Telluride Inside…and Out on the road: Acropolis now and then some

Telluride Inside…and Out on the road: Acropolis now and then some

Dateline: Athens, 10/16/2010

IMGP1701 You know you are not in Kansas – Telluride either – when the view outside your window is, yes, a mountain, but not a very big one, and on top of that mountain –  or "Sacred Rock," the name locals gave it – is a cluster of ancient buildings, marble masterpieces dating back to the late fifth century B.C., the Golden Age of Athens.

The temples on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, are among the most important monuments in the Western world. Yesterday, day #2 in Greece, we made the required pilgrimage. I say "required," not "desired," because the place is on everyone else's bucket list too, and so even now, the tail end of tourist season, there is barely room to turn around. But I am getting ahead of myself.

IMGP1695 To make the visit even more interesting, the day Clint and I arrived in Greece, the gates to the Acropolis had been closed due to a strike. Something about workers wanting permanent government jobs from a government in crisis with no jobs to offer. Our hotel assured us the conflict had been settled, but when we first arrived on the scene, police with shields indicated otherwise.

Plan B was the brand new Acropolis Museum just down the road. The multi-story edifice is built directly over the remains of an early Christian settlement to allow visitors like us to glimpse history through artfully constructed glass floors. Inside, treasures abound, but the point of the place is not just show and tell. It is socio-political: In 1799, Lord Elgin marched off with tons of Parthenon sculptures, which, centuries later, England refused to return. The rationale? Athens had no appropriate venue to house the art. The new Acropolis museum is a game changer.

After sampling the insides, we got the whole piece of chocolate: somewhere between "The Calf Bearer" and the Caryatids the strike had ended.

IMGP1719 The history lesson continued with a trip to the National Archaeological Museum, a chronological march through Greece's colorful, complex past.

We made it as far as the Hellenic Period, before crying "Uncle!"  The glory that was Greece during that epoch, 500-300 B.C., the pivotal time between the defeat of the Persians and the conquests of Alexander the Great, would have to wait until tomorrow. 

After a wonderful dinner at Zorba the Restaraunt, which hugs the harbor in Piraeus – the rocket salad and the grilled octopus are not to be missed – and a much needed rest, we returned today to the museum  to finish our exploration and learned a few interesting facts. Religious zeal is not solely responsible for the missing private parts on many of the statues: conquering emperors dismembered their predecessors to show who was boss now. And the nose jobs? Christians wanted to "uglify" (the words of a young guard  to describe the willful destruction) any representations of gods and godlike men to dissuade people from being distracted by false idols and get down to the business at hand.

We capped off our immersion into Greek history with a stop at the Museum of Cycladic Art, a pleasant setting in which to study the remnants of a culture that flourished in the islands from 3200 – 2000 B.C., The culture produced beautiful abstracted carvings of mostly nude female forms that inspired 20th century artists from Brancusi to Henry Moore and Picasso.

IMGP1726 These Cyclades sculptures, both edgy and modern, provide what are perhaps the most elegant examples to date of present meeting past. Athens is a city where that handshake occurs at every turn, but mostly  the present loses. Modern-day Athens is not beautiful. Its new buildings are at best nondescript. Traffic as in many capitals around the world is heavy. The air is polluted; the narrow streets, crowded. At times the din from motor scooters is overwhelming. But Athens is an exciting town filled with lovely people willing to help at every turn, where the remains of temples such as the Olympian Zeus are around every corner.

Far be it from us to rest on our laurels. (The expression came from the wreath the Greeks bestowed on the winners of their athletic competitions). It's off to dinner.

Footnote: Late night/early morning. Back from a wonderful dinner at one of Susanna Hoffman's favorite tavernas, Psaras (The Fisherman) on a landing up the Plaka Hill, where we dined in the moonlight and lights on the Parthenon. The Plaka district is the oldest district and easily one of the most charming in Athens. Tomorrow we head out of Dodge to hike further back in to history. On the agenda: ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Epidauros and the old capital of the region, Navplio.



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