Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stillness, Strength and Honor

Athens. The sweet dogs. Over abundance of pigeons. Taxis. Cars. People zooming through the business district. The stoic guards at Parliament. Signs that speak of the recent protests. The Running Man statue, all made of massive plates of glass.

Then there's the amazing food. I fell madly in love with a pastry called a bougatsa while strolling through along the street near the Plaka. So enraptured by the flakey, phyllo crust and custard filling, I hadn't even noticed the waterfall of powdered sugar cascading down my shirt. Total tourist moment.

Italian food at a beautiful restaurant completely hidden in a dark Athens neighborhood, covered with pines and drenched with grape vines. Owned by an Italian man who lived in LA and then came to Athens. A very slow cooked meal. Battered and fried olives. Tapenade & freshly baked bread. Spinach ravioli. My beautiful family + laughs + food= a little bit of heaven.

I can't forget the interesting people. I remember the guy who picked up six or seven flats of eggs every morning from the small grocery store across the street. He'd pack them on the back of his moped and speed off through the insanity of downtown. Now that's talent. Or there laundry day (desperately needed after about 14 days of the same clothes.) We trek through the mysterious city in search of the laundromat. Tucked away next to a bar run by a Scotsman and filled with Europeans. It's happy hour, of course, so Dan, Steve, and a great American girl we'd just met (who'd just finished college--last semester in England and now off traveling for three months!) enjoy pizza and drinks while waiting for our spin cycle. The barkeep/laundry master keeps our machines running and our spirits high. It's one of those moments when everything just seems right in the world. The inspiration of those you love and clean clothes...

Ah, the history--where to begin? The Temple of Zeus. Unfinished until the Roman Emperor Hadrian completed it in 131 AD, seven hundred years after its beginning. Only 15 out of the 104 columns still stand today. Gold and ivory statues of Zeus and Hadrian have long disappeared, along with most of the temple believed destroyed in a medieval earthquake. Across from the temple is Hadrian's Arch--another iconic symbol of Athens. A breathtaking mixture of old and new. I feel a stillness here. A remnant of strength and honor swirling around in the air.

The old Olympic stadium. A naturally hollow bit of ground transformed into a stadium around 330 BC for the athletic Panathinaea Festivities. Found in the 1870 excavation, the stadium is 204,07 meters long and 33,35 meters wide and believed to hold up to 50,000 spectators. Used for arena competition in Roman times, and then restored for the 1st modern Olympics of 1896. Dan and Grayson race around (13 year old boy advantage) and emerge victorious.

The 3 layered Acropolis Museum--built right on top of ruins, and structured with transparent glass floors all the way up. So many artifacts. So much beauty and artistic design--luckily, recovered and there for us to witness. Everything built on ruins-- life underneath us--thousands of years of families, technology, love and loss--joy and pain--all in crumbled pieces beneath our feet. It strikes me so profoundly today, standing over these three transparent layers--An ascending, glass-floored gallery holds artifacts from the slopes of the Acropolis. The floor gives visitors a view of the excavation, its upward slope paralleling the ascent to the Acropolis. Thousands upon thousands of artifacts--stories and tragedies from a lost civilization. It's overwhelming and I'm not sure what questions to ask. Where to focus. I am taken in by the tales told in sculpture--the Greek gods fighting amazons--giants--titans. The attention to detail and perseverance in getting the story told and preserved for us to see so many years later.

It's that crazy mix of old and new that I love so much. The city presses on through difficult times, and 'm overcome. Treasures uncovered. Mysteries to be solved. Amazing food to be eaten.

(Thank you Jeremy, for the photos of: the guards, pigeons & protest sign. Your photos ROCK!)

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