Gods and Philosophers
Matt says the 1st Athens hip hop festival is number 1. Or it will be when it happens.
For more A-number 1 photo enforcing in Greece, click here.
“If we’re lucky,” I say, “the lines at the Agora will be small in comparison to the Acropolis and save us some time.” It’s the first full sentence I’ve said in a half hour. It’s innocuous, without implication. It’s politically savvy, since everything I say seems to piss off Matt right now.
“Yes,” he responds. Internally, I’m sighing with relief.
When we got off the ferry this morning, the sun wasn’t up and my sleep deprivation had reached a low I didn’t think possible. Matt was chipper, upbeat and excited. I was pissed, tired, and wanted nothing more than a good night’s sleep. But this is our chance to see Athens. I tried to apologize for my behavior, but apologies apparently weren’t good enough.
Breakfast and coffee helped. Seeing the beautiful frescos from Akrotiri in the archaeological museum helped more. Finding out the museum is free today and tomorrow helped even more. For some reason, though, our roles ended up reversed.
Leaving the museum, it was Matt who was curt and angry and me who was upbeat and happy. We bought stamps at the Post Office. We wandered through the Plaka beneath the Acropolis. We saw the edge of the National Gardens and made our way to Hadrian’s arch. And anything I said seemed to anger Matt and incite an argument. I can’t blame him. I was the same way this morning. I think it’s the schedule. We’ve been traveling too far too fast and are both reaching the edge of sanity.
We reach the Temple of Zeus. Entry here is free too. Entry everywhere is free this weekend.
“The gods must be smiling on us,” I say, giving up any hope of salvaging my forced silence. And then, as we walk past a handful of unrecognizable ruins, my breath is taken away.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was huge at one point. It’s still rather massive. The dozen or so columns miraculously still standing are collected in a single corner of its footprint. All but one fallen column are gone, lost in time. Each column must be forty feet (13 meters) high, and though no roof sits atop them, I can’t help but be stunned at the sheer size of the columns.
“How did they stay up?” Matt seems incredulous. He’s got that what-the-fuck engineering face going. “And why only those?”
It’s a good question. If I were on the top of my game, I might suggest that the opposite corner got knocked down first, tilting the roof (assuming it’s solid) and relieving pressure from the remaining corner. As it is, I’m not really concerned with the question and hardly know the answer. After all, I’m not an engineer.
“I don’t know.” It’s all I can say. The toppled column is in pieces, each one about 2 feet in height and weighing an ungodly (or perhaps godly in this case) amount. The others seem solid top to bottom.
Through the ruins, I can see the acropolis shining in the distance. Really, that’s what we came here for, like all the other tourists making pilgrimage to its rocky surface. The place is packed by the time we weave our way through the narrow hillside roads and finagle our way passed the Temple of Athena Nike (it’s pronounced “nee-kay,” not “nigh-kee,” according to a classics professor I had). The Temple is completely obscured by scaffolding. The signs say it’s been taken completely down, the foundation has been rebuilt, and they’ve put it back together slowly. It’s obviously not done yet.
We push our way through the crowd, finally coming out beneath the mass that is the Parthenon. It’s a behemoth, a monster. Words don’t do the Parthenon justice. The Parthenon is so big, it only plays arenas. Your mom is so fat, she’s only half the size of the Parthenon. I have difficulty getting the Parthenon fully in a picture without being so far away as to feel like I’m no longer there. The Parthenon is… big. It’s beyond big. It’s huge, humungous, ginormous, daunting in size and scale. It’s very very big. It is, of course, also under construction. I start wondering why so many things built 2000+ years ago seem to be under construction right now. Perhaps they’re not designed to be finished.
The rear of the Parthenon has its own railroad for parts. The tracks lead straight off a cliff. Nearby a water fountain, there are piles of spare parts waiting to go up. Maybe they’ll even finish the Parthenon again someday. If they do, is that being true to the site? Are they supposed to be able to repair a ruin? Wouldn’t that make it a ruin no longer?
I use the water fountain. Despite being on top of a very large hill, the pressure sprays me in the face. Some other tourists laugh. I laugh too. I’m more careful when I try and again, getting a good drink.
I catch up with Matt by the big Greek flag. The parapet is full of people taking pictures of the city and the Parthenon far in the background. Two employees with whistles yell at people horsing around. There are a lot of beautiful women here. I fail at taking our picture with a timed shot. Somehow, the Parthenon ends up directly behind my head every time. It’s like it’s camera shy. Silly Parthenon.
There’s a group of nuns from some orthodox order wandering around. They’re slack-jawed with amazement at the sites. It’s cute, in a very refined and celibate kind of way. I pass them as I head to the Erechthion. Like everything else, it too is under construction. I’m beginning to see a pattern.
Matt decides to walk around the Parthenon again. I try to get a better look at the Temple of Athena Nike. The way my professor had talked about it, the temple is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m fully convinced. I can’t even remember if it was my archaeology professor who specialized in Mayan culture, my post-modernism professor who loved art history, or my latin professor from Freshman year… of high school. Regardless, his description alone leaves me sad I can’t get close to the temple due to construction. I sit there and watch the crowd, ogling the beautiful women I’ll never have a chance with until Matt comes back.
Down below we find the theatres. The Roman theatre is still in use today for shows. They have a lighting crew setting up currently, but today’s our only day in Athens, so we won’t be coming back. The Theatre of Dionysus is huge and decrepit with age. It could hold three times the number of people. They’re reconstructing to too, says the sign. Other tourists keep trying to climb past the ropes. They’re idiots. I can’t believe they would think their photo op would be more important than a piece of history.
We grab lunch at a small café. It’s overpriced, but the conversation is worth it. A businessman sits next to us and explains the financial crisis as best he can. I learn a lot. I’m still not sure what exactly is happening.
We head to the Roman Agora. Though the signs don’t say it, our guidebook says it’s also known as the Roman forum. It was a marketplace, a meeting place, and a place to discuss matters of import. The Tower of the Winds sits to one side, it’s carvings of angels lulling me to happy stupor.
We walk up the road to the top of a hill. Many people are climbing it, but it’s not until we check the book that we find out it’s one of the boundaries to the Agora and the edge of the main thoroughfare to the Acropolis.
We climb down into the Agora proper. The place is mostly ruins except for the temple of Hephaestus, also known as the Thession due to the frescos of Thessius. It’s remarkably preserved. It’s beautiful, yet bland. The rest of the Agora is primarily rocks. If it weren’t for the signs, I wouldn’t know what’s what.
The statues of the Titans tower over us. They’re beautiful. Supposedly they demarcate a temple with a gym, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell that. One long market building has been restored and turned into a museum. As I walk through, a cute girl and I keep making eye contact. She blushes as I exit and see her talking to her mom. So much for that.
The Agora done, we head to Hadrian’s Library. As I wander through, I see a dog with a cat hanging from his mouth. My camera runs out of batteries on the fourth shot. I’ve never seen a cat and a dog really fight before. Usually one or the other gets away.
Either way my camera is done. It’s all good though. We’ve seen enough for one day. Too bad one day isn’t enough for Athens.