the city beneath pt. 2

The Athens Metro system.

Athens’ perception of itself (and Greece’s by association) is reflected in its public train system. The more I thought about the ruins in the Monastiraki station the more I realized I was fascinated with the whole train system overall. On one hand, you have the above ground, century-old HSAP (the electric iron-railways of Athens, Piraeus), which runs roughly north to south, with slower trains. On the other, you have the Metro, built just a few years ago when I was still in high school, whose trains are at least twice as fast. The Metro runs east to west. It runs deep underground – a feat of engineering that usurps that of the HSAP. Unlike the plain, outdoor stations of the HSAP, the Metro stations are cavernous. They appear unnaturally clean, even though hundreds of people go through them every day. The trains and floors glisten; I have yet to find graffiti on them, whereas the HSAP bears graffiti like battle scars. The Metro has air-conditioning, the HSAP doesn’t. I use both to commute to work, and when I transfer to the HSAP the difference is instant, shocking. The air in the HSAP is warmer, it’s more crowded, people smell more. Even though the HSAP and the Metro cost the same, and you can transfer from one to the other on the same ticket, the HSAP seems like the train of the working class, while the Metro seems to be the train of the middle class.

The Metro declares to the world that Athens is a modernized, European city. While both the Metro and the HSAP were built for reasons of convenience, the Metro aims to represent Greek progress. In the end, the Metro will cost $1.4 billion to build, half of that funded by the European Union. The Metro represents itself not only as a distinctly European and therefore modern construction, but also as a vector of culture. From the English version of the Metro website (poorly done, I might add):

Further to the comfort, speed and reliability of its itineraries, the Athens Metro is renowned for the impressive archaeological exhibits at the central stations of its network, as well as the works of art of prominent artists, which embellish almost all stations of Lines 2 and 3. It is worth mentioning that thanks to the construction of the Athens Metro, the greatest archaeological excavation was carried out in Athens (79.000 m2), which brought to light more than 50,000 archaeological finds from the Neolithic period until the present day…In all twenty-eight stations of the Athens Metro currently in operation, the “hidden” city and our cultural heritage are revealed through the coexistence of significant archaeological finds with works of art of contemporary Greek artists.

I think its interesting that they use the phrase “hidden city” (also, why the quotes?), especially in reference to my last post. Is there some anxiety here about Greek culture being hidden, or obscure to the rest of the world? Anxiety about ancient Greek artifacts remaining under the earth, unknown? The Metro website also provides a list of archaeological finds for each station.

Meanwhile, the HSAP represents itself with nostalgia, its website supplying clips of old Greek movies in which the HSAP appears. I could go on. I feel like I could say something about how the HSAP—which runs from working class Piraeus to the wealthy northern suburbs—has been constructed with hopes for class mobility, while the Metro has been constructed with hopes for a middle class. If Franco Moretti’s Maps, Graphs, Trees taught me anything it’s that mobility is class mobility, that where and how people move says something about their society. See the Paris metro map for the fingerprint of a society that believes in democracy (or perhaps, more accurately, socialism?). Anyway, that’s my pseudo-intellectual thought for the day.

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