Sunday Athens

  • Author: Jim Toner
  • Date: Oct 13, 2013
  • Location: Athens

It’s Sunday morning here in Athens, and all is quiet. I’m sitting at a café on a pedestrian-only street with no pedestrians around. Pigeons, dogs—yes, but for now it’s just me and the waiter who had to say “sugar” three times before I understood him.

 

Liam and Dolora are still sleeping. They are such fabulous travelers, those two, and such good friends on a trip that requires kindness and humor and flexibility. Take yesterday, for example. Our one destination was the Museum of Archeology, one of the world’s great museums. We took the subway because Liam loves subways, and because public transportation puts us shoulder to shoulder with Greeks—a species in short supply in the Plaka district where we’re staying. Outside the subway a street artist was selling glass pendants of Greek letters, and Liam, who’s been searching for a lambda (his letter “L”), found one that he liked. We chatted with the artist—his mother is from Crete, he loves and hates tourists—while Liam studied the many colors of threads for his necklace. I loved him yet again at that moment, his fingers running through colors in search of something that only he could feel and hear, and decided on an unusual green. He loves his pendant. He won’t take it off.

 

We loved the subway ride. We loved being immersed in Greeks, the subway car packed with Greeks only on this Saturday afternoon. And we loved the walk from the station to the museum through streets that showed a more authentic life than the artificial one created for tourists in Plaka. Here were Greeks at cafes drinking their afternoon frappes; here were Greeks shopping for flowers from the street vendor; here were Greeks picking up trash. The scene was gritty but alive and throbbing, reminiscent of our week in New York City at Amsterdam and 105th.

 

The museum was remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Liam, a ten-year-old boy, stayed attentive and engaged as we slowly moved from one hall to the next for almost three hours. Our timing was perfect. Here were the statues and frescoes and gold death masks from the very places we’d just visited in the Peloponnese last week. In Mycenae we stood in the middle of these circular graves that created fascinating sound effects; and now here in this museum were the artifacts from those graves, discovered in the late 1800’s. Of special interest was the gold death mask of Agamemnon—or so it’s reputed to be—that had our noses pressed to the window.

 

By now Liam has a mastery of the Greek gods and goddesses. Without reading the cards next to the works of art he’d say, “Oh, that must be Poseidon, he’s got that trident”; or, “Must be Demeter and Artemis, they’re always together.” I have to turn to him and ask, “Now, who was Hephaestus again?” and he sets me straight. This is his education; this is his school. When Greeks ask us, “What about your son? You’re traveling for a year, what is his school?”, we spread wide our arms and say, “This is his school.”

 

It helps to have Dolora as his mother. She has a special interest in mythology that her graduate school in psychology emphasized for its insights into psyche and soul. She knows these gods and goddesses, and she’s imparted not just the information to Liam but its significance and wonder as well. We are the gods. The gods are manifestations of qualities within us. I, for example, identify with Apollo, the god of theater and logic, of the arts and reason—plus, in these statues he has a butt to admire. Dolora and Liam talk easily about these gods and their stories, while I stay on the sidelines still not sure who is who.

 

One great aspect of this museum is that you can see the development of art over a thousand years, especially in the depiction of the human form. We tried to lead Liam in observing this change, in noting the details emerging in muscles and toes and expressions. Dolora pointed out that one Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, advanced the idea that “everything flows,” and so we observed the gradual flow of the body from century to century, moving from a stiff form with hands and arms locked to the side, to one leg stepping forward, to all weight on one leg and the body turning to that side. We marveled at a brass statue of Zeus, and I marveled at Liam, this little boy from Columbia, California, studying this statue from all angles. “He’s on his toes on the right side. We haven’t seen that yet. And he’s twisting like he’s throwing something, probably a thunderbolt.”

 

Before we left the museum Liam went to the bathroom. He went in briefly before returning to us to say, “There’s no seat on the toilet. What do I do?” We assured him it was okay and that he’d have to figure it out. He left, and when he came out he was beaming. “I have a new invention!” he said. “I put toilet paper around the rim and sat on that!” Maybe, I thought, he’ll be all right when we move on the squat toilets in Turkey and the mere holes in the ground in Sri Lanka.

 

We left the museum and decided to walk home rather than take the subway. The sun had nearly set but the air was warm. I plugged in Avocado, the vegetarian restaurant, into my iPhone and then we wandered in that direction. Our wandering took us past a cathedral that we entered and where we lit candles; past a protest in a large square in front of the parliament; past ancient columns behind a gate; and of most interest, past a pedestrian area that attracted Greek teenagers, a kind of outdoor mall. Nowhere have we seen signs of the economic disaster that is Greece, the 27% unemployment that I expected to see reflected in shuttered businesses and desperate citizens huddled around fires.

 

We never made it to Avocado. Instead we ate at a Noodle House that had us giddy for a change of pace from olives and feta. Back in the apartment Liam and I wrestled on the bed and then lay on our backs and tossed a hacky-sack that first had to hit the ceiling. Then we played cards—a speed version of “war” and then gin rummy—while Dolora sat on the sofa downloading photos from the day. We got him to bed by 9:30, probably the earliest it’s been on the entire trip and reason why Social Services will intercept us in Istanbul and take Liam away. I scratched his back and patted his head, and just when I thought he was fully asleep he sprung up on his elbows to say, “Do you think we’ll fly an Airbus 380 from Singapore?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Lainie

    Jim,
    My technological consultant Dan Toner, says we can do video chat on Facebook OR Skype, but not face time. BEAUTIFUL fall day today, low 70s, where I rode my bike in the MetroParks, got a flat, and changed/fixed it myself. Hurray! Let us know the time/date when you want to do this. Lainie

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