My expectations about Athens were misguided. Athens isn’t a poor city with public works fallen into disrepair and broken glass from riots. I was surprised to see a clean new subway system, big beautiful hotels and a brand-new glass-domed airport. I guess it was all done for the Olympics, back in ’04. Athens is a huge metropolitan capital, very European, nothing like the half-Eastern European, half-Byzantine country I expected.
There is a lot of graffitti, especially politically-charged grafitti (even an Angela Merkel mannikin holding a Nazi sign, riding a bike). It covers many of the subway cars, and offers a funky, bohemian feel. There are some burnt-out buildings and broken glass windows, but it’s all done to stores that look like they’ve been long out of business.
Many men are fat (souvlaki is the national fast food), and some have beautiful salt-and-pepper mustaches. There’s a certain ducklike look to them; maybe it’s their poofy hair. Some of the women are very attractive, with their big eyes, fair skin, and frizzled curls. And yet there’s something here that makes me shake my head.
Anthony and I ascended the Acropolis, past the organ grinder and up, up through the Ionic columns built by Perikles and to the temple itself. The gate to the temple was my favorite part, because you actually walk through it; you can feel the ancient energy even if you can’t touch the marble. I would have wished for more information about the history of the Parthenon. All of the placards bear information about its restoration, which I don’t care about at all. The scaffolding is an eyesore. Still, to see such a sacred site, twenty five hundred years old is impressive. When I saw the intact caryatids on the side temple, with their airy drapery cut from marble, I understood that for a long time this had been the pinnacle of Europe’s (the world’s?) art and culture. The thing about it is that it’s for so long been past its prime. In Egypt, culture began to devolve two thousand years ago. In Athens, as in Rome, they still feel a sense of pride and pleasure in knowing their lasting contribution to the world. They can still revel in the reputation of their Ancients, by joining the E.U. and living the way they want, until they need to be bailed out by Germany.
Earlier we had bought about ten euro of groceries from the Central Market. On the way back to our hostel we walked past a number of hardware stores (no Greek Home Depots), which predominate in every town we’ve visited. Later Anthony joked that it must be a national pastime to fix their houses. We bought a kilo of blood oranges for a Euro. Fresh olives too. Everywhere was meat, and the heads of goats, eyeballs intact.
I love markets. You can always tell a city by its market. Here there was more meat than I expected, live mandolin, and cheap, delicious fruits and veggies. And all of it made me smile, despite the bad haircuts.