(Actually written from an internet cafe in the tire souk in Aleppo–I’m a bit behind! Also, sorry about the photos. I left my computer in storage in Amman)
I’m probably the only one among the hoards and hoards of people that felt a bit sad when I climbed to the Acropolis in Athens. Its destruction and reconstruction over the years gives it an uncanny feeling, and the measures that preserve the site make it also feel sterile and a bit fallow. I’m spoiled, of course, and used to climbing up and over ruins and poking my nose into all of the dark corners. But it was more than that, just a sense that people were there for a photo that they could send back to their friends, regardless of the greater meaning contained within the monument. I took the same photo, of course.
It doesn’t help that I have been reading a new book called Ruins of Modernity to review for the Visual Studies journal–ruins are in high relief this summer, with all of the interpretive baggage they bring along. More about that later, though. The Acropolis museum, on the other hand, was incredible–a very strong argument for the return of the infamous Elgin marbles, recent economic struggle aside. My favorite part wasn’t actually the display that mirrored the Acropolis, but the lower levels that displayed assemblages that had been excavated from recent sites, with interesting and fairly in-depth explanation. The glass floors showing excavations added a nice metaphoric sense to it all, with layers of history literally beneath your feet. Sadly you could not take photos within the exhibit–always a poor choice for museums.
The city of Athens was incredibly lovely. I think my favorite moment was walking down a meandering alley in Plaka behind an orthodox priest, watching him looking at all of the anarchist graffiti covering the walls. The graffiti was covering nationalist graffiti, with sections crossed out–vandalizing the vandals. The more touristy zones were a bit crazy with African immigrants selling all manner of things and being periodically harassed by the police. Cats and dogs fought over scraps and I watched the full moon rise over the city.
I hope that I can go back someday and spend more than a day and a night exploring the city.