The Oracle

This is not what we pictured when we pictured Greece. Even though it’s early October, we still imagined heat as a force, the sun beating down on us as we search for shade. We’ve already written about the missing architecture—the white stucco, the blue, the white—that instead has been churches made entirely of red brick.


And now we’re staying overnight in a town at 3000 feet called Arakhova—a toney town for the skiers of Greece. Yes, this is a ski town, with shops selling wool caps and thick down parkas. Somehow we missed that page of the brochure on Greece.


It’s 7:40am and my bed is facing out the window at the lightening show. One of these days we might have clear blue skies, but for now we are in the center of a thick cloud. The clocktower just a hundred yards away is barely visible, and the sound on the road down below is of tires slicing through puddles.


We’re here because of our trip to Delphi yesterday afternoon, our last excursion in our rental car before we hunker down in Athens for five days. Yesterday began with Liam and I playing catch in the field next to Zorbas, our hotel for the night in the middle of nowhere after we experienced the Olympic Stadium. The morning was sunny and balmy, Kauai-like, and in the car I put on my shades and lowered the visor. But our drive took us in the direction of a black sky, and within an hour I had to pull the car over to the side of the road to wait out the torrential storm. Thick pellets of rain pounded the rooftop of our car, and again we wondered, Where is Greece?


Our drive took us to the north of the Peloponnese Peninsula and then across to the mainland via a spectacular bridge built in 2004, the year of the Olympics, the year when Greece spent wildly and began its descent into their financial woes. We were the only car on this bridge—literally—and we learned why when it came time to pay the toll on the other end: 13.40 euro—or about $17.


The clouds and mist diminished the splendor of the drive, with dramatic mountains and the Aegean Sea mere suggestions. We are a family with cataracts, I thought, turning all this majestic scenery into a milky whiteness.


By 3pm we’d arrived at our destination, the Oracle at Delphi. 2600 years ago this was the holiest of sites, an obscure location on the side of Mount Parnassus that Zeus, through a process that involved two birds colliding in air, named the center of the universe. From here sprang up temples to Athena and Apollo, and here on a rock sat an oracle to tell your future. The ruins are spectacular, a place not to be missed for anyone visiting Greece. It’s not easy to get to, high up on switchback roads, and we marveled at the journey the pilgrims took to get here, hundreds of miles from Athens. And we marveled at all that the Greeks built here on the side of a mountain: a theater, a stadium, temples.


We walked up high up onto the mountain to the ruins. A stray dog that we named Apollo joined us. We marveled at the remains of the temples and at the writing chiseled in tiny letters on the rocks. Eventually we arrived at the very rock where the oracle sat, and so I closed my eyes and asked the first question that popped into my mind: Will Liam be okay? And the answer: Yes, but not in the way I might imagine or want.


There you have it. In Greek history the oracle gives advice that can be interpreted in various ways, and so the ambiguity continues into the year 2013: “Yes, but not in the way I might imagine or want.”


I watched the other tour groups of students amid the ruins. For the Germans, they carried expensive cameras around their necks; one boy raced up the mountain carrying his friend on his back. For the Japanese, the chaperone was off in a corner with a young girl, chiding her for something, her head bowed low. We also met the guide for an international school in Athens, who invited Liam to class on Monday.


All in all, a fabulous experience—spiritual and gentle and expansive, an experience that connected me to our distant ancestors from three millennium ago.


From there we drove onward through these imposing mountains to the first place that lured us, and that place is Arakhova. We chose the second pension we saw, a “boutique hotel” with a balcony that overlooks the expanse of mountains. We walked the narrow streets for an hour, passing empty restaurants with the owners in front looking up and down the street for a sudden rush of hungry tourists. But no, not in October, not when the clouds are heavy with rain and when the shops are selling wool caps.


Now it’s 8:36am and the clouds have thinned and even the slightest band of blue can be seen—or my eyes are tricking me into seeing a band of blue. It’s time to arise, time to eat and pack up and drive two hours southeast to Athens.


Let the great world spin.






1 Comment

  1. Susan Day

    Oh I am starting to experience envy these last few entries —- mountains, wild weather, sacred places, water, not many people. It rained here yesterday — and snowed high in the mountains. The Sonora Pass is closed. Rain where you are, rain where you come from.

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