I love being mistaken for a Greek.
My goal in any city, at home or abroad, is to carefully cultivate an “of course I’ve lived here my entire life!” aura. In Athens, I have completely avoided the obvious tourist tags: gym shoes, visors, and (of course) fanny packs. Setting a determined look on my face and walking at a brisk pace keeps the street vendors from accosting me with their wares. I refrain from whipping out my camera in the middle of the road (although I have discreetly stepped to the side to snap a photo a time or two). I regularly use my extensive Greek vocabulary (yes, no, hello, goodbye, thank you!). I managed the Metro today without asking for directions once.
So far? I think I have successfully blended in!
A lady, in very broken English, asked if I knew how to get to the Plaka and I gave her detailed directions. I had a ten-minute conversation with a local who spoke the same five words in English that I knew in Greek. We waved our hands and laughed; I found out that he is working on the restoration of the Parthenon! And then, just minutes ago as I walked down the Andrianou, the owner of a taverna rapidly spoke to me in Greek, inviting me to sit at one of his tables. Now, it is very common to see the owners outside attracting customers. But the Plaka is the heart of tourism here in Athens; they know how to spot a foreigner from a mile away. And he had pegged me completely wrong! I gave my game away when I smiled and said, “I don’t speak Greek!” His eyes widened and he laughed in return, turning with a shake of his head to some other amused customers who’d overheard his original pitch. It was very satisfying.
The rain continues outside, but being cooped up indoors is not so bad, really. It means I have plenty of time to write! So here’s some more Athens adventures for you…
Our dinner on Wednesday lasted til after midnight, as meals typically do here. I slept in a bit, trying to get rid of my jet lag. I finally rolled off the couch and went to look for some of that delicious Greek yogurt in Renee’s kitchen. I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized that her fridge was stocked with the exact same brand I ate back in the States. But, I did make an important discovery: it wasn’t the yogurt that was so much better, it was the honey! So sweet and fresh– it was unbelievable!
I put on my least-touristy outfit and headed off to the most touristed spot in Athens: the Acropolis. Unfortunately, I arrived right around 10 o’clock, which apparently coincided with everyone’s itinerary in the city. The line for tickets was unbelievably long, so I went in search of the brand new Acropolis Museum.
Right at the foot of the Acropolis, the museum’s gleaming steel and glass exterior stands out amidst the more antiquated homes and businesses. What truly thrilled me, though, was that it was built on top of an archaeological site– that was still being excavated! Glass covered the ground outside the museum’s entrance. Looking down, you could watch as men in boots and overalls used delicate tools to unearth a large, intact mosaic floor. Many of the structures that they had discovered down there were from the late-Roman period. It took me back to my time in Ashkelon… Part of me wanted to climb right down there with them and grab a trowel! But I also felt pulled by the treasures the museum held. I reluctantly waved goodbye to one of the workers who’d looked up and caught me staring.
The museum was beautiful. It was very contemporary and posh, with excellent lighting and wonderful views of the nearby Acropolis. I most appreciated the fact that it was not overcrowded with pieces. American museums stuff hundreds of incredible statues, pots, and coins into a few small displays, as if to say “Look here; it’s all the same, really”. In this place, though, white pillars hoisted all the lovely Kore and Kouroi with proper reverence. The highlight was seeing the Caryatids, the six stone ladies who stand in place of pillars along the porch of the Erechthion (replicas now hold their place on the Acropolis).
Leaving the cool of the museum, I began the hot trek up the hillside to the Parthenon. This was my second visit to the Acropolis, but this time I had a much better understanding of the buildings and their multiple constructions/destructions. The Propylaea is the gateway to the Acropolis, with two branches on either end like outstretched arms welcoming her many visitors. One of those two wings is actually a small temple to Athena Nike, while the other once housed paintings. While the Proylaea is impressive with its giant marble columns, the Parthenon steals all the thunder on the mountaintop. It is a massive structure, with giant doric columns and intricately carved friezes. Unfortunately, extensive restoration work is underway and a large crane blocked much of the view of the front side of the temple. The Erechtheion, the only other temple still in existence on the Acropolis, is significantly smaller and more delicate in appearance. The design is unique, and the Caryatids (albeit replicas) are worth a good deal of consideration.
Zeus, apparently, resented my presence on the mountaintop. The sky began to boil with gray-black storm clouds. Thankfully, Renee’s apartment is only a 7 minute walk from the base of the Acropolis. I dashed home, beating the rain by just minutes. A nice afternoon nap prepared me for another wonderful, late-night meal.
Another interesting group assembled for dinner: Peter joined us again, along with Nikos and his wife, Katia. Katia and Nikos were old friends of Renee’s and we all dined together at a lovely taverna (although, we were forced to forgo dinner on the rooftop due to the wet weather). Katia only recently retired from her career in journalism. I should have guessed from the moment she entered the restaurant in a killer pair of stiletto ankle boots that she was in the fashion world. Turns out she has worked as the Editor & Chief for the Greek versions of both Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. And she started as a stylist. I was suddenly relieved to remember that I was wearing a pair of cute heels and a Ralph Lauren dress (even if it was a few seasons old).
Nikos was a golfer, so we laughed over the struggles we had with the sport. He is playing in a tournament at Costa Navarino next week, and his wife will be joining him. It will be my first week on the job, and I’ll already have friends visiting!
Peter entertained us by drumming on the tabletop with his silverware and ringing a glass or two. Renee’s eyes grew wide as she waited for him to shatter a wine glass. He threw on his charming smile and assured her that he had never broken a glass in his life.
The night ended with a round of “If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be?” Katia and I both named authors, Nikos a politician, Renee said Katherine Hepburn, then changed her mind to Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor). I can’t recall if Peter decided on one of a number of composers or musical artists. It was a remarkable evening. I cannot help but be impressed by the company here.
As this blog entry is getting rather long, I will leave off and go spend a little more time in the Agora. Cheers!