Stories, spaces, places

It was not only that I went back and found the people there. Yes, I climbed the stairs to the grassroots place where I conduct my research, and ended up on the roof of the building where a concert of the solidarity choir would be held that night. But simultaneously I was enveloped into a history that I had become part of earlier. We greeted after a long summer, and the story continued. “You look so thin. You should eat more”, one of the women remarked. I was in.

I am sitting at the long table in what is called the dance hall, a large living room of the apartment the group is renting. It is the first choir repetition after their concert, and some 20 people, mostly women but also 7 men are present. As always, some cigarette smoke is floating through the room and here and there someone drinks a coffee or a can of beer. I am breathing their air, sitting on their surfaces. I am inhabiting their social and material space, or at least until the extent that I can. I am present but also taken aback by the fast Greek conversations that I still don’t follow. Our conductor, behind the electronic piano, is kind enough to translate some of the song lyrics into English. The people are kind enough to smile at me. Yes I am in.

Here it is that I want to know how a place like this carries significance to the participating people. They, we are writing histories in this place, we are making and rewriting the space in our memories, in our bodies, in our shared presence. The place is a carrier of our stories − be it in cohesion with its own course of history. Should I understand it as physical as the way the walls of the structure are resounding with the sounds we produce during our presence? Should I understand it as literally as the drops of beer that spill unto the floor? Drops that can be wiped away, but still write history through the physical traces of moments that used to be and the labour of cleaning that is put into it over and over again.

The conductor calls on us to take part of more activities that are organised by the movement and next week’s activities are summed up. It is not enough to only sing in the choir, is what they are saying. It is not easy to keep the place going. Time and again, people need to be reminded of the objectives of the movement: the practice of solidarity. The space alone doesn’t make the people act like this, despite all the imperatives that are there through posters, books and texts. Still, it has to be made, it has to be enacted.

What does such learning processes involve? How is the story of the grassroots place rewritten and revived in relation to the historical and local narratives of the participants? What has the place come to mean in the bigger context of their other daily practices?

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