No poetry could do my local market – laiki – justice, or at least the kind of poetry that I might come up with. That said, I am sure that many others who are gifted wordsmiths could create a beautiful ode. In fact, Michael Llwellyn-Smith, in his 2004 travel book Athens, in Signal Book’s ‘Imagined Cities’ series, has eloquently described (albeit in prose) our Friday laiki:
It is one of the most vivid displays of everyday life in the city, with its regularity, the personal encounters with neighbours, the cheerful noise of the vendors crying their wares, the quiet purpose of the shoppers stocking their trolleys and baskets.
What I can offer is a photo essay from images I’ve taken in the market over the past year. The great majority of the photographs I have taken record the seasonal produce, but every once in a while, people catch my attention. They record, I hope, some of human dynamics of our laiki. After all, the word laiki comes from laos, the people.
One of my favourites – taken with my iPhone over my shoulder as I passed by – is this fantastic image of two men playing tavli (backgammon) back in August 2016 when many of the vendors were away on holiday. It appeared in one of my earlier IMK posts.
Another favourite is the Cretan cheese seller located right next to the onion supplier. Lots of other goodies from Crete are on display at his stall, like snails, dried mountain sage and good green olive oil.
The guy with the Δίσκος Καφενείου (kafeneion tray), a traditional design ideal for short distance takeout, often holds cold drinks in the summer rather than coffee. He moves though the laiki collecting and delivering orders also carrying a πλαστική σακούλα (plastic bag) over his shoulder with tins of coke, sprite and lemonada.
Even though the market street is closed to vehicles on market day, the motor bikes and vespas seem immune. They muscle their way though the pedestrian traffic. Negotiating the way past vegetable, fish, flower, olive, fruit and nut stalls can sometimes be tricky. However, shoppers take it in their stride.
The man from Tripoli hawks his Peloponnesian wares – apples in cooler months, beans in warmer ones. He is extremely expressive when exclaiming the quality of his wares. It is almost as if he wants to pull you in for a closer look.
Even the market dogs can be expressive – and a bit telling. This one with his face averted seems to be saying: “Please, not the spring onions!”.
Or the big bear-like dog looking a bit bored while his human dithers over a selection of frozen fish. He wisely knows that the fresh fish is available a few stalls away.
And, just before you leave the market, the mobile souvlaki stall is located at the end of the street. It is manned summer and winter. They certainly do a brisk business whether in shorts and tee shirts or in layers of sweaters and puffy vests. They have a rudimentary form of drive through as it is common to see an exchange of sticks of grilled pork and payment through car windows as drivers cruise by.
The laiki is definitely a place to observe everyday life in modern Athens. There is something new to see each Friday morning.