In Athens it was all go... if only to do dusty washing in the extreme heat at the American Classical School there. The school’s library and living quarters are a monument to America’s love affair with all things Greek in the early twentieth century. It draws heavily on the Parthenon for architectural inspiration and is lavished with marble columns, edging, and sculpted gryphons.
On the hot Saturday night before departure on Monday, we had dinner at the home of German scholars in an inner city suburb (they only spoke German and Greek so I was uncharacteristically quiet). We walked there in noisy evening heat, a buzzing cafe or taverna, it seemed, on every street corner, male youths making statements on motorbikes, girlfriends' on pillion. How else can family members in apartments escape each other? Athenian women affect a fashion style best described as 'whore-chic'. Tight Versace style clothes, monstrous heels, and makeup blonde hair rules for gals. It is curious that this has evolved from orthodox village modesty in less than 2 generations.
Our German hosts had a view of the Acropolis from their 5th floor apartment, but with a cellphone tower bisecting it. That sums up Athens really. Athens was 60,000 people prior to the ghastly Forced Asia-minor diaspora after 1923.
The American Classical School in Athens is only a few kilometres from the Parthenon, a mere15-20 minutes in the underground, but earlier in the century scholars required body-guards to negotiate the open countryside and its brigands between them and ruins. Now it is 4 million souls, with even more cars and two stroke motorbikes screaming up and down its hills.
The following evening we dined at the home of a doyen of local classics in his apartment, on the outskirts of Athens this time. We sped in our taxi (expensively) through kilometres of cement slab hideousness the like of which I have only seen before in Asia. The
Taxi driver drove fast... his charms swinging wildly from the rear view mirror... regaling us with details, in German, of his love affair with a Viennese archaeologist in Ephesus and how he loved archaeology... He hailed from Olympia/Kalamata and returned there for the olive crop each year but could not find a job there. As he was telling us this, he also got lost and kept screeching to a stop to ask directions of locals in the outlying middle class suburban maze of squares and apartments (there is no accessible road map, and there is no local phone directory... anarchy really).
Eventually we found a crowd of coffee shop habitués. Up marble stairs into Greek bourgeois living ...all gilt and ormolu !! And of course Kostas' wife Anastasia was blonde and dangling lots of jewellery... elegant in wickedly high heels. I felt frumpy and moist in the heat.
The ground floor of the apartment was for grandmother, second and third floors had been built for Kostas and his wife... and a fourth was under construction for their only child.
There is a birth crisis in Athens. One does not wonder why after Kostas described the imminent systems collapse in Athens... one part corruption (the government is suing the state owned electricity company for breaching ALL quality standards) and a large dollop of Greek laissez faire. The bushfires (viewed widely as deliberate) have simply initiated a land rush. There is no forestry regulation... so if forests are burnt off it is a green light for development. There is also no resource management. WWF is taking official action on behalf of the beleaguered Greek wild animals!!!!
On Monday we farewelled the chaotic city of Athens... with Graham on edge because the internet had collapsed in the Athens area and he could not contact the Institute for Advanced studies to alert them of our arrival at 10.00pm. On the way to the airport we saw several near misses with weaving motorbikes (the taxi driver said cheerfully that 'many of them get killed') and a car at the side of the road on fire (the taxi driver commented that Athenians 'never service their vehicles').
It was fun in Greece as you can see.
© Ruth Zanker 2008