The woman at the ticket window rolled her eyes slightly as she slid two of the cheapest ferry tickets under the window. A friend from my painting class was waiting by the dock and walking over to her I ran fingers through my hair, trying to smooth out my blonde pony tail. I was tired – and it showed. We left Florence the night before and took the overnight train to Brindisi a small port town facing the Ionian Sea. In an effort to save money we decided to cross over to Greece on the upper deck of the boat. We spent several hours of windswept contemplation watching the landscape disappear and then reappear again as we arrived in the Corfu harbor. According to Greek mythology Corfu was the refuge of Poseidon and a beautiful river nymph he kidnapped. Soon after Phaiax was born and became the namesake for later populations; the Phaeacian.
Our hotel was empty so the front desk staff had plenty of time to explain how to walk down to the beach. The sun had already set and it was dark. At first I thought we had misunderstood their directions. The path they described was leading us through a series of abandoned clubs all perfectly situated for spectacular ocean views. Curious I pushed on one of the back doors, it was open. Stepping inside we discovered it had not been abandoned but instead was only hibernating – apparently we were very late to the party. So, as a couple of delinquent raccoons we embraced the chance to prowl around while no one was looking. It was like a spaghetti western movie had turned spring breaker and was about to wake up with a horrible hangover on a distant Mediterranean beach – bizarre and somewhat disorienting.
The next day we decided to rent a car and explore the part of the island that was more familiar with Poseidon than it was Smirnoff jello shots. Immediately leaving the mega hostel complex we were surrounded by olive trees. They were so beautiful, twisted and crouching low-crowned with pale and silvery leaves. In the afternoon we stopped in front of an overgrown and disintegrating archway. Getting out of the car, we climbing over large, obviously hand-cut blocks of stone. The lichen was already spreading like ink blots across their exposed surfaces. After a few minutes the crumbling stone walls opened up onto a meadow of tall grasses and wild plants. The sun was warm and there was no one around, it was quiet and intensely peaceful.
Anxious to see more of ancient Greece we booked overnight transit to Athens; by ferry and then by bus arriving early before sunrise the next day. The lights inside the bus came on as the engine cut off and before I opened my eyes I realized it was cold, really cold. Pushing back the dark polyester curtain I saw snow… the tiny crystals falling and innocently crushing my dreams of a bare-shouldered Greek vacation. The hostel was not accepting our pleas for an early check in so we waited in the entrance sipping watered down coffee from plastic cups until the regulated check in time; 9am. Once inside our room we desperately tore open our bags, assembling new combinations of clothing – flowing skirts over linen pants… the one long sleeve shirt I had brought last-minute suddenly rose to imperial levels of importance. Eccentrically bundled up. we left the hostel and found our way to the Acropolis. The scaffolding being used to repair the Parthenon was dusted with snow, the toga-clad Caryatids took on an unexpected surreality…we were two of only a handful of hardy visitors that day. Almost alone at a site that welcomes more than seven million tourists per year, we were able to enjoy moments of solitude and I found myself reflecting on the immensity of time, of history. It is said that the Acropolis was the climax of the first successful rebellion led by the “common people” against a violent and tyrannous aristocracy. Shortly after this a political system new to the early world of Kings and blood lines was devised. With one black stone or one white stone the people decided everything together, everyone could speak, everyone could take part. A progressive idea for any era and one which had been exported and copied thousands of times leading up to the day I stood looking out over a snow-coated Athens.
There was a different kind of movement in the streets that day, or maybe it was the same… As we descended back into the downtown area we could hear shouting and turning a corner we came onto a wide street. It looked like a street leading to governmental buildings and it was filled with people, banners and tanks. A group of men passed us yelling “MURDERERS” in our faces and someone else whispered “Killers” … then I saw the walls of a building across from us. It had been spray-painted with a giant swastika symbol and on either side framing it were the letters U and A. It was the first moment in my life I realized that the world viewed me as a citizen of the United States and that I was therefore perceived as accountable for its actions. Gazing over the tanks, I watched the snow fall onto the ancient Acropolis and wondered where my stones were.