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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

VIEWS FROM THE BALCONY

This week I'm staying with my friend Dinaz in her big apartment in Plaka overlooking Dionysios Areopagitou, the pedestrian walk-way that skirts the Acropolis. I've known Dinaz since 1993. She's Parsi, from Bombay and was married to a Greek-Italian also from Bombay. She has a son, Andreas, who is now in his early 20's, and a part-time Norwegian husband who comes and goes but doesn't live here. From the first moment we met I knew she was the composite of my Persian princess, Drypetis from my novel and from that time on she was known by her friends here as "The Persian Princess". She lives in this enormous apartment on the edge of Plaka, actually house-size, full of elegant antique furniture she inherited from her father-in-law who used to be a sea captain, so the furnishings are mostly Oriental style. She works in tourism, a slave job, currently 12 hr days, 12 days with no break. Yesterday she said the boss brought in a priest to bless the office (which is a basement office) as he felt sorry for the staff. Economy is bad here and tourism is down, so jobs are at a minimum and she must work hard to make a living. (I might add that the pay is poor too, no overtime or benefits.)

I have been spending a lot of time on Dinaz's balcony enjoying the wrap-around view and the pots of flowering hisbiscus and other plants. That's where I sit to do my writing, eat breakfast and dinner (with Dinaz) and read Steven Pressfield's excellent, amazing book "Gates of Fire", about the Spartans. There are magnificent views from the balcony as well as the busy life that goes on down on the street below.

Looking east is a view of Mt. Hymmetos, and close by you can see the tall pillars of the Olympeion, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was the largest temple in Greece. It ook 700 years to complete and was considered to be a 'great victory of time' and 'the only temple on earth of a size adequate to the greatness of the god."

Behind it you can see the Stadium which occupies a natural valley between two hills. It was originally constructed in 330 BC for contests of Panathenaic Festivals. During Hadrian's time it was used for the baiting of wild beasts by gladiators. The stadium was reseated in marble by Herod Atticus for the Games of AD 144 and was completely restored in 1895 for the revival of the Olympic Games. (The Stadium was used for some events in the 2004 Olympics).

The wide pedestrian walk, Odos Dionyssiou Areopagitou, was named after St. Paul's first convert, Dionysius the Areopagite. It runs along from Syngrou Ave. skirting the Acropolis in a paved walkway to Thisseon. Looking west, up the Areopatigou, just one block away is the Acroppolis, Theatre of Dionysos and the Theatre of Herod Atticus (Herodian) and from Dinaz's rooftop there is a perfect view of the Parthenon. Adjacent from the corner of Odos Vironos (where I used to live) and Makgrianni St. is a building built in the 1800's that was once a military hospital but during the junta was used by military police for interrogations and torture. It was restored to its original Neo Classical elegance in the early '90's and now houses offices and a display museum for the Acropolis. The grounds have been excavated for the building of the new museum. Little progress has been made as each time they dig new artifacts are uncovered which must be examined by the archaeologists. They have expropriated shops and apartment blocks along the abutting streets including our favorite taverna "Socrates Prison" and several buildings on Hatzichristou St. across from the To Kati Allo. Our friend Graham's apartment is due to go down so he had only recently bought a new one in Stira on the island of Evvia and had looked forward to a relaxing and pleasant new life on the island, when he was tragically taken ill and suddenly passed away last March.

Farther down the road is the Hill of Muses (now called Philoppapou) and atop it is the monument in honour of C. Julius Antiochus Philoppapou, a prince of Comagene (Northern Syria) who was a benefactor of the city. The view from the top of this hill is on a level with the Parthenon. This was the site of the infamous "One Full Moon Night In Athens" story I wrote about our full moon picnic a few years ago which was interrupted because Anna Britt unknowinly ingested some ouzo containing a date-rape drug offered to her by a weird character we had invited to join us, and had to be carried off the hill and rushed to a hospital. (I can't look up there now without rememering that night!)

As I sit on the balcony my mind is full of memories. I think often of our good friends who have left us, whose spirits still haunt the Plaka and especially appear on Hatzichristou Street at the To Kati Alo Taverna where we spent so many pleasant hours talking over carafes of krasi.

Dinaz's apartment contains these memories too. Our much loved friends Graham and Roberto spent a lot of time there. Dinaz was their little angel who tended both of them when they were hospitalized. On the walls are their photographs and some of Robbie's paintings (his favorite subjects were the mangas (mafioso) and putanas (laides of the night).

As I sit looking out over the familiar views, I remember my life here, and fell I am still (and always will be ) a part of it. If I could I would spend half my time here, but economicially that's no longer possible because since the Euro and more recently the Olympics, Greece has become very expensive. But my heart will always b e here so long as I live, because Athens is my city just as mch as Vancouver is.

Zoe mou, sas agapo (My life, You I love)

"Remind me not, remind me not
of those beloved, those vanished hours,
When all my soul was given to thee;
Hours that may never be forgot,
Till time unnerves our vital powers,
And then I shall cease to be."
George, Lord Byron.

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