Friday, October 06, 2006

Sight See Athens

I arrived in Athens tired, but ready, and oddly calm about this move. Yes, I was going to a place where I did not speak the language, to a job that was unspecified at an organization that I had only read a website about. No, I did not know anyone in Athens, I had only spoken to my contact three times on the phone. No, I did not know about my apartment. No, I did not know about my neighborhood. No, I did not really know anything. But when I got off the plane, finally having arrived after months of trying to figure out my Visa, everything seemed to feel surprisingly normal.

On the day I arrived, I was picked at the airport and brought to my apartment. My contact, Dimitra, showed me the basics of the neighborhood – bread store, dairy store, supermarket. I was told to buy vegetables from the large central market on Saturday, and meat from meat stores only. I was given a map, told that I was living in a very good area, that I would learn everything quickly, and that I would be meeting with everyone at Schedia next Monday. Until then, I should relax and spend my time getting situated.

So this week I am sightseeing and learning to find my way around. My apartment, a small studio on the third floor a quiet building, is a 10 minute walk from the downtown area and nestled between two large hills. Every day a different old man playing accordian has made his way up the street, and as he goes people come out to their balconies to listen. As I sit typing a man is playing on the corner.

Although I would not call Athens a beautiful city, it charming and utilitarian, both things that, I appriciate as a newcomer. It is a place with a massive history, which is kept alive by the attention it receives, and which, in turn churns the city. There is evidence of the ancient past everywhere. Walking in any neighborhood, there are holes in the ground 30 feet deep where they have excavated roads or tombs. Locals wearing large sunglasses walk by without notice and tourists stop to look and snap photos. These pocketed ruins are surprisingly wonderful windows into the past, but seem oddly fractured from the modern present, as if the city we are living in was superimposed onto an ancient site with little physical evidence of anything in between.

This week I have joined the ranks of tourists, dutifully packing around town with my camera bag, stopping only to rest, look, and then get lost again. Although it feels a bit silly at times, it is wonderful to be walking around ancient sites with people from all over the world. As I go, I have found that it is the other tourists more than the ruins that I find interesting. Listening in on conversations, joining Japanese guided tours, or just sitting and watching as people stroll through, exhausted from climbing, excited at the sites, hungry to pack in as much as they can in their four-day tour of the city. And by simply being there and available I have come across quite a few interesting people. This afternoon I met an old Italian dancer who said that he was worried about the way that I carried myself when I walked, and that if I did not work to open the pressure points in my neck, my metabolism would slow, and I could double in size within a year. I sat looking up at the Parthanon while he got to work, rubbing my head and neck and chatting about his houses in New York, Australia, and Tibet. When he decided that the pressure points had been opened he said goodbye and moved on. On my way home, I met a Nigerian selling bootleg CDs who took a long break from hussling to give me a tutorial on the political situation in Nigeria, the development of corruption there, and expounded a powerful argument for an independent Biaforian State. He had to run when a police car rolled by looking for people selling without a permit. I arrived home exhausted.

Next week I begin working in earnest, and am excited to learn more about the organization with which I am affiliated, but until then, I suppose that I will have more days of touring. Still up in the air is my residency permit, and subsequent visa extension, but hopefully all of this will soon be figured out. As for this evening, I am free to do as I like, and I believe that I will sit down and practice my ukulele. I hope the neighbors aren’t sleeping.

The view from my balcony

The Parthanon (under construction since 1983)

Changing of the guard outside Parliment

Just outside the National Gardens

Square at night


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