Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Athens Flea Market, 1951

In a previous post on the Pláka district of Athens, I described how the flea market has changed over the decades, becoming much more gentrified. The market is in the Monastiraki (Greek: Μοναστηράκι = little monastery) neighborhood just to the north of Pláka. To check if my memory was correct about the character of the flea market decades ago, I scanned some of the family's 1950s black and white film negatives.
In the early 1950s, Greece was just emerging from the brutal civil war, and the country was desperately poor. US aid was pouring in, but people were still impoverished (except for war profiteers - that is an especially ugly story).*  A flea market like this was the place to raise a bit of cash, barter some odd metal scrap for some clothing, or buy an old steel bedstead.
More treasures for sale. I recall that you often saw Greek men hanging around, seemingly without work. I also remember many crippled veterans in the post-war era.
This is a Kodachrome slide from 1953 converted to monochrome.
A tourist in the market. Notice, he is wearing a suit. Even at leisure in those days, gents often wore suits. Sixty years later, we have become a nation of swine.
This is the view of the Agora with the Theseion temple in the distance. The train below is the original metro, the Athens-Piraeus Electric Railway (Greek: Η.Σ.Α.Π. - Ηλεκτρικοί Σιδηρόδρομοι Αθηνών-Πειραιώς, Ilektrikoi Sidirodromoi Athinon - Pireos). The rail line from Piraeus to Theseion was inaugurated in February 1869 as a steam train. The route was extended to Omonoia Square and electrified in 1904, making this one of the world's oldest metros.
This may be the end of Athenas Street where it meets Omonoia Square. I remember the policemen with their white gloves directing traffic from the round pedestals. Later, sometime in the 1950s, traffic signals were installed throughout Athens.
Back to the Pláka District: here is the Temple of the Winds. The 1800s houses were still authentic and unrestored then.
Finally, here is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, on the south flanks of the Acropolis. Workmen are setting up chairs for a concert. The theater was built in 161 AD by a wealthy Athenian, Herodes Atticus, and is still in use for the annual Athens Festival. The seats are rock hard (really!) - take a cushion. Notice the view of the city in the background.  It looks like a village.

Technical note: Most of these negatives are Ansco Ultra Speed film. Fortunately, we saved them all these years. They were taken with a Canon rangefinder camera with 50 mm f/2 Serenar lens. This was a Japanese post-war replica of the German Leica IIIC camera and the Leica 50 mm Summitar lens. The Canon was not as good optically but still capable of fine work. You can see that the edges of the frames are a bit soft. The negatives were scratched and dirty, but I did not retouch. I scanned them on a Plustek 7600i 35mm scanner using the German Silverfast Ai software. A couple of the negatives were so thin, I would never have tried to print optically through an enlarger, but the Silverfast was able to extract a surprising amount of picture information. Black and white film is an amazingly archival storage material. Will we be able to read our digital files in 65 years?

* For a detailed description of the terrible World War II years, see:
Mazower, Mark, 1995.  Inside Hitler's Greece, The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 437 p.
Many of Greece's elite collaborated with the Nazis and became wealthy. And in Thessaloniki, many willingly let the Nazis deport Jewish merchants and profited by taking over their businesses and property.
For 2013 revisit to the Plaka area, please click here.
For a description of the Leica cameras that we used over the years, please click here.

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