Published: September 27th 2006September 24th 2006
Figs ripe and taken to gravity remained like impermanent fossils upon coarse stone steps. Their seeds lay scattered under foot, a purple skin flattened as an insect on the windshield of a desert crossing. Leafy boughs and thick trunks rose from the neighboring courtyards. Wrought-iron fences above waist-high walls bordered the properties’ perimeters. And in the early morning, few wanderers searched for the entrance around the base of the Acropolis. There were only the slanted sun, the cool air and the stirring noises in Europe’s oldest city.
Tucked through small Turkish alleys, I searched in an area of Athens known as Plaka. I had arrived via ferry from Rhodes. Considering the 430 km distance, the fourteen-hour journey from sunset to sunrise was a quick sleep beneath a row of seats. Albeit, within the first hour in the city I was lost, entangled in the maze of a massive city, its ancient origins dedicated to the cultic worship of Athena, goddess of wisdom and protection.
John of Athens was mistaken. Immediately as I stepped through the groves of fallen figs, their webbing of seeds in a sponge of dried liquid contained an indelible amount of society. From archaic civilizations into modern lifestyle,
the seeds of Greek society multiplied within one municipality’s confines. John’s Prophecy C
ats hid in the canopy’s shadows, while the tavernas’ wooden tables lay across the sidewalk in search of customers. Two and three-storey buildings of neoclassical architecture rose over the streets and motorbikes stayed by doorsteps. Above, adorning the exterior walls were marble and wooden balconies supported by Ionic and Doric rafters. Plants bedecked the overhang in pots and rotting boxes while vines of grapes and bougainvillea crept up from below along the thin sidewalks.
From the Monastiraki Metro Station through Plaka below the northeastern edge of Athens’ central focal point, already I discovered an air of Athens in which I came to reveal as truth or fiction. On the island of Rhodes in the far southeastern Aegean Sea within the Dodecanese archipelago, an Athenian by the name of John sparked the cultural revolution I was in search of after three weeks of carefree wandering from beach to beach, island to island via ferry to ferry.
John enlightened my curiosity with the tales of a disrupted Greek culture, taken into the arms of a lazy society centered round the city of Athens. Aesthetic appreciations had been in
decline in this man’s eyes, and he left to renovate a degrading perspective of his own country. He wanted the lust for life, that ancient society that birthed the beginnings of today’s modern world, but the virtuosities of aesthetically combined lifestyles in the ritual manners of life had fallen from his world. What he wanted most was a renewed passion for the divinity that once was. He wanted to see his Athens, that sacred wisdom, like any scholar would at the first glance of the Parthenon.
That’s what I felt; this passion and awe. It caught the wisdom of the goddess by the sun upon its Pentelic marble and radiated a white sheen into Athens skyward. Culture, passion, lust, love, capability
—these words accompanying the feelings kept height within my mind as the Parthenon revealed itself. It came to me from my faded memories of schoolroom textbooks into this three-dimensional masterpiece now centered on my reality.
Columns and deteriorated matter, tourists and shouting guides in the world’s various tongues captivated me. The Parthenon; this burnt image erected before me. The Parthenon; this classic democratic monument that’s poured within every western child’s early memories was Athens itself, and this was where
truth entered my perception that had escaped John’s. Romanced By Elders W
ith figs squashed in the shades of narrow steps, balconies hanging lush on marble and tended foliage to the pink stars of bougainvillea and the neoclassical mansions climbing up toward the Parthenon, there was a retained romance of love from within a youthful society. It was one where evenings along the Grand Promenade were filled with musicians sitting under streetlamps. Their solo bands of instruments swooned the couples who walked passed hand in hand or those who sat on the dark walls within earshot. Their melodies drifted into a burgeoning night and invited an atmosphere that was once housed within the Ancient Agora’s Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios. There, Socrates philosophized towards a nearing death, but here today, the impending freedom of expression was ever at its height than before.
Hari Krishnas danced and sung along Apostolou Pavlou in Thisio District with a lone Athenian crowned with that famed crop of hair passed out Indian sweets. Cafes were packed until the early hours of morning, bars closed at the smile of dawn, and during the day flea markets attracted grandmas and grandpas who walked with cane in one
hand and a jumble of grocer bags in the other. From Omonia Square where bread sellers bared down on the demonstrating students to the museum with the Stoa of Attalos where we reaped the shelter granted from a vicious afternoon thunder and lightning storm. Lights flickered, the power winked and then vanished leaving the innards with their 1400 BC artifacts of statues and pottery behind unprotected casings. But we each continued to browse within the natural light, unaffected and possibly more pleased as the darkness enhanced the mystique of our society’s origins. Finding The Fig I
wandered the streets, did the obvious and indulged in the renowned sights. The Acropolis with the Parthenon, Erechtheion and museum; the Theatre of Dionysos and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; the Ancient Agora; the Temple of Olympian Zeus. At the Central Market along Athinas leading into Omonia Square I dallied within the fruit and vegetable market. I spotted what I had seen, what I imagined to be this center of Grecian culture. Split with a ripening scent, figs sold by the kilos for 1,50 euros. They sat sumptuously in plastic containers and their seeds appeared to desire a show of celebration.
with cherry-red inside, lush and succulent—this was Athens. It was ready, post the 2004 Olympic Games where renovations left the economy in serious debt, but one diminishing as its lifestyle improved.
From the back alleys to the full commercial centre, the city of Athens’ classic appreciation for life was excavated into the larger world. It had character; romance on the evening streets until Homer’s “rosy-fingered Dawn” greeted the day, and soul where tradition ripened and progressive change intermingled in the scattered seeds of civilization.
Sitting in the sun, watching pigeons and people, I ate my figs, licking the lips of disseminating seeds. I thought of John of Athens, lounging and wondering, reading and relaxing into his own priorities, but then I took another bite of Athens and thirsted for more of its culture. Its skin and seeds filled my belly as I ingested the ripe, the not-so-ripe and the over-ripe of Athens’ yesterday, today and tomorrow.
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