Athens, Hot and Sticky
Every few years or so I like to revisit Athens, not because it is a particularly beautiful city [it’s not] or that it holds many happy memories [it doesn’t] but because it is reminds me that I am a Greek. Not that I have ever lived in Greece nor do I possess more than a smattering of the language. Indeed, ‘though my father was born in Cyprus, my mother was English and I was raised in the outer reaches of Greater London but these things are of little consequence. I am Greek. I know this because my cousins [who live on Aphrodite’s island], tell me that I am and should be ashamed that I don’t know the language of Homer and my own father. Also, I am genetically programmed to eat lamb.
I also love taramas, tadziki, humus and all manner of Greek food. I love the hustle and bustle of Greek city life and smell of thyme on the summer breeze in the Cyclades. I love walking through the black pine forests above my father’s village of Pedhoulas and drinking Zivaneer, the rough spirit laughingly called “Cyprus whiskey” by those blind and toothless blaggards who distil it from rough village wine. So, I was delighted to find out that Athens would be our next port of call.
Piraeus is much improved since my first visit as an adult. I was island hopping in the summer of 1976. The port was then chaotic and full of ancient, dirty ferries plied between the islands. The boats were full of long-haired students with backpacks and old ladies in black, pulling goats on pieces of string. Each port of call was a comedy of errors as heavy-set men shouted at each other and threw down ropes to the dock, which were missed and fell back into the water.
Today, these have all gone. Piraeus is a clean, tidy and efficient port. The ferry boats are large and sleek, the Greek women elegant and fashionably dressed and the goats must have taken a different route… Sandra, Rudolph and I, left the container port with no difficulty and made our way to the efficient metro, which dropped us at the edge of Plaka near the entrance to the Acropolis. The weather was hot and sticky and the site crowded with tourists. Thousands of people crowded onto the summit and toiled their way past the temple of Athena Nike to the Parthenon.
Even with the distraction of large tour groups led by ladies with white-painted wooden paddles declaiming the history of the site to bemused American matrons and bored teens, it was a site that deeply touched me. Here before me was the very symbol of Greece, a living reminder of the classical past, bearing the marks of time though depredations caused by wars, earthquakes and personal acquisitiveness.
For the first time in a quarter of a century, I saw the Parthenon without a basket of scaffolding surrounding it. The damage caused by previous attempts to stabilise the structure having been made good and a new museum opened below the site to display the more fragile sculptures and artefacts. The repairs were finally completed in April and though I found nothing to complain about, many historians and archaeologists around the world have felt that the repairs to the stonework were inappropriate and intrusive.
I know what they mean. The new stonework though quarried from the same stone as that used to build the temple is very white, but it will mellow down, as have previous repairs. In addition, the Greek authorities agreed not to restore the building to a state prior to that of the 1680’s, when it was hugely damaged by a mortar shell, setting off gunpowder stored inside the building.
A visit to the Acropolis remains for me an opportunity to plug into my alternative culture and top-up my Levantine batteries. Oh yes, it also gives me a chance to eat dolmadas and kofta…