It All Began In Athens!!
Returning to the place where my art adventure started has always been a return to memory lane. Monastiraki area is still the same but shops, owners and items on sale have changed dramatically. Nothing to attract me this tome round. Shops have only art I would not look at now. Owners have changed and most of them are foreigners. The pavements are full of homeless people sleeping rough, begging, following you around for a few cents. Disheartening to think how a prosperous country has ended up so poverty stricken. Sad to see the heart of Greece being so mercilessly uprooted!
However, there is one miraculous building standing above all and that gives me and many others hope and a dream for a better tomorrow!
Monastiraki Athens with Acropolis Beyond by Vasilis Zenetzis
First investment was in a painting, an omen of what was to follow
August 1979, Athens
Destiny is a powerful supernatural unknown, which I believe nobody can escape. With that strong belief accepted as a fact in my consciousness, I could not escape my art journey. If the powers from above had decided that I was to be involved in art, who was I to reject such a wonderful present? The truth is, I am grateful as ever to them.
Living in Athens for a few years was possibly the best time of my life. Athens is an amalgamation of ancient and modern, a city of good living, great food and unparalleled entertainment in the famous ‘bouzoukia’ establishments. Superb quality of life, if you can afford it!
In 1979 marriage arrived unexpectedly but very welcome and my partner was new to Athens and all that constitutes the immortal city. Plaka and the surrounding areas of the Plaka market was a magical mélange of a place, a mix of local and luxury shops, mobile souvlaki stalls and restaurants, tourist trade and local trade, fruit stalls, food stalls, antique and junk shops. What a world of wonders, of interesting wares and characters! A bazaar of the old and new, the cheap and worthless, valuable and priceless, ephemeral and unforgettable; bustling with all sorts of people, honest traders and questionable characters, all trying to make a living, offering you bargains, some genuine, others not. This is what makes Plaka and Monastiraki so special and unique. A world of two and a half thousand years standing proudly at the feet of the ancient and modern co-existing and magnetizing all who come here. Miraculous world indeed! Whenever one walked those areas of Athens of thirty years ago, the joy was contagious and inescapable. Where else could I show my wife the best of Athens?
It was a bright, beautiful Sunday morning in August 1979! Most Athenians were on holiday in the countryside and Athens was left to the tourists and the few who could not afford a holiday to the islands and resorts. Athens is at its best when abandoned by its inhabitants. We walked through the centre, past the Hilton Hotel marvelling at the fashionable Kolonaki shops and buildings and high society sitting and buzzing at the cafes as early as eleven in the morning, and then on to Syntagma Square towards Plaka. It was a stroll I still cherish. Reaching Plaka was a new experience for my young wife but also for me. I saw and enjoyed Plaka through new lenses. I saw the beauty of it from a different angle that morning. Who knows why? I guess the new girl in my life!
We passed shops one after the other, new and old and, without any reason, ended up in an antiques shop in Monastiraki, perhaps trying to escape from the deafening noise of the market and the crush of the crowds. What an antiques shop, what an amazing world! It was crammed high to the ceiling with everything imaginable including paintings piled one on top of another. Amongst that jumble and unpleasant smell of the old and neglected we somehow spotted something that attracted us.
A painting! A pleasant scene, although a little dark, large with a solid, colourful frame, signed, artist unknown. We liked it! “It’s 12,000 drachmas,” the owner of the shop informed us. No money, no games! Thank you and goodbye. But we both liked the painting and it was at the back of my mind all along and until two Sundays later. I had 10,000 drachmas (£150) in my pocket and immediately I thought of the painting. Moonlight, boats on a lake, it was a good painting for my taste of those days. I knew nothing better! Did it matter? No, not at all!
I wanted it, my wife liked it, and so back to the antiques/ junk shop that Sunday. The painting was nowhere to be seen. The owner could not help us, as we could not describe the painting well. We knew nothing about artists and about style. Then fortunately, I spotted a section of frame jutting out from behind several paintings. Yes, I remembered the frame and recognized that!
“The frame,” I said. “That’s the frame of the painting.” Soon, the painting was staring at us and it looked more attractive than the first time. Shining moon, small boats and trees in the foreground, glittering lights at the back and the lake golden, yellow/brown.
“How much is it?” I asked, pretending to forget the earlier price quoted.
“That’s 18,000 drachmas.”
“What!” I replied choking. The so and so, I thought quickly. 12,000 drachmas two weeks ago and now it’s 18,000.
“But two weeks ago you quoted 10,000.”
“The frame is worth more than that,” he retorted.
“I have 10,000. That’s it. No more!”
“Ten thousand it is then!” The Lassanos lake view became our first investment in art. The first investment in my married life was a painting. Buying that painting was a major omen that I never thought of until the early 1980s. How was it possible to imagine that a few years later I would be investing in paintings not only for their aesthetic value but also for their financial returns and future appreciation?
That painting is still in my collection. I do not know who the artist is, I still love the painting, I never cared about the money, and what can one buy with 10,000 drachmas (about twenty pounds) today?