June 2019

Through Hadrian’s Arch

Arriving and starting to get to know the centre

Athens is surrounded by the Imittos mountains – it was the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane at 5.30am. The centre of Athens, on the other hand, is dominated by the Acropolis – a citadel (or upper city) on a hill. Showing clear blue skies through the arches of its most famous ruin, the Parthenon, and baked the colour of pale sand which stunningly reflects the setting sun, it is proud and impressive in its old age. Planned by Pericles with advice from Pheidias, and described as “a unique monument of thought and the arts” by UNESCO, it is the world heritage site to end all WHSs.

Roman Forum, Athens, Greece

At its foot are more ancient remains; more tourists than you can imagine even if you know Marbella well; a suprisingly tempting selection of leather belts, ceramic blue and white ‘evil eyes’, and the sort of blousy, floaty clothes that are so attractive when it’s over 33 degrees, but which you are unlikely to wear when you get home unless you go to Shiatsu classes.

You can see it from miles around, at the end of many streets

Why I was here

I was here to lead a workshop, How we Cope with Loss with Shiatsu, at the peaceful Zen Center (link below), wonderfully organised by Panayiota Polychroni-Giannino. I had an amazing itinerary – danced at the Pride celebrations, attended ‘Norma’ (opera by Bellini) at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and had some delicious and companionly meals with new friends.

The Zen Center
Athens Pride June 2019

Opera at the Odeon

Norma was performed in the atmospheric ruins of the Odeon, and after initial rain we were graced with a cool breeze, an attractive sunset and then an almost full moon. Directed and with costumes, set and projections by the challenging La Fura dels Baus from Barcelona, the opera was sung and played by the Athens National Opera. Part of the Athens and Epidaurus Summer Festival, it used both the theme of the opera itself – the almost-infanticide by a heart-broken mother whose lover has dumped her and gone off with the virgin priestess – and at the same time raised our awarness of the damage we are doing to our planet by making set and costumes from recycled waste / plastic.

The neon structures represent a forest (right) and perhaps the altar (left)
Slowly it got dark, people assembled slowly. The strip between the audience and the towers is where they put the translation (sung in Italian, translated into Greek and English). The stage was made of recycled plastic and the two vats in front of the ‘forest’ looked like they were full of poisonous green fluid in which the ‘children’ floated and looked out at us eerily.
Finally it was dark enough to see the projections – random words and pictures including one of Maria Callas, the most famous Norma. The orchestra took their place and played the overture – so familiar to me from home listening

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

Later I was taken to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which, according to my laptop’s translation is a “remodeling of the Kallithea area and the phallic front, giving life to a place that has been devastated for many years.” It is an open area of 210 acres housing the new National Library of Greece and the new Opera House plus gardens and other performance areas and a water feature with cafes etc. A very pleasant place to visit (slightly out of town) when the temperatures cool, just a tad, in the evenings.

With Maria and Panayiota
Space age building
Neatly placed olive tree
The steps at the side of the National Library, looking towards the conference centre
The new National Library with floor to ceiling book stacks

Open Air Cinema

I loved the open air cinema, Cine Paris, on a rooftop in the centre. I recommend that you book as it is very crowded, although there are 2 films per evening. It did of course have marvellous views of …

The Acropolis as seen from Cine Paris. Athens, Greece
Watching The Green Book (great movie) at Cine Paris, Athens, Greece

Economical and Political Situation

According to the Financial Times, Greece outperfomed all the major European economies in the 1960s, but “In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, and that coincided with the start of its fall.” In 1990, in advance of joining the Euro single currency in 2001, things started to slowly improve, only to see another even more serious crisis in the run up to the approval of the adjustment programme in 2015. To all intents and purposes, it is still in economic crisis now and parts of Athens reflect this – pavements need repairing, buildings are falling down. There was a transport strike when I was there, so there were no metros, trams or buses for the main part of the day. I only hope the workers win their case.


Then there is the refugee crisis (our term, not theirs), which has seen countless people dispossessed, arriving here with no money or home, often with traumatic stories to tell and therefore depleted ability to integrate. They are to be found washed up on Lesvos disshevelled and desperate; wandering along railway lines in the middle of nowhere with nothing in their pockets (no ID papers means they are more difficult to send back), and in Athens begging or lining the streets, some working like beavers selling water melons the size of dragon’s eggs from the backs of lorries, and others standing around aimlessly or taking drugs in a corner. There are elections coming up soon (7.7.19) as a result of the defeat of Alexis Tsipras (prime minister) in the European Elections, and everyone expects the Right Wing party to get in now, although those I discussed this with told me there was little difference between the Right and the Left. I saw a truck with refugees lying down and sitting in the back of it and a loud speaker making announcements – presumably campaigning for votes.


Kyklos Project

I also visited the Kyclos project, a grass-roots day centre project where young people from Afganistan and elsewhere are making a community and others are having Greek lessons to help them find work and become part of their new community. Run by the indomitable Katerina, it has an amazing record for keeping the users attending and engaged, finding them work, training them so they have transferable skills and offering a vital lifeline to keep them off the streets and away from potential trouble. Like all such projects, it is in dire need of funds for more staff right now. You can donate here. (http://www.kyclos.org/page-story.html)

The indomitable Katerina

The suburbs

I took the metro (red line 2) to Daphne from both Acropolis and Omonia (direction Elliniko to get there and Anthoupoli to get back) to give Shiatsu.

Ekklisia Agios Dimitrios, Athens, Greece
Detail, Ekklisia Agios Dimitrios, Athens, Greece

The beach

On my final day I was kindly driven to Kape Beach where all the tourists from the streets at the foot of the Acropolis had gone to swim and sunbathe (or so it seemed!). The highlight was swimming with my goggles on in the silky Aegean Sea and watching the fish below and all around me. There were white ones with black stripes, shoals of what seemed to be tiny, black ones which glinted silver when the sun shone on them at the right angle, and flat ones which I initially thought must be leaves until they wriggled side to side raising the sand and revealing themselves. Thanks to Elena for a great day out.

Kape Beach, outside Athens, Greece
Kape Beach, outside Athens, Greece

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