Walking briskly back to the hotel, we take the shortcut through the alley. Rain is starting to fall and by the looks of the clouds it's going to get worse before it gets better. Just as we get to the back of the hotel we notice this window, low at street level. We had looked into this place before and found it intriguing ... seemingly both a bar and library. Lots of booze and books and overstuffed chairs. An odd combination for sure. Unlike the other times we had looked in, this time the establishment was open. Considering the rain and the fact that the ache in my legs from too much walking was growing intense we decide that a cool beverage might be the help we need to ease into the afternoon. So we open the door. This, our first trip to Athens, was proving to be a series of pleasant surprises .. and this just might be one of those.
There are only two people in the place, two very attractive people, 30ish. A couple? Luckily they speak English and enthusiastically usher us in. Turns out, yes, it is a bar, but also a library —a meeting place too, a salon, if you will, with some unusual art and photography books. We feel right at home.
The conversation starts immediately and flows almost in a torrent. Apostolos, the manager of the establishment, is an engineer by trade, but here in the bar/library/salon is an activist expressing his concerns over the global forces making life in Greece exceedingly difficult. The salon is his artistic and political outlet. Meetings, discussions, recitals, dances, and lectures all in a place where you can relax with a drink and get excited by art and ideas. It's not everyday that you find a bar/library/salon much less one that publishes it's own magazine (Cause). His friend Vasiliki (who is indeed, his girlfriend) is lively but also rather shy. She mentions that she is going to be late for her singing lesson. A singer? Where? Night clubs perhaps? She demurs, excuses herself and departs ... the conversation continues .. and continues. The rain comes and goes but the talk in the salon is constant. Simpatico. Interesting and moving stories all the way around. Vasiliki goes to her lesson and comes back an hour later and we are still hanging out. Apostolos makes dinner for everyone. Wine bottles empty and new ones replace them. An olive oil salesman, their friend, comes in (the only other person, besides us, to come in over the afternoon). As the light outside fades and the night lights appear, some strange and compelling music begins to swirl around the room. It's orchestral but also emotional and rhythmic like some kind of amped-up folk music.
Apostolos turns the video projector on and a wall of the salon comes alive with moving images of ... Vasiliki. Standing on a grand stage with what appears to be a hundred musicians behind her, she is belting out these amazing Greek folk songs. But they aren't really like folk music — it almost seems like theater, large moving sounds that create unknown stories in my mind; I can't understand a word yet somehow it's moving and knowable.
Turns out that Vasiliki Karakosta is a Greek goddess of song. A beautiful and well-known singer who performs in major venues in Athens, yet she is such a modest person that we would never have known anything about her gifts had Apostolos not shown her film to us. She seems embarrassed by the looks of awe and surprise that register on our faces. We all laugh and have another drink —or three.
The rain stops and people start coming into the salon. Addresses and emails are exchanged along with declarations of friendship before Wendy and I weave out into the night-time streets of Athens.
To listen to some of Vasiliki's music click here.
If you care to read more about this trip, here's Wendy's story in California magazine.
© Dan Hubig, 2016
Dan Hubig is an illustrator and street photographer
who lives in San Francisco, California.
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