Saturday, May 1, 2010

Such a perfect day...

Just after the full moon, things that you have been searching for always seem to show up. Today was nothing that I expected and everything I wanted it to be. It was everything I've wanted for the entire month of April, but it's found it's way to me now.

This morning I knew was my only free day to go and refresh my knowledge for an upcoming walking tour, but it was May 1. No one even emerged from their houses until 1pm. The streets were empty and the sun was out... everything was in agreement: today was not a day for work, but foolishly I thought I could push on.

First interruption: My father called. This was at ten in the morning meaning some indecent hour in the USA. I was standing in the middle of Monistiraki square, just over the ancient reservoir housed in glass, amidst the pigeons and the fruit vendors and the beggars and street performers. No matter how technology advances, it never ceases to amaze me to get a call from Magnolia Texas when I'm in a setting such as this one.

We didn't have a great connection the first and second attempts, and while I was waiting for him to redial my already overactive imagination was running wild with the reasons for a call at such an hour on their end, but when he finally made it through, a croaky, groggy father just missed his daughter, happened to be up, (has an excellent phone plan) and wanted to chat a little.  I sat back on the glass covering the ancient reservoir, there in front of the old mosque and the "little" monistary and we talked about race cars, upcoming adventures, the ruined Gulf of Mexico and the miserable state of Louisiana, the development of my (very) little niece, 100 day challenges... not much else. Pretty soon he realized he was very tired and we exchanged terms of endearment, closing the phones.

I sat there, glowing for just a minute, then tried to get back on track. Right. Walking tour refresher. I started out... in a different direction. I don't know why, but suddenly I was thinking, "Maybe I could do something a bit different. I want to go see the Keraimakos cemetary." Which indeed, would be a very nice place to see on a walking tour, but impossibly far from all of the other very nice things I've organized and tested long ago. This was occurring to me with each step, but soon there I was in front of the Ancient Athenian cemetary, named after the son of the God of Wine and the Daughter of King Minos, and the patron of Potters. Keraimakos, Ceramics, you see? It is such a beautiful setting. A HUGE Spread of ancient tombstones and statues honoring the mysterious passage from one life to the next. Apparently there used to be little statues and tablets put inside of the caskets, curses created by special magicians directed at those already passed. They were made of lead to speed them down to Hades. I thought, "that's serious business, cursing the dead." It says a lot about the ancients belief in the afterlife.. and all of this was going through my head when my feet took me left instead of straight and I started up a bridge. Why? I don't know.

So I went over the bridge and through a new neighborhood I've never seen before. A quiet, classy neighborhood that is home to "friends of the bicycle" which I am now enthusiastically researching. On my way to investigate their sign, however, I crashed my bare toe, dangling out of my stylish gold sandal (smart as a choice for a day devoted to walking) straight into a broken concrete post. Wow was it putting out some impressive, black blood. Whatever. Took down the website address from the sign and pressed on until I found myself back in the familiar territory of Thissiou and the parking lot sized pedestrian road of Apostolou Pavlou, stuffed with cafe tables and idle coffee drinkers, cigarette smokers, laissaiz philosophers...

Hobbling now and getting beaten down by the intensity of the sun, I passed Vrahakia, a taverna where we've occasionally taken clients because of the pleasant and flexible chef and owner, Christos. Passed it, thinking of him, and then my feet turned right around and walked all the way through the door and up to the kitchen. I was really not in control of anything today.

Still early, he wasn't busy and indicated to a table near the kitchen, grabbing his coffee and his ashtray and ordering the woman still busy at the prepratory work to make me an Hellniko cafe, or Greek coffee.

Conversation turned to the Ancient Greeks. Christos believes everything about them, mostly that they were the most advanced civilization. Ever.

Some Greek people that I've spoken with believe that the Ancient Greeks were the ONLY advanced civilization. Not that the others didn't exist, but that they were actually Greeks. Meaning: Ancient Egyptians? Greeks. Mayans? Greeks. Chinese? " "
So I delicately asked Christos if this was his theory also, swatting away at the judgemental voices in my mind.

"Look, it's simple. Civilization started and people slowly started to move. They went to the north, the west, the east, but the most clever ones came here because the weather is perfect."

It's very difficult to argue with this logic!

I interpreted it as that he acknowledged that there were other great civilizations, but obviously the ones that chose the prettiest water, the nicest spring, the mildest winter, are the ones who had the best heads on their shoulders.

I thanked him for the coffee and continued on my "path," which lead me to an old book seller. Not pressed for time, no one expecting me for anything, I hunkered down and flipped one by one the collected postcards from years past, the black and white photographs, the Greek comic books, and then I saw a tattered, water color illustrated childrens book in English. "Greek Folk Tales: The Good Advice"

I'm going to tell it to you here:

There was once a very poor man who had to find a way to feed his wife and small son, so he left for a bigger town and appealed to a very rich man for work.
"Yes you can work for me, but I will hold onto your wages or you'll squander them." So the man had no choice. He worked for the rich man until ten years had gone by. Finally he asked for his wages.

The rich man thought and thought. "Shall I give him one hundred? No it's far too much. But so is fifty. Is his work worth ten?" And finally he said to the man, "I'm giving you three pounds. I'll give you three more if you work another ten years." But the man was poor, not stupid, so he took the three pounds and started on the road home, despondant.

On his way he passed an old hermit sitting on a rock.

"Give me a pound and I'll give you a good piece of advice!" said the hermit.
Well, thought the man, I'm a poor man with three pounds and I'll be no poorer with two. So he gave the man a pound.

"Don't ask about things that do not concern you. Now give me another pound and I'll tell you advice even more valuable than the first."
And the man thought, I'm poor with two coins and will be no more poor with one, so he gave the hermit another pound.

"Stay on the path you've chosen and don't get lead astray. Now give me another pound and I'll tell you a final piece of advice more valuable than the first and second combined."

The man thought, I'm poor with one coin and there is absolutely no difference with having one and having none at all, so he gave the coin.

"If you get angry at night, don't act until morning's light, and that is my final piece of advice."

The man ends up learning by some very clear cut, folk-talish situations (meeting a giant hanging gold on a lemon tree, passing up a group of laughing men going into a tavern, coming home and his wife not recognizing him) that the man's advice is worth much more than he paid for it. He comes home rich, managed to avoid being mixed up with a gang of thieves, and avoids killing his wife and son because of a misunderstanding upon first appearances.

And I thought to myself, "Huh! Those are good pieces of advice," until I started looking at how I've lived just today.

- I ask about everything that doesn't concern me. I love stories.

- Don't get distracted from your chosen path? What if you forgot to choose one in the first place?

- The last one, let's say I follow it. One out of three is a start.

I closed the book and realized my terrible choice in reading posture had caused both of my feet to fall asleep. I wiggled one, stamped the other and moved along.

Next up, the blue and white train! The Sunshine Express. I've been acquainted with all of the employees so I sidled up and said "Kalimera!" My wasn't I the social one today.

"How are you!?" Said Adriano, the train's ticket seller.

Pointing down at my gorey toe, "Well I've got a new hole..."

"Oh no! We're fixing it now." Just like that a first aid kit was coming out of the driver's cabin. A flurry of Iodine and cotton and suddenly my toe was neatly packaged in a little brown band aid. Off I went.

Finally back to my corner of Athens, Voulis Street, where I see Panos of Acropolis House, George, Vangelis, owner of Deseos...

Then a good meal at Mitso's taverna, eating horta in olive oil and lemon juice, ground eggplant with garlic, horiatiki with a big slab of feta (you might remember a prior entry where I said I would start minimizing this. You forgot it? Yes, so did I.) All while being entertained with old Mitso in his saucer-sized eyeglasses and his hunch backed wife in a flowered dress, screaming at each other in Greek. "Woman, why did you put them at that table? I told you it was reserved!" "Go to hell! It was the only table open..."
I asked George if he thought they had ever been in love.
"Oh, they can't live without each other!" he said in genuine earnestness.

And finally a little bicycle ride to the orange and green. This part is so good it deserves it's own entry. Besides, I've been writing for two hours off and on and I'd really like to get back to Ellen Cherry Charles in Skinny Legs and All before drifting off to sleep.

To end where I started, I said this day had everything I was looking for. What I've been missing lately is relationships. Discovery. Being alone without being lonely. Perfect weather. A still, inner peace. The notion that you haven't been walled in, that you're not in a cage, that there is still more to explore. That you can still be well and happy if everything around you falls to smoke and ashes, and lastly, a couple of concrete facts to help you deal with all of the ambiguity in the world. Example: My daddy called me at two in the morning just to say "hey."

True, I didn't detail how the little adventures of today lead me to some of these grander conclusions but you will just have to trust me that without them I couldn't have concluded anything.

I've said that I hope to become still in spite of the waves. I've said that I'm looking for this country to teach me to be a little tougher, to stand on my own legs. I'm learning that to achieve these things, you must build yourself a strong foundation AND a network of support... and I think I might be rambling at this point. Look, I'm just happy. I have a little clarity for once. Sort of.

I'm going to bed.