Six months has passed from my previous trip in Thessaloniki but it seems like yesterday, despite has been such a full period full of work, travels, articles, important event like my book published. I can say that this time, apart from the different weather and more hours of daylight, the main difference has been my relationship with Greece. If in January I was still feeling a bit like a tourist, after May I am seriously starting to feel more like a “local”, even though there’s still a long road ahead. This time I felt a different sense of adventure, difficult to explain but is more or less the way I feel when travelling from Rome to Milan. Moreover, I was travelling with much more knowledge of graffiti and local crews and, what is more important, with friends, good people and spray cans.
Leaving Athens and first graffiti action in Thessaloniki
At the moment of my departure I had just celebrated and concluded my first month in my beloved city of Athens, for sure one of the most intense period of my life.
Apart spending time with “old” friends, to whom I say a big thanks for help, I have tried as much as I could to study and to get in touch with local graffiti writers. With some of them I have shared a cigarette, a long chat, a party, a comparison of ideas, many stories, a lunch, a painting night, with some others I have chatted online and planned future or forthcoming meetings.
The truth is that the more I enter this world the more I feel I can’t live without it, and I am proud of myself for my perseverance and efforts and I am grateful for all people who gave to me their personal time.
Exactly during this period of research I have met my travel mate of this trip, Decay, from Adicts crew. From our first chats on Instagram we passed to walks in Exarchia area, drinking a Freddo Espresso and talking about photos and graffiti, and we have soon discovered to have many interests and friends in common, in particular Sae (Adicts) and Pars. So we quickly passed from followers, to friends to fellow traveller.
We were so excited before leaving but still couldn’t imagine that we were about to experience four crazy days full of graffiti, good food, plenty of fun.
The trip couldn’t start better, thanks to Sae, who had organized a painting night with many people from different places, some of them staying in Athens for few days like me and Decay.
Before painting we spent some time in the graffiti shops, where I receive some lovely gifts, talk with the owners, check some books and spray cans and meet by chance Fluor (Bigs crew) and, for the first time, Krack from 381 crew (have to say that I was a bit surprised when he told me that he already knew Urban Lives). After that, finally Pars arrives, couldn’t wait to see him in the last months!, and we meet the other writers. So, we are 7: me, Sae, Decay, Pars, Tor (wsa’z 07 crew), Zemo (Falls crew) and the German guy Sper (GMS crew).
All together we go to the university, where Sae have found a perfect wall, big enough for that night. As in graffiti jams I’ve attended to or organized, is always interesting and fascinated for me to see how people share spaces and walls, deciding eventually to paint something together but always without any possible prediction. The spot is good but very dark and the quality of my photos quite bad (damn, I forgot my tripod in Rome!), but doesn’t matter. What really counts is fun and good time together. The night is great and, as always in these situations, I talk with everybody and with some of them I’ll keep in contact and probably meet in Athens.
Graffiti, abandoned trains and train lines
In the beginning of the second day the first priority is, of course, to go back to the university to take photos of the pieces. It’s me, Sae and Decay and as soon as we finish we catch up with Pars and Tor at the train station. I find the humid heat really unbearable and annoying, maybe because in Athens I am not anymore used to it. So, before catching the bus, we add more weight to our backpacks full of spray cans with bottles of water. We have everything important with us, except the mosquito spray (and we would have regret it).
The place chosen by Sae for our second day together is amazing, to say the least: is a semi-abandoned train station, which is perfect both for painting panels of abandoned trains and for painting the train line of the part in use.
The abandoned side of the railway station seems like a ghost city, a perfect place for decay and degrade lovers like me, even though you can also clearly feel a disturbing perception of the tragic events occurred there (four people killed as a train travelling on Athens-Thessaloniki route crashed through a house), and of the time passing by, consuming, deteriorating everything.
Once we are inside, crossing rails, we leave our backpacks and we split up to find the best spot, to think about what to paint or to take some photos. As often happens in these situations, at the end they are all far away from the others, that’s not really the perfect condition for me since I have to go backwards and forwards, but it’s OK! During the afternoon also Ore from 114 crew arrives and join us.
Ore and Tor decide to paint the same panel, one next to the other one, with totally different styles but interesting similar chromatic choices. Decay chooses to paint all the dark inside of a coach with some experimental graffiti, Pars paints with his abstract style a freight train while Sae prefers to paint the visible wall of the train line, next to Tor.
About me, I chat with everybody, talk with Ore about the book “The history of graffiti in Greece” he curated and wrote with Tuiyo (Frogs crew), check out sketchbooks, take hundreds of photos, seed tags around the place (I’ve just learned how to write “Urban Lives” in Greek and I want to practice), explore the interior of an abandoned train, happy like a kid in a candy store, and I really enjoy the general happy mood and good vibes!
At late afternoon we say bye to Ore, and Decay asks me to paint together a piece on a freight train, writing a huge “Urban Lives”. Of course I say yes, and I admit it is a lot of fun! Unluckily (or luckily) we don’t have any photos of the piece because we’ve finished after sunset.
I also have to admit I love to paint and would like to do it more, but the reporter inside me always feels that in these kind of situations I am “wasting time”, missing something that is happening around. Many friends graffiti writers have tried to persuade me to paint more and more in the last year and sometimes I really feel is some kind of tendency I keep inside since I was 16, maybe younger, when my dream was both to paint with a spray can and to work on a photography project about graffiti in my city, Roma. Anyway, we will see what will happen in the future, you can never know!
