As a child I used to watch movies about the Greek gods including cartoons about Hercules (during Lunch with Casey). I’d studied Greek Mythology since high school. How naive was I? Very, it turns out. I was totally unprepared for Athens. Nothing looked as I’d imagined. There was very noisy and fast traffic — drivers seemed to target pedestrians; the entire city appeared tired and dirty–its proximate neighbor–the port city of Piraeus was no better; and its a very poor city — the so called Great Recession and the Euro crisis have really done a number on the poor Greeks.
Ok, so that’s a lot of bad stuff for the Greeks to handle. Wouldn’t you think the Greeks would be marching in the streets (been there and done that ) and/or renting their clothes (where were those tunics and robes anyway). And that the sounds of weeping and the gnashing of teeth would overwhelm we visitors. Well, guess what — their protestations were this past summer. Since then the Socialist government has essentially toed the mark. So one would think the Greeks have taken all of the bad news in stride. Hardly, the wagging of tongues continues hot and heavy. They were sardonic and witty as they explained the foibles of their countrymen. All in all it adds a level of complexity to my perspective on Greece.
I did visit the museum of antiquities–filled with statues, vases and thousands of other artifacts; viewed parts of the Acropolis and the Parthenon during the day and in the evening; photographed the Olympic Stadium which was used to complete the marathon during the first modern summer Olympics held in 1896 and the during the games hosted by Greece in 2004. As a student of history I marvelled at the spectacular nature of these things–I secretly wished I could go back 200 years so I could have seen the Greek ruins in better condition.
The Jockey of Artemision:
The Parthenon on the Acropolis:
The Parthenon at night:
It was a night in a Greek restaurant that offset my melancholy mood about Athens. Everyone should experience a “Night on the Town” in Athens. Traipsing around the city at night puts a different spin on the city.
then we wandered to the Plaka (shopping and eating plazas). Eventually we landed in restaurant where we ate “real” Greek food. We listened to authentic music and that staff coached us to yell out –Oopa.
Oopa, the battle cry for the evening. And what does Oopa mean — the Greeks really don’t have a ready made answer. It’s said as a statement of good cheer and joy. This is especially true while imbibing wine or Ouzo (the national adult beverage. Perhaps you’ve heard of Ouzo. The film “Zorba the Greek” made the drink quite famous. This was my Ouzo glass — Oopa:
I do have a glass of wine on occasion — nothing stronger: so I was sure Ouzo wasn’t for me. I picked up the glass and sniffed — hmmm, smells like licorice. I pushed the glass back slowly and sipped from the glass. It tasted like licorice too — a sip was all I needed. Ugh, it burned as it slid down my throat — I’d had enough. With that I set the glass aside and looked to the food now being delivered to our table. Glancing around at other tables as I chewed my salad it was clear that other attendees were lapping it up and asking for more.
The food came in four courses beginning with a Greek salad; followed by grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, moussaka and some deep fried chicken pastry; then came rice and beef kabobs. Of course dessert was baklava — it was a honey of a pastry! No really, it was extremely rich, filled with honey, nuts and surrounded by a pillow of phyllo. Nicely done!
The warmth of the Ouzo was matched by the near tribal like music being played by two talented musicians. They played the guitar and the bouzouki (it looks like a mandolin with a longer neck) during the meal and afterward. Their play ignited those present and supported some highly paced dancing by four folk dancers. They dressed in authentic garb (changing periodically), bouncing and sweeping all about the restaurant. The crowd really got into the dancing–in fact many diners were “invited” (pulled upwards at times) to join the swirling dancers. Much Ouzo and wine was drunk and cries of Oopa splayed the air.
The real dancing professionals:
Fun loving amateurs:
Later a question was asked about why plates weren’t hurled to the floor by the dancers. The local responded — don’t believe everything Hollywood puts into a movie. This was in reference to “Zorba the Greek” (referenced above) starring Anthony Quinn. It was made about Greece some 51-years ago. Quinn played a peasant who frequently plies a guest and himself with Ouzo and then spends a significant amount of time dancing — all the while smashing plates on the floor.
Learning that this activity was a fabrication left some betrayed. After-all those scenes were so Greek, right? Wrong! The Greek respondent did say the Greeks liked the movie too, but Greeks weren’t interested aping Quinn’s on-screen histrionics. Instead of smashing dishes they will throw flowers on the floor. Dancers are less likely to be injured and the fragrance of the flowers freshens the room.
I guess Athens wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. You have to love people who can laugh in the face of adversity. Now please excuse me as I re-consider that bottle of Ouzo. I do like licorice — maybe one more try…