Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Time travel to Athens B.C.

 I spent two hours Monday morning wandering around the ancient agora, greatly benefiting from my inability to adjust to the time change and arriving as it opened at 8am. Few people were there, making it quite pleasant to wander, very peaceful. Putting the history aside, I was also enamored with the wildlife, especially the greenery – olive trees and strange looking oak trees with elongated acorns and caper trees and juniper and fig and pomegranate. Magpies were everywhere, and I even spotted some kind of green parrot. It was a beautiful warm 70 degrees; I was in a t-shirt and the sun was strong. There was no wind as there was yesterday at the Acropolis and everywhere in the city. It is November 23 and the weather was absolutely perfect.

I am coming to like this city more and more. I can see where the problems of the country would become tiresome, and if I had to put up with them I would probably want to get out, but with easy access to all of Europe, it is easy to get away for a weekend. Indeed, last night I met a French guy (not by choice) who was here for the weekend. What a dream. I told Chris before I left that I expected the city to be like a functional version of Beirut. Boy, was I right. While I was wandering around yesterday after having a half litre of beer, I did experience a bit of confusion and displacement, and it wasn’t just the beer. It looks exactly like Beirut, right down to the crazy parking jobs and the random crumbling buildings squeezed between brightly painted Venetian style ones. I plan on doing post about this.

Even the nightlife is the same – cackling young bar crowds spilling into the streets, music blaring at deafening levels, smokers inside despite official smoking bans, terribly slow service, and I suspect young people who buy one or two drinks and stay for hours anyway. I could be wrong, as the beverages seem to be much cheaper than in Beirut, but I’m a beer drinker so I don’t know too much about that.

Anyway, the agora was basically the downtown of ancient Athens. It housed the government, markets, and religious temples, aside from the Acropolis above it, of course. This was the birthplace of democracy, where the people ruled themselves. At the peak of Athenian democracy there were ten tribes who took turns at administration (kind of like the executive branch?), and 500 representatives of the people – nearly the size of the US Congress - called the boule (50 from each tribe), as well as an assembly of 6000, and all of the adult male law-abiding citizens were eligible to vote for every law, which amounted to 30,000-50,000. (It's more complicated than this, but that's the gist.) The United States has a population of 320 million. Think about that. Many Americans think the size of government is too big, but to be quite honest, it is too small for that many people. The real problem is this idea of “states’ rights;” when we could be using state assemblies as a better way to represent the interests of the United States as a whole, they only represent the interests of each individual state. We’d be better off if the entire system works as it does with amendments to the Constitution – with laws requiring approval of state assemblies first. We have one representative for every 700,000 Americans. No wonder Congress doesn’t represent our interests.

This was the seat of government 3000 years ago:

Byzantine church

someone's house?

Add caption

this was a water clock. yes, a clock that  runs by pouring water

tholos was the place where the tribes administered the law

drainage ditch

drainage ditch


Roman ruins

temple of hephe...tros...i'm not checking the spelling now sorry

Socrates was executed here. Stupid people realized their error after he was dead. TOO LATE, DUMBBUTTS.

does this need a caption?

Why did I never know the Latin word for "God" is the same as Zeus?

statue of roman empire Hadrian. He lost his head.

I was kind of laughing to myself when looking at the Roman additions to the agora, as I thought them disappointing because they weren’t as old as the Greek parts. As if 2000 years old isn’t old? Ha! When I visit archaeological sites, I try to imagine the ruins as they once were, and the people inside them, and the bustling crowds and busy marketplaces and people “going to church.” Going to Pompeii helped a lot, because the buildings are still largely intact, having been buried throughout the wars of history, and it looks like a city rather than piles of rocks. I was using what I learned about Pompeii to imagine what Athens must have looked like. Sometimes I wonder why many tourists even bother – they don’t know what they are looking at and often seem to show no interest in learning. I think too many just visit places to say they’ve been there. For me, this is a kind of pilgrimage, a trip to reflect upon the ebbs and flows of the story of humanity, the progress, the setbacks, the inventions, and, of course, the wars, the bane of our existence. The agora was destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed and rebuilt until the Herulians destroyed it in 267 AD. Some of the buildings continued to be used and there was some rebuilding, but it was never the same. 

I spent another hour in the agora museum after taking a break for my second and third cappuccinos of the day. The museum is rather small. As I haven’t been to the National Archaeology Museum yet, I do not know how much from the agora is there, and I can guarantee that the British and the French have a lot of what should belong to the Greeks, but judging from the flow of visitors, I am sure most people probably spend 15 minutes inside. I was euphorically happy the whole time I was on the grounds. Why didn’t anyone tell me I could have been an archaeologist when I was deciding a field of study?

It was time for lunch. I wandered around rather aimlessly, having traveled forward in time three or four thousand years. I don’t know a lot about modern Greece. I know about the economic crisis. I know about the war with Turkey over Cyprus (largely because I visited Cyprus and crossed the faux border into the faux country of North Cyprus, which no one but Turkey recognizes.) I know about the food, because I eat it a lot at home! I know about its ascension into NATO during the Cold War. But until I read Captain Corielli’s Mandolin (in progress), I didn’t realize that Greece suffered a fascist government, and I wasn’t even sure when they gained their independence from the Ottomans. Look, I can’t keep up with everything, ok? Ha.

(Written on Monday) I really haven’t had much interaction with Greeks yet, aside from my time at restaurants, because since I’m getting old, I am having a really tough time with this time zone thing. Ha. I do feel a bit better today – at this time yesterday (4pm), I was useless to the world and heading towards a nap. I’m wide awake right now and super happy. Right now I am sitting outside at a taverna, drinking a beer and looking straight up at the Acropolis. It’s more imposing up close. I am looking up at the buttresses and thinking that the Crusaders must have built them. It does look like a Crusader fort from here (I’ve been to a few of those now.)

Currently everyone around is laughing at the exponential multiplication of stray cats (another trait shared with Beirut) around the tavern. I am happy to have found this place out of the central tourist zone but still close to everything. You have to be a wanderer to be here, I think.

Yesterday I heard a woman say that she wished she could see the pyramids in Egypt. I started to think of all the ancient sites I’ve seen, Giza pyramids included. I mean, Pompeii, and Baalbek and Byblos, and Rome, of course, and fuck Daesh for destroying Palmyra before I could ever get there, and the Roman ruins in Amman, Jordan, and that’s just the BC stuff. But it’s nowhere near what I want to see. For now, though, as I sit beneath the imposing Acropolis, I am perfectly content.

More pics to come.

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