…home to karpathos...


 

...via Acropolis...

 

 

It had been many years since old Dimitris Akriotis had stood upon the sacred soil of his beloved Athens and even then only en route to or from his island. But when he landed this time, he'd have a twelve hour stopover that was going to help him fulfil an ambition that had been gnawing at him all his life.

You see, old Dimitris had always dreamed of standing on the Acropolis and casting his gaze over the whole city and watching the sun rise from that ancient, ragged, magnificent hump ~ and now he could hardly wait.


Gatwick was hot and busy and he groaned when he heard his 22.30 flight would be delayed by almost an hour. He'd been there for five hours already. He'd had a meal then wandered through the newsagents staring at unlikely tabloid nonsense and vapid autobiographies, visiting every nook and searching every cranny of the concourse in trying to pass the time. Now, on top of that, he had another hour to kill before take-off. There was nothing for it but to find a quiet corner and to shut down. Not necessarily to go to sleep but to relax and close his eyes and look forward to his long-awaited visit to the city of cities.

 

                                                                                       The Athens of his dreams

And so Dimitris made himself comfortable. And once he'd stilled his mind and calmed down a little, time passed without much further strain and by the time he stood outside the airport, actually on the very soil of Greece, the dark sky was gradually growing lighter by the minute. It would be sunrise in about two hours. Dimitris felt like a child again - ready to play - and though he still had to find his way up to the Akropolis, it was just too good an opportunity to miss and his heart was filled with joy.

But as he twitched and strained at the bus stop, chewing what was left of his fingernails, he began having second thoughts because every passing second seemed to take forever and already his watery eyes could see some lights going out and he could make out building shapes against the lightening sky.
And where would he get off the bus once inside the city? What if there were a traffic jam and the time ran out? How would he find the shortest route? Apart from tired, tangled and frazzled nerves draining every bit of self-assurance, why was he the only one waiting for a bus? Does a 'bus stop' necessarily mean a bus these days? Would all his romantic notions be dashed beneath the tyres of some non-existent, ghostly mirage?

And where was his faithful knapsack? Would it make the journey home to Karpathos all alone without his guiding hand? He hadn't set eyes on it since waving it goodbye at check-in and that was hours and hours ago.


So there he stood - alone and confused as usual, hands scrunched deep in trouser pockets and feet pacing circles in the morning light. Ah, but even though marooned, at least Dimitris was marooned in Athens - and deep down, he felt the half-forgotten thrill of having nothing to guide him but his longing.


Then suddenly the bus appeared out of nowhere, shuddering to a halt like some old warhorse, steaming and apologising and gasping for breath as though it had galloped all the way from Troy. It was late but they could just make it as long as there were no more hold-ups. And in a twinkling his bus was bouncing through the dark and dusty, multi-laned avenues of Athens and the very first fingers of a rosy-coloured dawn were already scratching through the matted shadows of a brand new day. From his back seat he watched the city stretch and yawn; and in its uppermost windows there were already hints of a typical golden morning and another sunny day.
Running through the centre where the roads Leoforos Vasilias Olgas and Amalia meet in one huge open frantic traffic triangle, exhaust fumes thickened the early purple air as the little bus hissed to a shuddering halt before the magnificent Hadrian's Arch.

The bus stop bore this inscription:

'THIS IS ATHENS. THE ANCIENT CITY OF THESEUS.'
 
 

The city pavements were crawling with sleepy commuters to whom it must have been painfully obvious that Dimitris was a stranger to the city. That was because he was the only passenger standing in his seat openly gawping at the awesome Olympian Temple of Zeus looming skyward above the apathetic heads in the crowd. He'd read in school that a jovial cove called Kirios Livy had once remarked,
'Probably the only temple on earth
of a size adequate to the greatness of the god.'
So there was Dimitris, dizzy from so much architectural splendour and the onslaught was almost overwhelming.

A sudden surge of passengers brought Dimitris to his senses and through the window he caught an electrifying glimpse of something that immediately caused his heart to miss a beat.

Yes there it was! Framed in brilliant contrast to the cars and silhouetted buildings of shadowy Lissikratous, he saw the first glowing vision of his goal - the most famous citadel on earth rising above the cramped and bewildering streets of Athens - the Akropolis - unique and incomparable, and resting upon it, the ancient, all-knowing, artistic masterpiece that is,

The Parthenon.


