Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Athens: The Parthenon

Arriving in Athens, one of the famous intellectual centers of the world, was a thrilling experience. It was certainly not a warm welcome however. We had already driven through quite a bit of the Greek countryside, and returned the car to the airport, so we decided to take a cab from the airport to our hotel in the heart of the city. It was immediately clear that the ride was going to be expensive, and it didn't take much longer to realize that the driver was probably taking advantage of us; but, since the meter was running, there was seemingly no way to argue. In the end, we paid about twice as much as it was supposed to cost, and only figured out why later that night: the meter was set on 2, the night rate, instead of the proper 1, the day rate. But how can you think of such things for long when you are in the city of Plato and Socrates, Aristophanes and Aeschylus and Pericles, the theater of Dionysus, the famous schools and haunts of thinkers and writers like Aristotle and Herodotus, and countless others?

The hotel room was not quite as nice as the handbook described. The elevator was frighteningly noisy and bumpy; the room wasn't terribly clean; and there was pornography galore, for free, on several television stations, which catches you off guard each and every time. But we immediately went out to explore; the first destination was the acropolis. We walked from our hotel toward the ever-present peak, which would disappear behind buildings, and reappear as we turned corners, and went through squares and markets.

This was during the sweltering heat that accompanied the first few fires this past summer, and the sign at the entrance to the site requires hats and water for all visitors. The Parthenon itself was covered with scaffolding for the ongoing repairs, but it was overwhelming to see it in person after having seen so many photographs.

The city of Athens sprawls endlessly in all directions. It was hard to imagine what the city would have looked like in, say, the fifth century, but it was easy enough to imagine the acropolis dominating the landscape.

It is hard to convey in pictures or words what it is like to stand on the famous pinnacle, but I suppose this attempt is as good as any. There is more to come on the surrounding sites and monuments in turn.