Friday, April 17, 2009

Athens and everyday life

Well, we've been in Athens since Tuesday. The first day was characterized by the now familiar disorientation. The second day, Craig was raring to go, but I was nervous about venturing forth, so we went to the Byzantine Museum on our newly minted weekly Metro pass - what a deal! Since then we have ridden around the metro all day long just for the heck of it, taking in the Plaka and Acropolis, Pireus, and the Kolonaki neighborhood. Today we went to the Archeological Museum near Victoria Station. Tomorrow we head off to Pireus at an early hour to take a side trip to Aegina and Hydra, two of the Greek Islands near the Athens coast.

Sunday is the Greek Orthodox Easter, so tonight (Friday) was Good Friday. Crowds spilled out of the doorway of the church on the Plaka, which amplified the chant so it could be heard outside the door and throughout the neighborhood. Street peddlers were selling candles for the service. They were long honey colored tapers with a red or clear plastic wax guard. We walked over the dark cobbles in the dark of evening looking up at the Acropolis which Athens lights up like Las Vegas. You can pick out every pit of every stone from a long way away. It really is beautiful.

I've had so many thoughts and ideas about things to write, but I find that things are moving too fast. We don't have the long periods of time in one place that afforded me the time to think. I also think that being a little nervous about plans for the future, like where you stay next, makes it hard to think past the necessities. Some of my musings have centered around silly things like, "How come there are so many kinds of toilets in the world?" or similarly, "Why are there so many kinds of door knobs in the world?" These are the things that keep me up at night. But really. not to be too indelicate, it's important to know the mechanical capabilities of various conveniences. I never worked up enough courage to ask my friend Fiona why there were two levers on some bathroom devices. On the single ones do you keep holding the lever down or pump the lever? Or in Greece, I'm happy to just find the lever.

The doorknob question is another thing. Some turn, but some doorknobs have spring loaded buttons which you push and voila, the door opens. Some are just window dressing. Some doors need two hands to open, like the gates in Cambridge. You had to turn a large wrought iron hoop above while pushing down on a modern lever below. 3 times on 3 different doors before you could reach your goal (room). The reason the doorknob thing concerns me is not so much a deeply rooted psychological problem as an experience I had in Italy at a conference in 1996. It was late on the night before I was supposed to give a talk in front of a group of international doctors and nurses. I was a little nervous and couldn't sleep. I snuck into the bathroom to read for a little, thinking it would calm me down. When I felt sleepy enough to try to rest again, I couldn't open the bathroom door. I tried everything I could think of, even getting a little panicky when I couldn't wake up Craig. It turns out that even though these doorknobs look like the standard bedroom doorknob with a push button lock in the center, they are not. The little button which on our doors, locks the door, on the Italian doors, opens the door. Hmmm.

Since my humiliation of that night, I have never trusted doorknobs to be the predictable mundane household items we all know. Indeed, they are capable of causing more than a little problem! So when I have a moment of failure trying to open unfamiliar doors as one would reasonably expect, I move quickly from puzzlement to panic.

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