My wife Susie departs Athens early tomorrow morning. To celebrate her visit, she has contributed some of her reflections to the blog today...
The most striking recollection I have each time I visit Greece is the particular smell as soon as the airport doors part. It is not so much a putrid stench, but a pungent pollution-filled reminder of being in an enormous city. The smell of exhaust fumes, sea air, cigarettes and grilled meats gives Athens a particularly identifiable aroma that is a world away from Grand Forks' cleanliness.
On our journeys around Athens in the past 10 days or so, a recurrent theme has come to mind. I have seen Athens in a new light since my first trip here 10 years ago. Today, I can see past the Past to the realities of the city trying to live with it's history.
Athens is spectacular. On one of our walks around the area of the Plaka, Acropolis, Agora and Kerimaikos I was struck by the decay...decay of buildings, and of footpaths (one really needs to pay attention when walking the narrow streets with broken concrete and pieces of random rebar jutting out of the side of falling buildings), the homeless and the helpless. Archaeological sites are everywhere. The reclamation of inner city buildings has allowed for the gradual exposure of the ancient agora in the heart of the city giving the impression of deeper levels of decay. Juxtaposed against this view is the constant rebuilding. The beauty of a shiny new museum building seems at odds with the surrounding buildings that have been victims of fire or neglect. The sound of construction is everywhere - exposing the old and building the new...new Metro stops, new restaurants, new hotels.
Broken isn't all bad. After a day's hike around the city, our well earned afternoon nap was interrupted by the chanting of the Orthodox monk in the nearby Moni Petraki calling people to celebrate the feast of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. The silence in our room was broken by an emotive and soothing song that, had I not been so enchanted would certainly have lulled me back into my slumber.
Silence is rare here. The sounds of car horns, papakis revving their little engines, sirens, Greeks yelling at each other to be heard above the noise of everything else. But Athens is very comfortable with its chaos. It is hard to imagine it any other way - for better or for worse.
I love this city, and the way it contrasts with the villages. I like the fact that one of the highest points of the city is not an office building but an ancient temple and that there are a thousand restaurants that each serve pretty much the same menu, and it's always good. I like that the smallest crevice in a building is claimed for a specialty food store and that every second shop sells expensive and inappropriate shoes for these streets. Athens is wonderful and I can't wait to return.