When we all finish painting we go fast towards the bus station, walking along the tracks (every time I can’t help but think about the famous scene of the movie “Stand by me”).
When we reach the station we discover we have to wait half an hour, in that empty and dark street, surrounded by swarms of hungry mosquitos. Without almost saying a word, which is uncommon for me, I walk back and forth as I am getting mad because of a mix of blood, sweat and dust on my legs. But when we are finally inside the bus, to be seated without mosquitos around is such a relief that I can enjoy the desolated view; finally tiredness gives way to peace of mind and happiness. Suddenly I also realize that this moment seems the perfect ending of a great adventure, and I feel so glad to share it with such a good people.
Actually the end of the day is far away, still many good things happen after that. Me, Decay and Sae meet again at midnight, ready to enjoy the saturday nightlife.
I was sure to know well the Thessaloniki main attractions and the main things to do, that in my opinion are graffiti, the port, pizza slices for 1 euro, archeological areas, the amazing view and abandoned houses in Upper Towns. But nobody ever told me that one of the best thing is food, so cheap and delicious! At the restaurant we order a lot of dishes, eating everything without stopping to smile! (needless to say that food goes with massive quantity of alcohol).
One of the best moment is when the waitress says that she’s a fan of Urban Lives’ Facebook page, I can’t believe it! To tell the truth is not the first time that this happens in Greece, as with the guy from 381 crew, and I don’t want to sound modest but I still can’t realize it. The night flies away thanks to laughs, a lot of fun, tags and throw-up in the central market, good company and many beers.
Last two days in the city: night bombing and daytime painting
Third day starts slowly; I go out with Decay although we are dizzy for a bit of hangover and tiredness. After a coffee and a long walk we meet Pars, and at sunset we go together at the port and then to find some street food. I am so glad we get along as we know each other since a long time! Unfortunately around midnight Pars have to go and me and Decay, even though missing his presence and the one of Sae, go on hanging around and bombing in the city center, armed with spray cans and markers. The “funny” thing is that exactly when we stop after 2 hours for smoking a cigarette on a bench, two police cars pass a few metres from us. Since we are full of spray cans and our hands are stained with black ink (which is a quite hard evidence of our “crimes”) we are a bit worry, but luckily they pass by without noticing us.
After my walk, me, I go together with Decay and Sae to the old part of the city, the Upper Town, a district that I love and that I explored in January with Pars, first to eat in a tavern (again, I almost cry for happiness) and then we meet Tor to go finding a spot for painting.
The last day in Thessaloniki we have plenty of time since the train leaves at 11 in the night. I spend part of the afternoon alone, hanging around with no maps, chasing graffiti. In spite of a pain at my ankle and at my back (quick tragi-comic anecdote: I’ve never had any problems when I am around with graffiti writers and then I end up falling the stairs in my apartment in Thessaloniki!) and dark circles (I haven’t slept very much) I walk without stopping, amazed by the quality of graffiti, above all by the the ones of 381, NR4T, TSI (to which belonged my good friend Nar and Sae). – More photos on Instagram
The first one that they find is on a side of a high abandoned house, a good wall visible from a long distance. Decay and Sae talk for a while (I love when graffiti writers say “sorry Ivana if we talk in Greek” when they have to decide what to paint) and then start writing a big “Adicts” piece, while I take photos and I ask Tor to translate for me some comments of passers-by.
Sae and Decay are really satisfy of the piece. We take the last photos and then start again exploring the area.
Also the second wall belongs to a disused house. There’s a building on the other side but no voices or people in the surroundings. Tor, Sae and Decay literally pounce on the wall, starting to paint at the same time and very fast. Nobody could ever imagine that a woman on the balcony could start yelling like crazy and talking without almost breathing, for what to me who can’t understand Greek is an infinite time. Sae and Decay attempt to speak with her, try to persuade her at least to have five more minutes just to finish the piece, but she starts screaming more and more and threatens to call the police. What is funny is that during all this long conversation Tor doesn’t give a fuck at all of what’s happening around him and go on painting quick but very calm.
Unluckily at the end we must go because it seems to us that someone behind the mad woman is making a telephone call. What a pity!
After a while we say bye to Tor and meet Pars. Time for explaining to him what’s happened and for a cigarette and then we have to go to the train station. Along the way I chat with Sae and we both realize we were so focus on actions we didn’t have enough time to speak about graffiti. So, soon or later (better soon) we must make up for lost time.
When we arrive at the platform waiting for the train we still have half an hour for staying together, have fun, taking group photos, counting the graffiti pieces of that days and try to avoid bad thoughts.
When it’s time for me and Decay to leave we are all sad.
I never stop being surprised about how strong can be the emotional tie between me and people I know during my trips. Normally, at the time of departure, after hugging and saying goodbye to friends I struggle not to cry (as you know, from previous articles), but this time is different, because I have my good friend Decay travelling with me and actually, during the journey, we laugh so much and couldn’t stop making funny jokes, with just a few moments of melancholy.
What also makes a big difference this time is that I am here in Greece to stay, no flights for Italy! Now that I am living in Athens distances with Greek friends are shorter, if I miss good friends and places all I have to do is taking a train.
And I think it will happen very soon, cause I already miss Thessaloniki.