May 11, 2006

Yasou! Eenoume Sti Athene!

Hi, we're in Athens! Arrived here at ten in the morning after an all-night flight via NYC, so it was about three in the morning when we landed and now it's nighttime and we've been awake all thrugh it -- we've had a full day. Our Class C hotel has free Internet and an unusually full breakfast, which we'll need tomorrow after having walked up to the Acropolis and down again and all around Plaka, the last remaining old-fashioned, charming neighborhood in Athens: colorfully painted little cottages on steep hills right next door to the monuments of Western civilization. The lower, flatter part of Plaka is thoroughly touristified, but even that part has some raffishly crass appeal, and if you climb into the heights you find real people in residence, often countercultural types, and local tavernas and kafenions tucked away in traditional quiet, not full of tourists and not fronted by tourist-grabbing managers.

I can get a lump in my throat just thinking about the people who built the Parthenon and the Theater of Dionysus. Being there, however, strangely, didn't add much to my pre-existing emotions. Maybe it's because the high plains of the Acropolis have been grazed to the nub, intellecually speaking, by tourists from the US, Britain,Germany, Brazil, etc etc, and their licensed, tag-wearing guides. More likely it's because every beautiful building in Athens seems to be layered in restorers' metal scaffolding, with a crane added to ornament the Parthenon. It would be ungrateful, though, to say I'm not glad to be here. I took s photo of S standing next to a line of classical caryatid beauties, and she took a photo of me doing Embracing Horse -- the most important tai chi posture -- right in front of the columns.

For dinner we sought out a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that had been recommended to us by an Asian-European kid, and we got good grilled fish and a whole grilled squid and a metal carafe of warm white wine. Now -- S. is sleeping off the jet lag -- I'm off to the rooftop bar of the hotel, with its unobstructed view of the Acropolis, for an ouzo or two. I don't get jet lag much. Probably because I have sleeping disorders by the handful, which keep me up at night at home anyway.

Be that as it may, we're going to spend one more day in Athens -- which more than completes what there is to see in this drab city with its one magnificent central attraction -- and then we'll take a nine-hour ferry to what struck me, when I visited it a dozen years ago, as incontestably, a priori, the most beautiful place on earth: the island of Santorini. We'll be there for five days and nights. I'll tell you about it. (Pictures later, when I get back home.)