Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Glories of the Acropolis

On Monday, our full first day in Athens, we were blessed with lovely mild weather, sunny but breezy. We decided to take advantage of the temperate conditions and spend the day outside, hiking around the Acropolis. We caught a little tram near our hotel that runs all day: for 5 euros, one can jump on and off until 7.00 p.m. It felt a bit Disneyland, but we were grateful for the ride, knowing the hours of arduous trekking that awaited us.

I didn’t know if seeing the iconic buildings of the Parthenon, the Theatre of Dionysus, or the Odeum of Herodes would move me. They did. Even the hordes from the Princess Cruise liner—I am truly beginning to hate these vessels—couldn’t destroy the moment. The Parthenon is simply stunning. I pretty much had the Theatre of Dionysus to myself. Folks would glance around and then exit quickly, clearly unimpressed by the rubble. The Parthenon is fairly self-evident as a building, as is the Temple of Athena Nike; the Theatre of Dionysus, however, doesn’t make sense (aside from the seats) if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Unfortunately, one can no longer enter the orchestra; the thrones reserved for the high priest and dignitaries are also cordoned off. As I madly clicked photos and studied every detail, a nice Englishman came up to me, slightly embarrassed but sufficiently desperate to ask a favor of a stranger. He had been robbed of his camera the previous day and wanted to know if I was willing to share my photos with him. He suspected from my intense scrutiny of the site that I might be a theatre specialist but wasn’t certain (thus the embarrassment). It turns out that he teaches movement and historical dance at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and was in town for a conference. We talked shop at length and exchanged cards. I promised to e-mail him my photos when I return home.

After a late lunch, we explored the Library of Hadrian, which once contained 18,000 precious papyrus and parchment rolls, all lost to invading Goths. We also wandered through the Roman agora. I loved every minute.

We showered back at our hotel and headed out for dinner at a “traditional family style restaurant” in the Plaka (fresh, nicely prepared, if unexciting food). While dining, an incident occurred that revised my notion of Canadians as the most benign people imaginable; indeed, we have run into a number of unpleasant Canadians on this trip. It is a bizarre phenomenon I cannot explain, almost as if the nation suddenly decided to counter their stereotypical reputation for niceness with truly shitty behavior. Alternatively, it could be that we’re consistently running into the only nasty Canadians on the face of the earth, the dozen or so who happen to be traveling in our orbit.

Anyway, the story is this: a Canadian couple at an adjacent table struck up a conversation over dinner at said family-style restaurant. They had done a tour of the Greek islands (another cruise!), spent time in Istanbul, and then wrapped up their trip in Athens. They ordered heartily: appetizers, entrees, wine, and dessert. And then they stiffed the poor waiter (and the waiters here work their guts out during tourist season). We were appalled when we realized what had happened. As someone who has worked in restaurants, I know firsthand how upsetting it is when customers walk out without paying. This instance seemed especially nasty given that the couple in question had just enjoyed a luxurious holiday their waiter will most likely never know. Sometimes I think David Mamet is right: people are swine.

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