Athens and Sculpture

Our first full day in Athens, and I am trying to open the box of Greece for my daughter Misty.  Showing someone else a place with which you are familiar makes for two different experiences. We know our little Plaka neighbourhood very well now, having been many times up and down the little cobbled street to Monesteraki (little monastery – ‘aki’ is the Greek diminutive, like ‘-ette’ for French).




Tom at the 'Internet Taverna'



We have been already to a taverna (and looked in the kitchen to see what we wanted, as you do in the old Greek restaurants) and to that modern but ever so welcome addition, the internet café. This morning we needed a bank and breakfast and travel arrangements, and all these we found without trouble.

We kept on going, though, and went to a place I had never been, the Temple of Hephestus, the crippled blacksmith who blesses all craft and creativity, which makes him one of my favorites.  But then, I like most of them – Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon, Athena as well as Hephestus, and even though I don’t like Saturn very much, but I often seem to be described as saturnine, so I partake of his turned-down mouth as well.

Very well-preserved, overloooking the huge Agora, the temple is like a small Acropolis, with marbles on the pediments, and a remaining inner temple. On the way out we passed through a park with a lot of men sleeping rough – glad I wasn’t there after dark, and the number of homeless on the street is definitely higher despite the reassurances of the taxi driver we met later.

Misty in the dodgy park - the Greeks looked askance at her scarf

Look up in to see the marbles






















The one thing I was sure of was the location of the National Museum, which was today’s must-see.  Halfway between Syntagma (the home of the recent riotous anti-government cutback demonstrations) and Omonia squares we came to the huge columned buildings.  In the courtyard were many tents covered in plastic and Arabic writing, and a group of Afghani refugees protesting the war and their right of asylum, which I guess must be under threat in Greece.  We had a great encounter, combining French, English, and Greek; we signed their petition, and commiserated over the sad state of politics in all countries.  The pictures of the blown up people and girls with their noses cut off for crimes of honour were heart-rending, as was the little Afghani boy on his tricycle, banished from his homeland and wheeling among the tents, not welcome in this one, but probably materially better off than many of his compatriots.













'Hangry' Strikers








This kouros represents my body ideal

from the side, they are slightly in motion

A good chance encounter, but it wasn’t the museum; my memory was faulty.  On our way to the real museum, the heavens opened, and we arrived soaked.  I gave Misty the lecture on core length and neutral support, going from the very most ancient through the pre-classical, the classical, the Minoan, and the Roman (to be reproduced here later).  Wet shoes gave us ‘museum feet’ sooner than usual, but we saw Agamemnon’s mask, the Cycladic statuary, and the bronze toddler jockey on that thin and manic horse.  The only one out on loan was the blue-eyed bronze of The Charioteer.  Next time.

An odd view of the Zeus in my book - how's his core support?


With museum feet and the rain still spitting, we took a cab back to Plaka.  I get my best news from taxi drivers, and this mustachioed old hippie was no exception.  Dismissive of the recent riots as about par for the course, he assessed Greece as full of problems, but it always is, he averred, and it will survive the latest belt tightening, despite the demonstrations of the socialists and labour unions.

Some signs of political unrest remain - these in English!

After a nap, it is back out to find some bouzouki music.  In 1970, the music so infused Plaka that you could not move in the streets without hearing it, and one mournful plunkety song blended into another as you strolled through the summer night.  In 1980, when I returned, Donna Summer outshone the bouzoukis, but you could still find them.  Now, we weren’t scouring the whole area, but we’ve done a lot of walking, and we found one place.  One place.  I insisted to Misty that we go in, regardless of the food.  Turned out to be funny – the food was fantastic, but the bouzouki player, backed by a synthesizer, was awful.  The sharp concussive sound of a bouzouki is unique and exhilarating, and Greek music changes time signatures often as well as keys, so it must by played with clarity and exactitude.  With the best will in the world, this player – another old hippie with the fraying grey ponytail down his back, played with verve, heart, and a technique so muddy that even ‘Never On Sunday’ – a non-Greek song from the musical, but nonetheless a staple of the tourist areas – .  And nary a dancer.

Greek dancers – real Greek dancers, not those lines of tourists doing the Sirtaki with a hankie at the end – are amazing, passionate, and unique.  To be in a taverna when the music is on fire and a table is placed in the middle to dance upon – it’s a heart-pulling draw.  Men or women – both do it.  I have seen such dancers, drawn, wasted, burned out at 30, because it requires so much of their soul that none is left.  Several I knew were fed and given liquor by the local taverna owners, just in memory of their period of dancing.  But no mas, at least not that we could find.  Tipote. Nothing.


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