chapter  4
The housewife, the builder, and the desire for a polykatoikìa apartment in postwar Athens
Pages 18

A tactic is a calculated action . . . that makes use of the cracks . . .

in the proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It is a guileful ruse.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life,

Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,

1984, p. 37

A family story

When I was a child I often heard a story of how one day, while my grandfather

was away, my mother and grandmother used white paint to cover the ceiling

decorations in their neoclassical house in Crete. From the way my mother

recounted the story, I always felt that the whitening act was a great thrill for

the female side of the family, something that gave them a sense of achieve-

ment and satisfaction. They had cunningly managed to make the changes they

wanted and caught my grandfather by surprise, utilizing their female ponirià

every time I heard it. Why white paint, the “unspoken obsession” of modern

architecture?1 Were these women obeying Le Corbusier’s “Law of Ripolin”

that suggested that “inner cleanness” can come only after whitewashing

one’s walls?2 Were they trying to turn their well-to-do, architect-designed

house into a humble dwelling from an Aegean village? It is more as if whiten-

ing the ceiling fused a traditional model of cleanliness with a new idea in the

air, that of modernity. Indeed, the crucial next step in my family narrative

involved their moving into an urban polykatoikìa apartment in Athens, a

housing type that exemplified this fusion, as I will show below.