It is always a big pleasure to talk about Greece with people that are not Greeks. It is always a new, fresh point of view. It is a new way to see things.
1.Are you the type of character who would swim against the stream or would you rather be on the safe side?
-If I preferred to play it safe, I don’t think I would be in Athens right now. The incredulous looks I encountered when I told people that I had quit my job in London to move here were a good indicator that it wasn’t a common or easily-understood choice. And trying to make a living here — especially as a freelance journalist — has been pretty tough at times. But the energy and unpredictability of life in Athens is addictive and one of my favourite ways to experience the city is cycling — certainly not the way to play it safe, given the state of the roads and the madness of the drivers.
2.Your next projects?
-Following the Athens rabbit hole has lead me to some pretty remarkable projects thus far; from partying with drag queens until the early hours to explore the queer arts and activism scene to cruising through the abandoned Hellinikon airport with a crew of feminist skaters for a forthcoming short documentary. I’m confident the future will throw up many unexpected stories. For now, I’m developing a long-term project with the incredibly talented Greek documentary photographer Penelope Thomaidi on Epirus, one of the most spectacular and unspoilt areas of the Greek countryside, which is under imminent threat of destruction as hydrocarbon exploration continues. I’m also following the battle over Exarcheia between police and activists who run the area’s self-organised spaces; many of which provide vital housing and support services to refugees. And I’m really hoping to be able to start work on a book sharing some of Athens’ lesser-known treasures.
3.Are you generally an optimistic person? Do you think there is always light in the end of our personal ''tunnels'', regardless of what we are experiencing?
-I am an optimistic person, generally, and I’m optimistic about the future of Athens — and Greece as a whole — even if the present climate has drained much of that hope. I think hard work and the people around you are always the key to getting through dark patches. I see so many talented people around me working incredibly hard to make Athens a better place — in big and small ways — and that’s what keeps me optimistic.
4.What is the biggest obstacle -from your point of view- about being productive in Greece?
-Let’s be honest, austerity, high taxes and crippling bureaucracy make things incredibly difficult and are often enough to kill off many great ideas and projects before they have a chance to prove themselves.
5.What a man like you is doing to Greece anyway? Tell us more about you.
-I grew up in Hackney, an incredibly multicultural area of London, and have always been interested in travelling, learning new languages and cultures and, just, people in general — their dreams to their dysfunctions. I studied American studies at university, learned Spanish, studied in Buenos Aires for a year and always wanted to go back to be a journalist in Latin America; ideally Argentina, Chile or Brazil… but I met a Greek girl who led me to Athens and I’ve ended up doing what I always wanted to do… just in Greece rather than South America, which oddly enough offers a more similar way of life than you might think.
6.Athens or London? I know we can't compare them, but really now... in your heart, what city captures you the most?
-Most Greeks would probably scoff at this, but the crisis and austerity really ripped the heart out of London and Brexit was the final nail in the coffin. London had a moment when it felt like the centre of Europe — maybe even the world — with people from everywhere launching projects, opening restaurants, throwing parties, you name it. London felt like a truly global city, it was embracing its multiculturalism and felt like the place where all the most exciting, innovative stuff was happening — with people having fun and being creative. Since then, both rent and racism have skyrocketed, which has made the city a darker, grimmer and more divided place. There are lots of people pushing back against that, of course, and on pretty much every objective indicator, Athens is still more messed up. Perhaps being an outsider here lets me filter out more of the negative and focus on the positives, but it seems like Greeks have done a much better job of finding ways to enjoy life despite the challenges and depressing politics. One thing’s for sure: given the choice of spending a night in a bar full of Londoners or a bar full of Athenians, I know where I’d have more fun…
7.The things you really dislike in this country, let's be honest now. If there was some things you would like to change...?
-Sometimes the lateness and flakiness can be really frustrating if you’re trying to pack a million things into one day and you have a deadline to hit… but then I’m not the most punctual person myself, so I guess it would be a bit hypocritical of me to complain…
8.Do you think Greece is hostile to immigrants? Are we racists after all?
-As a white, western European I’ve had nothing but welcome and warmth. But then I’m not usually the type of person that people are picturing when they complain about immigration. This is a complicated one. The Greek state — particularly the police — is undeniably racist. And I won’t deny that there’s a sizeable segment of the population that is hostile towards immigrants. But on the flip-side, the strength of solidarity towards migrants and refugees shown by many ordinary people and movements is stronger than what I’ve seen in most of the rest of Europe. But then, across Europe the bar has been set pretty low, especially these days…
9.Greece is just a place for summer vacation or so much more than that…..?
-Personally, I prefer Greece in the spring or the autumn. But once you scratch the surface, you’ll realise that there are fantastic places to explore and things to do throughout the year.
10.Share with us a perfect restaurant in Athens, a hotel, a bar, a place you would propose to your friends.
-To eat, I love grabbing a table on the street at To Koudonaki and feasting on whatever the twins have on special that evening. I’ve only ever spent one night in a hotel in Athens and that was a nightmare so let’s not get into that story… On a purely aesthetic level — I have little else to go on — the Perianth hotel, in a lovingly restored modernist (I think) building, is the most impressive that I’ve seen. It’s so much more than a bar, so I always propose Latraac to anyone who hasn’t been as it was a big part of why I decided to move here.
Alex is a British journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Athens who covers humanitarian issues, activism and alternative culture in the region.
A few selected pieces of work: