Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I been in NAM

The New Acropolis Museum

Yes, the outside is ugly.

Everyone has been in agreement on this. It is modern and gray, big and blockish with lots of steel and glass...everything you would not expect for the neighborhood of the Acropolis which is still relatively charming with it's cobbled roads, houses of stone and red tile, restored neoclassical mansions lining the longest pedestrian street in all of Europe. But the buildup has been so immense! "One of the ten greatest museums in Europe!" "WIll bring 3,000,000 visitors to Greece a year!" "Most affordable coffee in Athens!"

Oh, but this last one had my attention!

And so on opening day I was first in line at 8 am, amongst a good sized, international crowd and a buzz of news cameras. One reporter held a microphone and was scanning the crowd before her eyes fell on me.

"Excuse me but can I ask you a few questions?" she said in Greek first, and than English. (This is a success. I don't smell like an American anymore!)

She interviewed me and the inner-me amusedly sat back and listend to the outer me come up with an interesting version of why I was here.

"Yes, I'm from Texas and I have been planning all year to come to Athens, just for this event! I'm so excited!!!"
Why I felt inclined to say this I can't answer you. Sometimes the muse hits, and sometimes the muse is a chronic liar.

The funny bit was that when she was finished she asked, "So you prebooked your tickets, right?"
"No, I haven't."
"Oh, then you can't get in! For the next three days only those who have prebooked will get admitted."
And the version of myself that had planned my whole year around the opening of the New Acropolis Museum was very disappointed, and rightfully so! The other version of myself realized that this is all a big game and right now the object of this game was to see how far I could get without a ticket.
I stayed in line and watched other people in similar predicaments try to artfully weasel their way into gaining admission. One American woman sidled up to the official manning the crowd and started in with asking politely. When that didn't work, she upped it with it being her father's birthday. When THAT didn't work, she said they would only be here a day, and surely something could be done... and on and on, until she had cornered herself by threatening to never again come to Athens if they didn't let her in! Okay I'm maybe over-simplifiying the conversation, but it was a bit extreme, believe me.

I didn't make it, that time. I got as far as blending into a group amassing in front of the turnstiles, listening to an archaeologist discuss the significance of this "thematic" museum based entirely on the acropolis. I got a good ten minute lesson on the history of the Acropolis from 3000 BC until modern day...which is an impressive show of the art of summarization! Then it was time for us to approach the turnstile and I was stopped and asked to check my bag. I considered running at this moment, but thought I should see it all the way through to a definite no. So I checked the backpack and came back.

"Your ticket?"
"Oh, my friend has it!" And I pointed to a girl in the group.
"So call her name."
Well, sometimes people are stupid and sometimes they're smart. It's always a gamble.

"Sure one second."
I got my bag back and fled.

Three days later this prebooking nonsense was over and I bought my ticket like a normal person.

This museum is built to house everything related to the Acropolis, directly on the ruins of the oldest part of the settlement. The floors are all of plexiglass so that you can see all the way down to the earth with the stones marking old settlements, and all the way up, past the beautiful Karyatids that used to hold the porch of the erechthion on the crowns of their beautifully sculpted hairdos, until you can watch the tiny soles of the feet of visitors on the fourth floor.

The cafe is very large and well organized. A small station island in the center is where the food and coffees are prepared and another staion in the back is where the dishes are dropped. Floor to ceiling windows show a view of the erechthion. There is a terraced section of outdoor seating. Each table has a pot of Greek herbs in white stones. Mine is sage.

As I'm writing this, the couple at the table next to me have been discussing what to have from the menu. A woman in a turquoise tank top and tortoise shell glasses on a strand of beads. has read absolutely everything out loud.
"Do you want the salami with cretan cheese and tomato sandwich on whole wheat? Or, oooh! They have ice cream! Or we could get the fruit platter..."

My Assessment of NAM

As a museum
This place is fantastic! It is laid out beautifully according to which section of the acropolis the artifacts were found in, most of the statuaries set so that you can become personally aquainted with them. Someone knew what they were doing with the overall light and color, or at least this is my judgement based on the museum in the light of the morning. Everything is soft on the eyes and in the colors of stone. As long as the one euro entrance fee holds it's going to be the best deal in the continent. Unfortunately I doubt this one euro entrance is going to hold much further than December, because that's what is advertised.

As a cafe
Staff: Friendly, which is rare in this city. Everyone is required by their job description to speak at least two languages, Greek and English being the basic.
Menu Selection: Very exciting choices! The sandwiches range from Olive bread with tomatoes and oregano to Smoked Turkey with Katiki goats cheese from Domokos.. I chose Lesvos sardines with bottarga of Grey mullet and basil, which I think "Bottarga" means that the mayonaise is very fancy.
There is also Mikonos white cheese with watermelon as a snack, potato salad with parsley dried nuts and orange rinds, Greek custard pie in filo pastry with syrup, and of course beer, wine, ouzo and tsipouro.

Wait time for lesvos sardine sandwich: wait time: 50 minutes price: 3.50
Price of filter coffee: 1.50 for a beautifully presented white ceramic pot of coffee, bowl of brown and white sugar cubes with tongs, pitcher of cream...
if only the coffee had been hot.

View: Unbelievable. You can sit on the rooftop terrace eye level with the Erechthion (I think that's the building you're looking at.)

As a place to work
internet access: yes! But it's broken...
Place to plug: at every table.

I think there are some obvious kinks but it's expected with a brand new museum of this level. I'll give them all the grace they need to work it out if they'll keep the 1.50 pitcher of coffee...