Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write a Travelogue (11/06/14)
- TITLE: Roots, Relics and Recognitions
By Noel Mitaxa
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Last April, I flew back there inside twenty hours.
At Athens airport, signs in Greek and English simplified communication; but the universal tongue of industrial relations―a train strike―translated to traveling into town by bus.
Next day, strolling in the shadow of the Acropolis to Monastiraki Square along Athinas Street, pavement sales booths are everywhere―displaying all manner of goods from 6am each day.
In Monastiraki Square, busking acrobats, musicians, rap-dancers, street artists and dramatic players entertain milling crowds, while surrounding stalls provide food, drinks, trinkets and mandatory tourists’ tee shirts. Like the one I’m wearing…
To leave Monastiraki is to plunge into a maze of narrow alleys where small shops and stalls huddle together, all competing for our attention. What’s not to buy? Minature relics, chess sets featuring miniature Greek gods and legendary heroes. “All certified made in Greece, sir. Nothing from China here!” Statuettes, clothing, pottery vases, Grecian urns… And how much does a Grecian urn? About fifty drachmas a month―according to a joke that’s probably older than the relics!
To misquote a popular rock musical, Greek is the word; with many familiar English words―like biology, drama, pharmacy, mathematics and geography―actually being Greek or Greek compilations. But here, in a slight twist, engagement rings displayed in a jeweller’s window are labelled “Aραβών.” Paul used αραβώνto describe the Holy Spirit to his Corinthian friends―a “deposit” or love-gift to affirm the promise of our ultimate union with him at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Worth thinking about?
These alleys converge on small squares, where dining tables maintain an inescapable culture of hospitality. All shaded by extended vine-draped pergolas. All awaiting their next customer.
“What you are looking for is in here,” a voice purrs behind you. Turning, you find a beaming face and a sweeping gesture towards a table. Thus you also find that you have become that next customer.
As you take a seat, a tray appears at your elbow. Iced water and glasses; olive oil and rich brown balsamic vinegar in small jugs for drizzling over crusty bread rolls; all inviting you to scan the menu for a delicious souvlaki or moussaka, with a side tzatziki salad.
Daytime meals; such languid affairs.
Not so at night, when larger crowds are pulsating in the rhythm of Zorba’s Dance or other folksongs; picked out on amplified acoustic guitars with bouzouki accompaniment. It’s hard to clap while eating, but it’s harder not to―when everyone else in the restaurant is up to their eyeballs in the fun of it all...
The Acropolis, ancient Athens’ highest point, rises almost three hundred feet. Straight up. One thousand feet long, almost five hundred feet wide, and crowned by the simple elegance of the Parthenon. From here, above the muted hum of traffic, your archaeological guide―a poor soul whose whole life is in ruins―points out ancient statues and ruins scattered through the spreading parklands below.
However just inside the Acropolis entrance, you can enjoy up-close views of ancient statues displayed in natural light, inside the modern Stoa of Attalos. On reaching its classically-styled second floor, I cringe in the sacrilegious chuckle of an American lady behind me, “Oh, wouldn’t this make a lovely shopping mall!!”
Wild poppies litter the path to the summit, but half-way up, a rocky outcrop has been polished smooth by thousands of clambering feet. This is Mars Hill, where a brass plaque bears Paul’s entire sermon to the philosophers at the (now-ruined) Areopagas―“Men of Athens, I see that in many ways you are so religious that you have an altar to the unknown god. Him I proclaim to you…”
Highlights south of Athens include the steeply-cut, four-mile Corinthian canal; a narrow excavation that trimmed four hundred miles from voyages to the western Mediterranean.
Further south at Epidaurus, you can test a sound system that’s never failed in twenty-five centuries! From forty rows back; atop an open-air, semi-circular amphitheatre that seats fifteen thousand people, you’ll hear every word from the stage―for the ancient Greeks harnessed the power of acoustics!
A grove of trees is an extra feature behind the stage. It surrounds buildings where modern medicine originated; the base for ancient students of anatomy like Asklerios and Hippocrates―whose name adorns every doctor’s Hippocratic Oath.
While my trip was a slightly personal odyssey, Greece embodies a standing invitation for anyone to explore its timeless, relaxed energy―as the birthplace of Western philosophy, science, democracy, art and architecture.
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