Friday, June 11, 2010

The National Archaeological Museum

On Thursday we ventured over to the National Archaeological Museum. I wanted to see the finds from Akrotira (especially since we had visited Santorini); I also wanted to see the famed objects from Mycenae as well as figurines of actors. The nineteenth-century building housing the collection has been renovated nicely, although the overall effect pales in comparison to the new Acropolis Museum. The objects from Mycenae are truly spectacular and these alone justify an excursion. There’s much more to see, however: an amazing collection of Attic vases; exquisite jewelry; interesting household items. The sculptures are fairly lackluster, but then one realizes how much was looted by foreign countries or purchased on the illegal antiquities market. I think the collection has also suffered from the rise of regional museums since WWII. There have been a lot of recent discoveries, and excavation is ongoing, but various regions now want to keep their own objects, not send them to Athens.

My one deep disappointment had to do with theatrical masks and figurines. I was permitted to snap photos (sans flash) of vases with scenes from plays, but the new exhibit of clay figurines of actors is off-limits for reasons of international copyright. The exhibit opened in 2009, and the museum has not yet registered photographs of the objects. I desperately wanted images for my seminar this fall. I will contact the museum, but I have little hope of getting through the famed Greek bureaucracy.

Tired of museums, we decided to jump one of the trams going to the coast. The ticket taker seemed horrified that two well-heeled Americans would resort to this means of transport: “Do you understand that it’s very slow,” she repeated several times. We were, I noticed, the only foreigners using the system both there and back. Yes, the trams are slow, but we didn’t mind; indeed, we enjoyed the chance to take in additional neighborhoods.

We went to the end of the line and found ourselves in the Stadio Irinis area, which was eerily deserted. We noticed the police presence; we also watched several young Greek males size up a parked Mercedes. I don’t know if they were about to spray it with graffiti or attempt a break-in, but whatever their motives, we clearly needed to move on. We returned to the tram and reversed our course, stopping at Flisvos Marina. This locale, pretty and well maintained, overflowed with people. Parents pushed babies in strollers; lovers strolled hand-in-hand; middle-aged men displayed their young wives and mistresses. Here at least we would not be robbed.

Tired and hungry, we looked for a restaurant and settled on Brasserie Sud. I expected mediocre food, as is often the case with marina restaurants, but we were both so hot and tired that we didn’t care. It was 6.30 p.m., and we hadn’t eaten since the morning. We actually ended up having the best meal of our trip. Brasserie Sud serves Mediterranean food, a loose mixture of French, Italian, and Greek cuisines. Rod and I shared a plate of grilled vegetables topped with goat cheese for a starter, which was excellent. Then we proceeded to our main courses. I had a risotto with spinach and salmon that was absolutely delicious, infused with lemon and fresh dill; Rod had a terrific seafood linguine. Sated, we wandered around the marina, staring wide-eyed at very expensive yachts. Powerboats dominate, and we both noticed the high percentage of foreign flags. A lot of Brits seem to keep yachts in Athenian harbors and why not? Does the Irish Sea really seem very inviting after the Aegean? I think not.

On the tram ride back to our hotel, I realized for the first time that I am homesick. I’ve loved this trip, and I’ve learned a lot, but I’m tired of hotel rooms and tired of living out of a suitcase. I miss my dogs and my horses, not to mention my friends. I’m ready to go home.

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