Dimitris jumped out of his seat, crushing several toes and chanted his, 'Signomi', as he elbowed his way onto the dusty pavement. There was nothing between them now but time and space. The sky had turned grey blue and not a cloud in sight. But what a day this was already. Breathlessly, Dimitris paced up the hill, its streets washing away the dirt and dust of the previous day. On and up he lumbered past suave office fronts and lush eucalyptus, beautiful pastel painted houses, their doors yawning wide with homely chairs still sitting in the street from last night's gentle gossiping.


To Dimitris Athens was his unpretentious garden city. A city of the people. A mish-mash of orderly chaos. And as he grew closer to his goal, he realised a great awareness. Here was he, Dimitris, on his own personal legs and feet, walking right there and then, in that second, over timeless passages and in the tracks of his glorious predecessors, towards the hopelessly joyful Parthenon and all that it means and has meant through two and a half thousand years.


On and up through the growing twilight, he followed the ancient Panathenic Way until he had to stop for breath. When he did he raised his eyes and felt an amazing rush of gladness for, before him stood the Parthenon, smiling, comforting and encouraging him on. He was almost there. They shared the same air. Its noble face welcomed him and smiled, 'So, Dimitris, at last you have returned. Welcome Dimitris, welcome.'

NB. There are excited packs of dogs running wild over the Akropolis and it can be disconcerting when you are out of breath and quite alone. But if you walk purposefully and pay silent homage to the god Hermes, the dog-throttler, you will enjoy the protection afforded all wayfarers in that country and your travelling will be safe, even from wild boar, wolves and lions.

With only a few seconds to go, Dimitris clambered up a steep and slippery outcrop on the eastern side of the rocky limestone mass and with the ancient building on his right, he looked in the direction of Imitos and waited for old Helios to show his face. A small group of fellow pilgrims sat sprinkled over the boulders talking softly. Some had even spent the night there.
Then steadily, Helios rose. He was there, up and high above a polluted haze that was once the pure air of this ancient city-state. He rode above the Pendeli and streaked the blue with shafts of gold, and below the hallowed Doric stone with shadows and sunbeams and shades from cream through cinnamon to honey.
The Parthenon. Could it really be so soft to the touch? Could it be so much like flesh? Great minds produced that beauty, and now it stood within his reach, tangible and warm.
Some pilgrims wept while others cheered and nodded their welcome and some hugged strangers but most of all they smiled and smiled and smiled in the first light of that day.
Dimitris bowed his head and sat on a rock in deep respectful silence, allowing the stillness to reclaim him like before.

 

illustrations by Marjorie Quenell


                        Dimitris wasn't surprised. It must have been quite exhausting.

And over on the steps, could that really be Socrates and Plato going on about how great minds had already produced great beauty of every kind and also celebrated it? About how easy it was to overlook the political, architectural, artistic, philosophical and ideological significance this celebration held for we little humans? About how Greece was the cradle of democracy, medicine, music, art and mathematics? He could see they were in deep, deep conversation.

Dimitris shook his head in disbelief and began to see that for a wild, flickering second in this rolling calendar of human existence, man had been in tune with the infinite and had even managed to celebrate that awareness in a fizz and a bubble that came to resist the indiscriminate winds of war and fate.

But wait! Was all this not two and a half thousand years ago?
Dimitris was confused. This was heavy stuff and he needed to calm down. So, reeling from overload, he wandered through the gates and back to the grey, flat-topped rock where he'd stood at sunrise, and there, beneath the dusty pines and cedars he lay down and closed his eyes to the light, and his ears to the hectic sawing of the cicadas, and promptly fell asleep.

A loud female voice burst into his dreams and woke him with a start, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Flight AMM265D London Gatwick to Athens is boarding now. We apologise for the delay. Will all passengers please make their way to Gate 3 immediately. Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen...'

Dimitris yawned and checked his pocket watch. "And about time too!" It was almost midnight and he was sure he'd been having that dream again...

 

 

  Acropolis Daybreak

 

  

      www.grecofilia.co.uk

 

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