October 24, 2002

Les Halles a la Grecque

By Armando Huerta © 2002

Flying into Athens from the United States is always tiring on the traveler with the seven hour time difference inflicting heinous jetlag. For me this is always worse since I can never seem to sleep well on planes. Instead of a nice deep sleep I always end up drifting in and out of a light doze like a trucker on a Mid West interstate when his amphetamines wear off. The end result is that I always arrive in the late afternoon and promptly fall asleep till 4:30 the following morning.

Not only is waking up at that hour extremely disconcerting, it is also amazingly boring. Good television is non-existent and after a long flight I’m pretty much always done with my reading material. Luckily downtown Athens is still alive and well at that hour and strolling the streets is not only safe, it’s entertaining.

During this last trip, upon waking up at the aforementioned 4:30am I hit the streets within 5 minutes of getting up. Sure, I had horrid bed head and smelled like a migrant cherry picker but I thought that it would probably still put me leagues ahead of most people I’d run into. Walking up the street from the dump of a hotel I was staying at (phone wouldn’t work, the patio door fell on me when I tried to open it and the sheets felt like someone was rubbing a burlap sack on my privates) I came across the downtown fish market. The complex is a Neo-Classical arcade with a soaring ceiling and large archways acting as entrances from the street.

Chaos is the only way to describe what was happening out front. Trucks were double parked, pulled up onto the sidewalks and idling sideways across the avenue out front. Workers screaming in Greek with cigarettes dangling from their chapped lips dragged kilo after kilo of fish from the back of the trucks into the market. Some of these were so large they grabbed only one at a time and hoisted them on their backs and lugged them like a basket of dirt at an open mine pit. The crowd of workers was augmented by street merchants selling cigarettes, lottery tickets and hot coffee. Inside the situation was the same with vendors dumping ice on their displays, arguing over space with their neighbors and often forming conversational circles smack in the middle of everyone’s way to exchange jokes, tips and family news. The variety of the fish being brought in was breathtaking. Every conceivable sea dweller from the Mediterranean was there, snuggled next to his brothers on a bed of ice awaiting the probing touch of a housewife seeking that night’s dinner. The fishmongers (I love that word) didn’t seem to mind my ambling about and open mouth gazing at their displays.

In fact, I would say they were proud that a foreigner would find their lives at that hour of the morning interesting at all. All I could think about was how lucky I was to see this part of Athens that most tourists, or even locals, would never experience. It was an insight into the workings of a city that I would now be calling home.

Armanod Huerta currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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