Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Girl in Kolonaki

What is it that makes the girl in Kolonaki such an excellent subject for a short story? Is it perhaps only this: that she is in Kolonaki but not from Kolonaki? That she is in fact not only not from Kolonaki but not from Greece at all? That she is from England, from a small town in England somewhere on the border of Kent and East Sussex and has come to Kolonaki, so she tells herself, not because it offers her any greater chance of making money in her chosen field but because she has a more developed sense of adventure than any of her peers, who all seem to be working in schools in impoverished parts of London or Manchester?

Or is the girl merely an ornament? Is it the mother-of-pearl and orange coloured district of Kolonaki, self-centred, genteel but robust, that is the truly noteworthy protagonist? Does it matter if the girl has no idea that the district of Kolonaki is named after the little column that was erected there before even a single house was built on the area? Is it more important that Kolonaki’s shopping streets are among the best in Europe?

Have you seen the column? What does it remind you of? Would it appear rude if I asked you to lie down on the couch? Does it remind you of a phallus, or is that just me? Were you subconsciously stimulated towards this phallic interpretation by the use of the word ‘erected’ in the previous paragraph? Or is the word ‘column’ enough on its own to do it for you? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that this two-metre rod of stone reminds you of a dick? Isn’t it strange that they call it the ‘little column’? Would you be surprised to learn that the author, at the age of 8, spent most of his free time in efforts to design his own spring-loaded mousetrap, or that all of his designs contained mazes or mirrors, and sometimes miniature traps within traps: guillotines made of razorblades, hidden doors, poison-tipped carpet tacks?

Is it stating the obvious to say that the reason the girl in Kolonaki is in Kolonaki and not Kent or Sussex is because she was running away from something or escaping something or fleeing something? Is it for this reason that she is just glad to be in this warm, blind part of Athens with other English speaking families? That she hasn’t bothered to learn the language, or find out a little bit about the history of her new home? Does she realise, and does it even matter to her, that Kolonaki and its giant stone dick, its sapless six-foot totem, are infinitely more important than her interchangeable new friends?

What is it that the author has in mind when he asks if the girl is really only an ornament? Is it to devalue her? Is it an attempt to devalue her by making her seem less important than an upmarket area of a capital city of a country the author has never been to? Is the attempt to devalue her flawed by the very fact that he has taken the time to write about her, and in doing so admitting her importance to him?

What is she doing in Kolonaki? Is this question a sign of the author’s continuing interest in her? Or his growing interest in Kolonaki? Or is it simply a way to introduce the girl, or the streets and squares of Kolonaki? Does the girl frequent the tavernas and ouzeries? Does she support AEK or Panathinaikos when they come up against English teams in European football? Does she spend her evenings indoors or on a terrace writing letters to her friends in England on paper she bought from one of the posh artisan stationers in Kolonaki, letters that are essentially lies, letters that talk about the sun, the pollution, the pleasantness of the Greek family she works for, but in reality tell the reader nothing about Kolonaki or about Greece? Does she have a wastepaper basket in her room filled with letters not sent, letters screwed up, letters she is embarrassed to read back to herself because of their frankness or their duplicitousness?

Is there an end to this story? Or should that question be, ‘How can the author reconcile himself with the girl in Kolonaki?’ And what is the meaning of the dick-like structure that towers, hard but impotent, over the story? Does it represent the idea of a resolute, single-minded Mediterranean mindset that has been embraced or partially embraced by the girl in Kolonaki, but cannot be embraced by the author, the flaccid English author? Can you answer questions put to you by an English author who spent his childhood poisoning mice? And how would you make him hear the answers? Is it possible for a question to be the truth? What would you say if I showed you a picture of the girl in Kolonaki, a photograph in which she appears to be drunk, with a group of people roughly her age, some English-looking and some Greek-looking, some with football scarves? And if, in that photograph, she has her arms locked around the stone column as if it is a living thing, as if it is a favourite tree or person, would you believe anything you hear?

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