The Home of Athena
|After a month that was peripatetic, even by my standards, I am now ensconced, for a little while at least, in sunny, ferociously hot Athens. This is just not a kind of heat most Canadians ever experience. Florida and Arizona get pretty steamy, but not generally when the Snowbirds are there; the Carib hovers around a cozy 25-28 during the winter season. This is what a fanatical workout-a-holic trains for: 40 in the shade. I love it. I love watching doughy foreigners in Tilley hats melt. It gives me...satisfaction.
I am here ostensibly to write a play, plan my first ever CATT session and write the scenario for my next BoxWhatBox show in Romania. That sounds like a lot, but tackled a bite at a time, in the cool of the evening, it works out. In the daytime I wedge in three hours at the gym, around four iced cappucinos at various cafes, and a lot of newspaper reading. I'm on my fifth book of the summer, my second Cormac McCarthy. So it isn't all artistic drudgery (if such a description would ever actually fit, which it doesn't).
In my spare time I'm visiting my friend K, who makes a wonderful host, as a resident Athenian. I'm staying in the flat of her cousin at K's arranging. It's a strange experience, staying in another person's flat when all their kit is there. In this case K's cousin barely moved in before taking off to Paris, so the place is relatively bare. but the evidence of her life has encouraged me to build a shrine in her honour in the middle of the floor.
First, she has books. Lots of them, and almost all on the theatre. Then there are the photographs of her. She's not only a great-looking woman but she has a HUGE smile. I love people who can split their jaws open smiling. It's one of those smiles of a person who believes in things and cares about other people. Then there is the evidence of cat-worship, so essential in the modern woman: a photo of what I assume to be a now-deceased pet feline, lying on its back with its ample belly exposed to the world and one of those comical, I'm-cute-but-kind-of-embarrassed looks cats have when they've become too domesticated to care about being cool. On top of this, she has a sense of humour: funny signs in Greek placed over the bed and the fusebox. It's one of those ten out of ten scenarios.
I probably won't see her before she comes back so I thought the shrine would be a nice idea. It seems appropriate, as her name is...Athena.
The things I love about Athens:
1. Lycabettus hill. In the middle of a posh district, you climb up steep streets until you reach the base of this steep hill and you wind around on cultivated dirt paths until you reach one of the peaks. It has a tiny little church at the top with a small area out front where fat German tourists can wipe the sweat off their beet-red faces and croak in between gasps "Ist gut, ja?" A Greek guy who doubles as the only vendor up there as well as the church caretaker is so overwhelmed with work it took a couple of tourists several seconds to wake him. His recovery was impressive, though. he launched right into his sales pitch. Lycabettus is one of those places locals never go, and which attracts only a small flock of tourists. It's far above the horn-tooting frenzy that is the Greek race in traffic, so it's an oasis of calm. A little breeze blows through the cacti and the scrub brush if you're lucky. I always light a candle in the church for my Mom. She'd have liked this church. It can hold maybe thirty people if they all crush up against the altar. It's got cool silver and brass cut-outs of saints with their painted faces behind the cut-out, as if they showed up for one of those big boards at the beach where you are and your friends pose as Superman. The faces always peer in incongruous directions. But St. George always hits that dragon right in the mouth.
2. The Acropolis. Duh. It's absolutely insane to go there in the tourist season, but to me it's the number one tourist site in the world, especially if you include the original amphitheatre at its base. And now there is a brand new state-of-the-art Acropolis museum, which is succeeding at both showcasing the brilliance of the ancient Greek artisans who built the Parthenon but also embarrassing the British Museum, which insists on clinging to the so-called "Elgin Marbles" two hundred years after they were "purchased" by Lord Elgin FROM THE TURKS...I've discovered this about lies and the lying liars who tell them (to paraphrase new Democratic senator and great comedian Al Franken): if someone is in the wrong, they hir a lawyer or a publicist to confuse the issue. then they say it's hopelessly complex, and that of course they understand the justifiable concern of the other side but for reasons of national security/global artistic heritage/we're just better than they are the situation, alas, is intractable. Apply this to a) the Israeli government b) the case aginst Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes c) global warming vs. the economy d) the Greek case for untiing the Parthenon Marbles. None of the obfuscators have a leg to stand on. But, of course, it's more complex than that, Michael. Sometimes it isn't.
3. The Benaki Museum. The best collection of Greek antiquary in the world. Vases, frescoes, recreations of ethnic costumes through the age, a salutary (and very objective) recounting of Lord Byron's involvement in the Independence revolution of 1821...it's a great, great museum.
4. Greeks. I love 'em. They yell, they honk their horns, they smile grimly as nasally constricted American girls try to bargain with them, the woman are totally hot, the men are generally huge, swarthy and hairy or small, swarthy and hairy, and they all seem to have this zest for living, even the little old crones dressed in black who elbow you aside, muttering, as they pass you on the street or step in front of one of the thousands of careening motorbikes, threatening it with their raised fingers.
5. The cafes. They're everywhere, they're all different in some way, and they all serve great coffee. It's expensive, especially for the iced varieties, but they take into account that you'll be sitting there all day. So you do.
6. Food. Vegetarians are never desolate in the Mediterranean in general and in Greece in particular.
7. The sun shines. 90% of the time. Real sun. Not your pale yellow Protestant I'm-not-sure-if-I-should be-warm-or-not Scandinavian sun, or your I'm so modest-I'll-just-run-behind-a-cloud Canadian excuse for a sun, but a real, honest to God, hot-until-you-stink sun.
8. It's really hot. Did I mention that? People--I'm being gender neutral here--wear fewer clothes when it's hot.
9. There is a plethora of cultural attractions of the musical, theatrical and dance variety, all the time. Greeks like to go out; so they need something to see. Outdoor movies are still popular here. Watching a film in a cafe style outdoor theatre is a world away from the old drive-in movies (though they were fun, too). You drink a coffee or a juice, watch the wreathes of smoke curl by your face from various directions, look up at the big screen and then further up at the beautiful night sky. Memorable.
10. The squares. They're every few blocks it seems, crowded, asymmetrical, usually a few slightly bruised looking trees in the centre with whizzing taxis and motorbikes going by, and on every side of the square there are cafes and people talking, smoking, laughing, playing backgammon, reading. It's why I would kill myself if I had to live in a cold climate all the time; the excitement of pouring out into the streets for your two months of summer has too much the whiff of desperation for me. If I don't get to cafe, today here in Athens, eeh--I'll go tomorrow.
Time for a little playwriting. Or a fifth cappucino.