Greece, in Trial

The Athens adventure continues…

Tuesday morning I awoke like on a Christmas morning. Really. What else is the feeling when you know that your day will consist of touring the Acropolis, Agora, and the city of Athens? Shouldn’t anticipation be killing you? It should. We had walked around the Acropolis, literally looked through the fence at the Agora, and now I would get to go in. Inside, delving into the depths of history. Spring break was turning into less of a light-hearted thing. This was getting serious. As a Liberal Studies major who reads philosophy and political theory and history, this place, Athens, is the spine of my studies. Here’s the clay, Athens said, and it molded the rest of the world. I’m not even being dramatic.

Sidenote: Rick Steves now has an iPhone App that allows you to download his various audio guides for various cities for free. If you know anything about Rick’s walking tours, you know this is a game-changer. Download them now, all of them.

So, Katie and I traipsed up to the Acropolis (for free for EU students, thankyouverymuch) and began our ogling. We pressed play on Rick’s guide and spent the next hour and a half walking where he told us, ignoring the strange looks from most people around us.

I’m utterly in awe of the Acropolis. I can’t describe what you see in the pictures, and the pictures can’t describe the feeling in person. It’s massive. It’s ancient. It makes you reevaluate what you can do as a person, because look what they did. In 450BC the Greeks could do this with freeman labor, not slave labor like the Romans, and actualize intricately calculated archetecture. Everything was a structural decision but also an aesthetic decision. And, if not for the dumb decision to store ammunition inside of the monument in 1687, it would probably still be standing. Wow.

From the Acropolis you can also see all of Athens and beyond to the sea. They city stretches far and wide – it seems much much bigger than Rome. It flattens out and looks urban. Athens surrounds its old with new, like tree rings. There’s also a Greek flag at one end of the Acropolis. The Nazis ordered this be taken down when they took the city. The Greek taking down the flag calmly did so and then wrapped himself in it and jumped to his death from the Acropolis. Later two teenaged boys scaled the hill to re-fly the flag and defy the Germans. It makes sense that the feeling of Patria is most pure here, above the smog of the city.

Reluctantly leaving the Acropolis, we entered the Agora – the ancient marketplace of Athens and the birthplace of democracy. It’s mostly crumbled stone now, but the barebones remain. And, as Rick urges you to think and rethink, here is where Socrates taught, Plato thought, Alexander the Great walked, Hadrian spoke. Here, the Agora, birthed ideas of the republic. Here, they performed acts of the direct democracy. I think I tried to walk extra slow so that the magic would seep in through my shoe soles.

Oh, and the Agora offers great views of the Acropolis and the neighboring Areopagus rock where St. Paul spoke to the Athenians. Three days earlier I had ignorantly taken pictures atop those boulders, unknowing.

Lunch followed, documenting the Greek salad and actually digesting the magic of good Feta. Then a city walk, starting at the Parliament building and famous Syntagma Square (here’s where those newsworthy riots take place) through the city’s various neighborhoods to Monastiraki Square. Those gypsies on the ferry? Yes, actual gypsies. Because we saw them, from the ferry of probably 400, and a seating area of about 50, in a city of 4 million-ish, on the corner. Accidentalism.

We finished the day with some sangria and later dinner at a restaurant looking out at the lit Parthenon. I’ll tell you that was the best backlava that I will ever have. The honey in Greece is the sweetest of life.

So, Athens. Go. Go to Athens. Do not be afraid of rioting, of the “crisis,” of pickpockets or street food, or whatever excuse you can find. You can always find an excuse. You can hear that it is too polluted and grimy. You can hear that it’s unsafe. Well, yes it is grimy at times. That’s what makes it a bit tougher down in the shadow of the Acropolis. But, the people still want you to come. The city still wants you there. The men flip their “worry beads” around their fingers and the beggars on the street play their accordions loud. Athens became one of my favorite cities this week.

No, it doesn’t charm you with Parisian-coordination. It won’t give you romance like Rome’s weathered-colored piazzas. It shows you its knuckles as quick as it will show you its crown. The Acropolis calls for everyone to see it. It demands respect. It gives you an entirely new context for art and government and thought and beauty. It pulls you back by the earlobes. Then the city, as you walk it, reveals its street art, it markets and flea market, its yogurt shops, and political buildings. And it says, with respect to the ancient Acropolis hat of the city, “Yes, we struggle, like your stones, but we persist.”

Suicide in flag. Collapse by ammunition store. Rehung by teenagers. Still standing stone. The Parthenon is a metaphor; and, Greece is a lesson in longevity, tested.

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2 Comments

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  1. That blue sky is so bright it makes you squint. And what a fascinating and important place. Can’t wait to see it all myself someday.

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