92 Acharnon Street: A Year in Athens by John Lucas

By John Lucas

Greece has continually had its admirers, even though none turns out to have adored the Athenian tavernas, the murderous site visitors and the jaded prostitutes, the petty bureaucratic tyrannies, the road noise and the heroic individualists with the irony and detachment of John Lucas. '92 Acharnon highway' is a gritty portrait of a filthy urban and a wayward nation. but Lucas' love for the realities of Greece triumphs- for the Homeric kindness of her humans in the direction of strangers, for the pleasures of her desk and for the proximity of islands in transparent blue water as a safe haven from the noise and toxins of her capital urban. this can be Greece because the Greeks could recognize it, obvious throughout the eyes of a poet.

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Then came the letter from the University of Athens. Naturally I discussed it with George, who naturally thought it a good idea for me to take up the offer. After all, that way he’d have his supervisor at hand – for by then I had agreed to take him on – and he would undertake to find me accommodation. And so, in steamy August 1984 I saw for the first time the flat on Acharnon Street. George was waiting at the airport and quickly ushered Pauline and me through the NOTHING TO DECLARE exit, himself carrying the audiovisual machine he’d asked me to buy for him in England – ‘here they are too expensive’ – and which I’d wrapped in newspaper and forced into a plaid shopping bag, the kind of bag I associated with bottles of stout and scrag-end of lamb.

The ticket was torn in half and dropped into the waste paper basket. I told this story to another Greek friend, George the hairdresser, who also lives on the island. For thirty years George made his money by cutting hair in High Wycombe, and then, with money he had carefully saved, he and his wife Nikki, both originally from Cyprus, came to Aegina and built a house there. Not long after we had got to know them, and when the house was gleamingly new, we were invited to look it over. In the living-room I noticed a framed letter from a royal hanger-on of the house of Windsor, thanking George for his poem on the birth of Charles and Diana’s first son.

For the moment all I saw was a man full of jokes, who could set the table aroar, who ate and drank with evident relish and yet whose gestures and way of handling his knife and fork were of great delicacy – I never saw anyone so expertly fillet fish as Dimitris (he would then crunch his way through all the bones) – and who always saw to it that everyone’s plate was full and glass brimming. That afternoon he was solicitous, considerate, full of natural good manners. If he happened upon an especially tender piece of meat he would insist on sharing it with others.

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