With a week to spare between Istanbul and Italy, I stop off in Athens to enjoy a taste of Aegean savoir vivre.
I undo the metal clasp of my rucksack and pull out a wad of paper. I spy the waiter bringing my second glass of ruby red just in time as I finish the first. He’s quite a skilled waiter; he keeps me from waiting. The aged whiteness of ancient Parthenon taints yellow and pink in the fading light, and from my seat atop Lykavittos Hill, I scratch away at the paper attempting to capture the impossible.
Even with a five-star view and a well-traveled fountain pen, I look down at the progress so far and find it disheartening. Sketching is an art unto itself, requiring years of practice and I am sadly not current with my potential. The angles are all wrong and the islands defining the horizon are twice their real size. Still I keep leaving ink strokes and squiggles on paper and eventually get a half-baked image that might pass for a rendition of a seriously distorted Athens.
Shoving the sketch back into the rucksack for safekeeping, I busy myself with reflecting back on the first half of this year. A whirlwind of airports, taxis, hotel rooms, and strange beds. It must have been January that I was having a glass of wine at Gordon’s. There, a dear friend and fellow journeyman, proposed that we “allow the two winds to take us to the four corners of the earth.” Well one of those winds have succeeded in whisking me to the Aegean and despite the city heat below, is also succeeding in freezing my skin off atop this crag. Granted it’s got a spectacular view.
I do have to pause however and have a proper think because it has never occurred to me that I would find myself in this particular setting. Just like it never did to live in Paris. Or that I’d be sipping wine on shores of the Bosporus. Yet, here I am in dress shirt and trous - not the most appropriate for ascending a massive hill - all because Athens looked like a fair enough place between two jobs.
Speaking of coincidences, I happenstance lunched with two Greek philosophers at an un-named 136 year old establishment, underground. Amongst all the words, the ones I noted with appreciation – thanks to my friend Nileta Kotsikou of [imatioθiki] doing all the translation – were by the more verbose of the gentlemen. Red faced from countless rounds of wine and dramatically waving a dirty fork about, he asserted that “you always need one element missing for a GREAT meal.” His explanation being: Either the food appreciation pauses all conversation, or the discussion is so engrossing that it’s impossible to ever finish your plate.”
It did take us four hours to lunch.
It’s getting rather chilly so I’ll eventually descend back down into night-washed Athens. But momentarily, I’m content with being incognito watching the stars above and those glimmering below as citizens return home. You’d agree, everyone – even journeymen – needs a pause and a sigh before striking off in search of the next golden moment. The quandary, and thus the inherent advantage, with discovering the “four corners of the earth” is that the corners keep shifting imperceptibly so one never really knows where a corner IS until you’ve actually arrived.
From Greece, with love.