It’s six in the morning and still very dark. A drizzle of rain is falling as Elaine and I walk down the ferry’s gangway. We take our first steps into Athens, the playground of ancient philosophers. Socrates, Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle, all made this their home. We’re buried in a bustle of tired Grecians heading for their homes and we’re soon lost in a mass of four and five story stone buildings, dark streets. We see cats looking for affection and the occasional leftover scrap. Just as quickly we’re all alone on the city streets.
Narrow streets of rough cobblestone, not wide enough for two cars to pass. Who knows how long they’ve been here, who knows how old the curbs, the sidewalks. Buildings with decaying stone terraces and rusted wrought iron railings. Narrow alleyways, and motor scooters sitting in silence, their owners catching a few last minutes of sleep.
I tell Elaine, “I’m absolutely lost, the directions to the hostel just don’t make any sense on these streets.”
“I don’t like this. It’s too scary.”
“I’m depending on the fact that it’s 6-o’clock and even the criminals are asleep.”
There is no sense to the streets; they zig and zag in every direction… the few street signs we see are in Greek. I recognize a sigma… a theta here and there. They actually use these symbols as part of their language? I’d learned them only in math and physics classes.
We’re two foreigners, wandering the wet streets; stopping, searching and wondering where we are. The sky is starting to lighten, it will be a dim, grey, cloud covered dawn. We reach an intersection and step around a corner. I look to the right. Far down the empty street, there’s a glow of pillars, they’re hovering high up in the air, above the rooftops. We stare in awe.
Elaine whispers, “Joe, it’s the Acropolis.”
Perched high atop a massive outcrop of rocks, lit by the yellow glow of floodlights are the ancient columns of Athena. I raise my camera and, as if on cue, the floodlights die. The signal of a new day on the mountain. I snap a picture.
Any anxiety about being lost and alone in a strange, dark, rainy city melted away. This was Athens, the birthplace of Western civilization, the origin of our culture, our politics and the scientific method. I felt at home.