How has it already been almost two weeks since I landed in Athens?
I mean, I promise I’m not going to become one of those bloggers who starts every post with “omg it’s been so long you guys,” but really.
Greece has been lovely so far, though a bit chillier than I’d imagined — which led to a small snafu in which I asked my mother to ship me my coat, not realizing I’d be forced to pay €218 (seriously) in taxes and “brokerage fees” on arrival.
Luckily, when you leave shipments sit for five days, they’re automatically returned to sender. I’m now the proud owner of a really ugly coat with faux fur lining, sourced from the Monastiraki flea market, which cost me a quarter of that figure.
What else can I say? There are more stray cats here than anywhere else I’ve ever been in my life; the plumbing is such that you’re supposed to throw nothing — and I mean nothing — into the toilet. This makes for frequent take-out-the-garbage trips and a lot of late-night bathroom “oh, god dammit;” toilet paper is a very die-hard habit, in my experience.
Also, Greeks are pretty, um, aggressive drivers, but wont to walk in the middle of the street regardless. This unlikely combination has led to fewer pedestrian disasters than you might imagine, but I often find I’m the only person compulsively crossing over to get to the next (tiny and weirdly-abruptly-terminated) sidewalk, and running on my way to do so.
I’ve gotten Acropolis dust all over my boots and learned enough Greek to realize the nai, nai, nai I heard everywhere was agreement rather than negation. But really, everyone here speaks English, and my totally American lack of fluency in any other tongue makes me feel complicit in the proliferation of our coarse lingua franca. (Don’t get me wrong, I was an English major and I do love my language — but like, come on. We’ve got nothing on French or Spanish as far as beauty and gravity, and Greek phonemes are like the aural version of honey swirled into thick yogurt.)
I’ve continued to stand in awe of the ubiquitous multilinguality of Europeans, who all seem to have at least two, and usually three or four, languages in their arsenal. For instance, Eleni, my Airbnb host, knows Spanish, English, and is currently learning Portuguese — and also says she’s “at the point in her life where she’s having a love affair with English” because it’s such an “adaptable” language. But I keep trudging along with my clonky, whitewashed accent; I keep having to explain my florid Florida homeland to people who then look at me and say wow, you are far from home.
Yes. Far. 5,700 miles, to be exact.
And I guess I’m beginning to feel it a bit. Being here is strange; there’s all this stuff from the first and second century CE, the fourth century BCE, back even further. Most of these ancient temples are actually remodels, sitting atop sites even older. And you can just reach out and touch it, and it’s incredible, but at the same time it makes you realize that really everything is this old, not just the stones we’ve carved our names into.
And somehow, I can’t quite track it. For instance, I took a day trip to Sounio, a famed and stunning landmark referenced by Homer and home to the Temple of Poesidon. It was four hours of travel round trip — although admittedly that’s a bit longer than it should have taken, since I stupidly missed the bus stop and had to turn around and come back again after reluctantly de-bussing at Lavrio and wandering around for twenty minutes, and it was the same driver on the way back and when I explained what happened he rolled his eyes and let me on without paying the additional €1.80 fare but made a big production of announcing the stop loudly in English when we got there. And so the cape is seriously breathtaking and so historical it’s not even comprehensible; there are graves there dating back to the third millennium BCE. It was high daylight and completely deserted on a Thursday morning, but I only walked around the temple for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, got a really overpriced espresso and got on the bus back. I really tried to feel the historical gravitas of the whole thing, but it was somehow out of reach to me.
Maybe it’s just too many years to contemplate and I can’t quite get a foothold. And maybe it’s to do with this thing about the discrepancy between tourism and travel that’s been simmering in my brain since Barcelona, and which I still need to think deeply and write about.
Or maybe — and this seems likely to me — I’m getting a little bit tired. Travel is so wonderful and so full, and being really present for it is demanding: to reckon with how we go on; how we still fill the air with song and baby-cry and argument and laughter all under these same ancient structures. How they’ve stood there behind your back throughout everything you’ve ever experienced or even read about, waiting.