The Voice of the Dead Artwork by Kiefer Likens Traffic jam. One so clogged the cab driver gets out of the car, stands in the road, and throws his arms up in the air. The meter on his dashboard still ticks upward. Bigger bill for me. No easy ride back to the AirBnB to conclude a weekend at the beach here in Athens after all. What’s stopping traffic? A cluster of people wearing black hoodies and sweatpants. Between the rows of honking cars, a bald guy carries a massive megaphone practically the size of his torso. Next to him, a man with his hood up has a large banner rolled into double scrolls tucked under his arm. Megaphone guy leads some of the crowd into the courtyard in front of a columned building with carved statues standing on its roof. Stark white statues in twisted poses, with a crooked knee or one lifted arm. The man’s voice blasts through the megaphone louder than the engine hum of all the taxi cabs, trams, and drivers. Louder than the drumbeats from the speakers of cafes serving coffee and juices to people gathered under the round, metal reflector screens of gas heaters. His message is in Greek. The crowd repeats his words. What does it mean? I ask the cab driver. Though many people here speak English very well, this cab driver does not. He shrugs and gestures, watching the road. Roaring police sirens drown out our efforts to speak anyway. Blue lights shine into the cab. Officers arrive by motorcycle whizzing between the stopped cars. Two officers per bike. They wear black jumpsuits, white helmets, and ridged bulletproof vests. Screaming rises. A fire now blazes on the sidewalk. Protesters converge around an orange backhoe parked in a small construction site just off of the sidewalk, practically next to this cab. What are they doing? Tipping it over? The suspension of the backhoe buckles as people clamber on it. More riot police appear carrying plastic see-through shields. Hissing sound. Some sort of gas pellet or canister has been set off. Wind blows the smoke it emits through the courtyard. Smashing glass. Fire erupts inside the cabin of the backhoe. Rubber seat coverings melt. Dashboard dials and the plastic handles of levers all drip down. Black soot streaks its smashed windows. Protestors tuck their noses and mouths into their hoodies and run from the fire with ducked heads. Police bark orders from a megaphone. Stinging, sickening chemical fumes make a haze of the courtyard air. Harsh enough to make my nose drip and eyes water. The driver rolls up all the windows, but this hardly helps. He fishes a COVID mask out of his jacket pocket and puts it on. Holding my breath, I tap the driver on the shoulder with a five Euro bill, he sighs, takes it, and flicks his fingers for a quick wave goodbye. I twist back to check for more oncoming police motorcycles, then pop the door open, and dart between stopped cars to the far side of the street. Fresher air here, but the smell of burning rubber is stuck in my nose. A gigantic banner with Greek letters written in red and black ink has been posted on the fence of the construction site. Wind makes it luff and ripple. Beside me, two girls and a guy all about my age huddle and speak in hushed tones. Do you speak English? I ask. They are surprised at the question. What does the banner say? One girl tells me it reads, “This crime will not be forgotten. We are the voice of the dead.” Which crime? Which dead? The 57 people who died when two trains crashed on the Athens-Thessaloniki line. Scattered locals have told me what they think of the accident this past week. A barber, a cab driver, and a couple on a hiking trail who were kind enough to give me a lift back to the bus stop have each explained in their own way that the government shells out big money to cronies and cousins to run the train lines. And with this money, these buddies and back-roomers created a system in which a passenger train full of students lounging with headphones on, daydreaming and gazing out the windows, rolling along on all the certainty of steel rails were directed into a nose-to-nose collision with a freight train running in the opposite direction on the same track. Four train cars knocked off the rails. The front carriages engulfed in flames. People inside tumbled against the ceiling and walls of the tipping train while fire raged. Lives lost. Greased palms and dark money have deadly consequences, but not for the people getting paid. A flicker of a thought – this is a glimpse of Greece beneath the customer service. This explosion of longstanding anguish over government corruption. Perhaps this is the source of the half-shrugs – the hesitant exhaustion I have detected when asking baristas and bartenders here and there what they think of life in Greece. A woman dressed like one of the protesters staggers up onto the sidewalk nearby. Her black hair is in a ponytail. Ashen white skin, nose dripping, eyes red. Maybe from a face full of teargas, or gulping fumes from the burning backhoe. Two people help her to a seat on some steps near a cafe and squeeze her hands. She is in her late twenties. The protesters disperse. Lines of riot police in militant gear stand watch on every sidewalk corner. Why is that backhoe being left to burn? Are firetrucks busy with other riots around Athens? Is the fire department here well-run, or useless? Something tells me I would get mixed answers if I asked around. Even more strangely, a competing vision of how this Sunday will proceed asserts itself. For all the chaos, there is still a significant number of people who are determined to have a leisurely afternoon at the cafe of their choice. They are strolling along, dressed in long pea coats or leather jackets, sunglasses and scarves. This is a slightly older crowd. The baristas and waitresses continue to serve them. What else could they do? Orders are placed for freddos and frappes. Pastries with layers of flaked dough, crushed green pistachio, and creamy cheeses are served. People roll cigarettes or puff vapes, watching the aftermath of the conflict with what appears for all the world to be detachment and disinterest. They must be local; they are chatting in Greek. Summer is the big tourist season, and since mid-February, I have encountered just one Canadian and no other Americans. Then what is this place? Is it lethal, failing infrastructure? Is it divine espresso and perfect pastry? Is it screaming and burning in the streets? Is it long hours of watching the sun set over ancient temples to the sound of ambient techno? It is all of those things at the same time and far more, crammed and struggling right alongside each other block by block. 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