It must have been in 2003 that I first fell victim to “turismofobia”, as it is called there in the Iberian Peninsula. I had taken my (analogue) camera and went to take a picture outside a traditional barber shop. I didn’t have time to sit down and an angry barber came out brandishing his tchasara and started insulting me in perfect Catalan. I had started to learn Spanish (i.e. Castilian) and had chatted about it, which irritated him even more (as some Spanish friends later explained to me, I prefer to speak English to him). I was shocked by this crescendo of inhospitality, as I thought at the time.
Today, I often think of that unfortunate barber. I think I’m slowly putting myself in his shoes. I had also felt a few tangles last year, but this year – I admit it – the tourists in the center of Athens really started to annoy me. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not xenophobic, I love this city’s new multiculturalism, I teach my children to be “citizens of the world”, I crave foreign languages and cultures and I fully realize the vital importance of surpass “gold 2019” in arrivals. But something happens and the sound of the wheel of the suitcase starts to annoy me.
Trying to trace the reasons for my hostility, I admitted that it is not the fault of the Christians who came sunbathe and rest their bodies in the city where I live. I realized that a big part of my mind was tied to this term “sustainable mobility”, i.e. being able to walk on the (broken) sidewalk next to my house without tripping at the same time on champagne flutes and without feel like walking through the living room of a foreign house with my shopping.
No, tourists apparently aren’t to blame for the “tables outdoors” outbreak that survived the pandemic. However, tourism becomes the alibi of an even more anarchic and unconditional life. city tradition to those determined to catch it “big” this year. It’s the buses parked where there are buses, it’s the noise pollution, the overcrowding, the garbage, the rising prices (for example at the convenience store), it’s the cinemas in the center that are at risk of these also become tourist beds. That’s all she is, after all. the “hop on-hop off” debauchery of a city that despises its people and hasn’t learned how to deal with its visitors.
As far as they are concerned apartment buildings in the center, many are now completely given over to Airbnb lailapa (if you are a young couple and want to break up, try looking for a house in the areas of Koukaki, Neos Kosmos Exarchia, Kolonaki, Pagrati, the mental anguish that will lead you to the final end is guaranteed). An acquaintance of mine who rents a house near the Acropolis has now accepted that her life has turned into hell since March. On the roof of the building, the “ephemeral” neighbors organize a party every day (until 5 am). She herself is tired of knocking every night doors begging for a few hours of sleep.
And so, me, who walks down the sidewalk with my worries, the sea of people, the compressors, the rubble bins (constant renovations) and the donkey-trader who catches me from above with a fake “hello” (not to curse it), who am I dealing with? Will be put with the best Finnish couple enjoy “my” city and a fantastic red paste, “rubbing” the nonchalance of the (temporary) visitor on my face.
I envy the carelessness of the tourist
And here it is the second reason why tourists started giving it to me. Their carelessness often magnifies your own (difficult) daily life. For a moment I think of the number of English, French, Portuguese I have irritated from time to time by wandering like a mindless tourist through their own towns and lives. I remember a New York Times article during the pandemic. people of Venice, of Prague, tParis, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, Bali, etc.. they spoke of the joy of finding their place, now that the swarms of hypertourism.
“I came back one day tied up with supermarket bags and uphill they stopped me to ask me how to get to Lycabettus”, a friend who lives and works at the center told me a few days ago. “They insisted on details, if the cable car goes to the theatre, how long is the taxi ride… I shuddered to stop answering them.”
These are of course the rare times when they stop to ask you something. In the past, anyway, you “natives” needed it, they anxiously showed you the crumpled map and so you had the opportunity to practice your “rusty” English a bit. Now with GPS, you are indifferent to them, you are (as you are now to your own city): invisible.
I guess my burgeoning “turismophobia” is fueled by a growing sense of defeat, a suspicion that the Greek summer is less and less mine (now that the season has grown so much, not just the summer). Many of us have already realized this last year. This year, it is now an established fact that most of the country’s “popular” tourist destinations have become, not only inaccessible, but prohibitively expensive.
And here we are talking about VIP hypertourism. You can’t even play with sand without paying dearly. A wealthy Parian who lives in London and comes to her island every summer, told me that the The supermarket in Parikia is now more expensive than the supermarket in Bayswater (one of the most expensive areas of the British capital).
Thursday 10 p.m., a huge crowd of French people pours out of the Benaki museum, at Best man. I abandon my walk towards the Zappeion and decide to cross the threshold too (entrance is free on Thursday evening). I deliberately sit on a selfie spot and admire the masterpieces of painter Theodoros Poulakis. One of The (most) good thing about a foreign visitor is that they remind you of the treasures in your city that you take for granted.
That the authorities welcome tourists (and the… dollar) to the center of Athens, without forgetting that the physiognomy of the center does not exist without the “locals” discredited. Let’s not get to the reasonable “turismofobia” of the Barcelonans, let’s not finish a morning in 2030 to protest with banners against the tourism industry (like the Venetians). Tourism, yes, can “save” us, as long as we don’t let it swallow us first.
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