.

Ah.  The British Embassy.



Actually, that’s a little unfair.  There’s also this:


and, er, by way of security, monogrammed and movable 'No parking' signs:



So, suddenly we can see how the history and present of global power is manifest: on the one side, a monstrous projection of defensive and aggressive posturing, an entire city block laid waste and replaced by a brutal excrescence of Uncle Sam’s commitment to making sure that whoever the fuck you are you don’t forget who’s boss; over here, a decaying remnant of former grandeur, still clinging to a belief of relevance, still hoping that a formidable ‘No parking’ sign will not only deter the would-be aggressor (have they seen how people park in Athens?) but will also signal some ineffable set of ‘British’ values to inspire both visitors and passers-by.

Rather than make them laugh or cringe.

Then – the Germans.  Of course.  They, like every other member of the European Union, fly not only their own national flag but also the flag of the union.  (Well, I say ‘every other member’; but there is of course one that does not…) They choose not to fortify themselves like either the Americans (behind immense barricades of steel) or the British (behind immensely powerful No Parking signs.)  In fact, the German Embassy is simply present on the street:



So there we go: the entire character of three great nations effortlessly and beautifully expressed through the metaphor of their respective Embassies: the Americans – wealthy, over-bearing, paranoid; the British – polite, bemused, declining; the Germans - modern, understated, straightforward.


Let’s hope the Germans don’t panic.



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