Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Athens interlude

Athena's Parthenon gets a little help from her friends

On the stoop, on the grand promenade beneath the acropolis
Athens is....the Acropolis, of course, and it is people. Lots of them. Some stand out. Take George.  George has a chandlery on the periphery of Zea Marina, which has been our address for a week (Zea is in the Pireaus area, but beyond the sleaze of the port). Every day except Sunday when shops, big and small, stay closed, Alex has found a reason to pop up to see George.

George is gregarious, and very knowledgeable -  he told me the one thing he doesn't know is how to make money, but Alex reckons he knows a bit about that too. His turnover has fallen by 33% in the last few years, he told Alex. Is that all? was my response. 

Enki's new awning deflects direct sun off the aft deck
Since the chandlery, aka Nautilus Yacht Equipment, is usually busy and the wait for his attention lengthy, George's customers tend to fall into conversation with each other.  George's shop is a kind of international boating salon, apparently. Today Alex talked taxis with an Israeli. Yesterday he talked to a well-armed Frenchman about guns. The Frenchman is fitting out an 80 metre yacht to make the high-risk voyage to Australia via the Suez Canal. Needless to say. George is the Frenchman's operations manager in Athens. Alex ended up having a coffee with the Frenchman who showed him a video on his iPad of a hijacked merchant navy ship being sunk by "authorities" with 27 Somali pirates shackled to the railings. The Frenchman said this was the most effective way to deter piracy. 

View of the new Acropolis museum from the acropolis

The top floor of the museum is a stupendous display case for the Parthenon marbles

On the street (and below)

There seem to be such big holes in the infrastructure here, both physical and social, that you wonder how people like George hold their businesses together. A week or so ago,  the Greek government undertook to sack another 15,000 public servants in exchange for the next bail-out instalment of nearly 3 billion euros. This time it's teachers and health workers who are for the chop, amongst others. I don't know if there are any public transport inspectors left on the payroll. We've travelled into the city by train and bus every day (except Sunday) and never seen an inspector and rarely seen a commuter validate his or her ticket, an offence which the notices warn attracts a fine 60 times the value of the ticket. No-one looks worried or furtive so either they are all scrupulously honest or they know the system is broken and travel is free.

On the acropolis

The best ever frozen lemonade
I wasn't looking forward to a week in Athens in early August. But we've done the jobs we came to do, taken delivery of spare parts (so hard to be sure of receiving what you order when you are in Turkey), given my injured finger a break from sea life and rubbed fenders with New Zealanders and Italians. Even better I've found myself acclimatising to the heat (mid 30s) and the cacophony, and forgiving all in any case because the city is so rich in the things I crave.
Bronze bust, circa 1st cent BC

Ornate marble vase found at Mycenae

Cycladic figure circa 3rd millenium BC

Reconstructed Roman theatre under the acropolis

Athens is the culmination for us, and for me in particular, of this past year's exploration of ancient ruins, beginning in Lycia where the spark caught and roaring through the once prosperous Greek cities of Asia Minor, tripping quite by chance over the important Bronze Age site of Poliochni on Limnos and then finding so much to like in Thasos and Eritrea....and now, here in Athens where there is so much more of everything that civilisation has left us, precious finery and elegant domestic utensils, monumental marbles and intricately worked weaponry, more than I could ever have imagined, belonging to staggeringly well-endowed private museums like the Benaki and to the Greek state.

In Athens, mind-blowing wealth co-habits with dereliction and desperation; age holds itself with dignity, whether she be a woman riding the trolley bus with a bulging bag of empty plastic bottles or a retired marine engineer in neatly pressed slacks pleading with you to see beyond his "lovely country's few problems"; and beauty is everywhere, riding pillion behind her boyfriend or squashed beside you on the train, a phone pressed to her ear, her profile as lovely as the marbles you've been gazing upon in the museums.

19th century porcelain, portrait of a Greek beauty

Aphrodite fending off the lecherous Pan with her sandal
There is no time left now to go to Mycenae, whose splendour I saw for the first time yesterday in the National Archeological Museum. So we say to ourselves, next year on the way west, on the way to Gibraltar. We also look like skipping the Cyclades again this year. The meltemi is raging through the islands and the combination of that, my dysfunctional right hand and the press of summer crowds persuades us that next May is a better time to drop anchor in Naxos and Santorini and Amorgos, the islands of which charterers' dreams are made. 

Gold death mask found at Mycenae, called Agememnon's mask

Grave treasure, Mycenae

Fibre optic cables monitor columns of the Parthenon

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