Sept. 25, 2014
Athens, Greece is the location for the VDMFK convention. We will fly in a few days early to sightsee and get on local time. Neither of us gets any sleep aboard but we're reasonably rested after watching a couple movies. In Frankfurt I am lifted off the plane only to receive word that my chair has been stuck on an inoperative elevator and we will miss our connecting flight. We had planned to be in Athens early enough to get our bearings and enjoy the favorable weather. Instead we cool our jets in the lounge, read the paper and play some cribbage while waiting for the next flight that will touchdown just in time for rush hour traffic. It's still sunny but not particularly warm which is just fine with Anne. Our transportation is right on time and we check into the Intercontinental Hotel, Room 272. The graffiti is particularly dense and we're somewhat uninspired by the local architecture but we're shagged out after being up for over 28 hours and not much in the mood to appreciate anything beyond a comfortable bed. We're obligated to have the bathroom door removed for access but the bed is a good height and plenty of pillows. We linger in the lobby long enough to greet the Director and friends from the administration. We manage to stay up until 9:30 pm local time after visiting briefly with Aussie Glenn Barnett and company.
We had gotten directions and information about the public tram. We're also looking into some day cruises. We have a western style breakfast after a morning routine and are well nourished for the morning. Many more clouds and a brisk wind greet us upon exiting and I'm glad we've brought my jacket along. Without too much trouble we locate the tram and get a ticket for our fare but head off in the wrong direction. Anne realizes our mistake and hunts down someone who speaks English well enough to get us turned around. We eventually get to the end of the line across from the Parliament building where the changing of the guard is beginning. The costumes are interesting enough but we're looking for some drinking water and a roll of paper towels. We start down a street full of boutiques and fancy shops but the way gets steeper and there isn't much to keep us interested so we head back up the hill and enter the city gardens. The hard packed trail is easy to negotiate and a lone flute player fills the air with delightful sounds. Our sense of direction fails us at first but we turn back and Anne gets me up a slight hill to the Benaki Museum near the park. The first floor features Neolithic and prehistoric artifacts and is followed by Minoan, Cretan, Cycladic and Greek sculptures, vessels and jewelry. The next floor features Christian icons and an early El Greco along with many Greek folk costumes, paintings, lithographs etc. Unable to find a market initially and all the cafes are jammed so we continue on our way back to the tram. We're able to get some water and are back on the tram just before a rain shower and spy a view of the Parthenon on the way back. We have lunch in the lobby cafe and connect with Grant and Jenny who have been traveling for weeks. They go to a market nearby while I stay in and write. Our first night's dinner at Premier, the rooftop restaurant was barely short of spectacular. A window view overlooking the illuminated Parthenon only several blocks away. I'm not sure if it was the chocolate dessert, my afternoon coffee and Metaxa or the lingering jet lag but I am destined to get little if any sleep.
Sunday, Sept. 28
I try to sleep in but it is fruitless and I will be dragging today. We're downstairs for our breakfast / brunch and will be among the last to eat. We run into other delegates who sound as if they're about to do what we did yesterday. Transportation to the National Archeological Museum is arranged for us and I tell them to return for us in 4 hours. It's free on Sundays and is aswarm with families but we're able to see everything. The grand gallery has the best of their collection of statuary and I wish I were more familiar with the panoply of gods, goddesses, nymphs, satyrs and various demi-gods represented. A special exhibition on the famed Antikythera Mechanism displays its function and discovery with several reconstructions. The marbles, bronzes and ceramics are magnificent and even Anne, who had expressed no particular interest in antiquity, is impressed and takes time to appreciate the ancient accomplishments. It would take days to fully investigate these marvels and my mind fairly boggles at the ages past and the considerable achievements of the ancients. It's easy to understand how they considered themselves so superior to the barbarian hoards that threatened and ultimately overran the Greek empire. As if it might be possible to adopt the advanced culture by force of arms alone. The upper floor is chock a block with ornate vessels that are in remarkable condition on account of them being funerary offerings and little used in daily practice and probably reveal more about the day to day lives of the ancient Greeks than anything else. No doubt the idealized proportions, dignified resolve and stoic attitudes are a reflection of their desires rather than reality but the bar was set high for aspiring nobles. Poseidon seems ready to hurl his trident or is it Zeus with a thunderbolt? No one seems certain. There are references to attempts to repatriate lost treasures and one might think them greedy about holding so much but after seeing Greek, Minoan and Cycladic treasures in museums worldwide it is completely understandable that they would feel within their rights to recover the plunder of ages past.
We enjoy lunch in the cafe and are pleased to see our transportation come a little early. Back at the hotel we visit with Grant, Jenny, The Barnett's and Maltesers before returning to our room. With the idea of laying down for a brief nap I am enwrapped in sleep and have no desire to get back up even though I fear that I'll wake in the wee hours and be unable to return to sleep.
Monday, Sept. 29
We're up quite early and are down to breakfast by 8. We see our group's president and fellow delegates and we will have a warm, sunny day ahead of us. Hopefully to see the Acropolis, Keith, Grant and our spouses are deposited by van at the foot of the Acropolis. It is too windy to use the lift to the top so we take our time, enjoy the scenery and discuss art, history and religion over coffee at a sidewalk cafe until our ride meets back up with us and takes us to Parliament Square. We enjoy a cafe lunch on the square and listen to a panpipe player. We then split up and Anne and I descend into the shopping district and beyond for flea markets along Panos Street. I get a religious pin and the shop owner gives us a special pin made in a monastery. Anne buys several items for gifts and some olive oil dishes etc. We take a side street and are at the ancient Agora and double back towards the tram stop and arrive at the hotel in plenty of time to freshen up before our welcome reception and dinner. All delegates have arrived and we enjoy reconnecting with our many friends. US Member Robert and Kathy are the only ones at our table for dinner and we have a lively discussion over our terrific meal. The director welcomes us all graciously and outlines the next few day's agenda.
Tuesday Sept. 30
Wed. Oct. 1
Morning meeting. There had been time set aside in the afternoon for a continuation of the meeting but we wrap early, say goodbye to some friends and exit for lunch and a free afternoon. We make plans to go to the new Acropolis Museum and a bus is provided and we're deposited near the museum. Anne has a bit of a push up a ramp but we are more than compensated by a spectacular series of exhibits detailing the history of the structure and the amazing finds from the site. The entire building seems to float above a comprehensive ruin and glass panels throughout the museum provide sight lines into the excavation. The wonderful Parthenon sculptures are laid out as they would have been and the plaster replicas of the stolen pieces are fit next to the genuine artifacts. We only have a few hours and I'm having mild dizziness that abates after an ice tea but we barely scratch the surface of the information labels and are easily satisfied with enjoying the aesthetic pleasures on their own merit. We had viewed the introductory film upon entering and I purchase a museum guidebook that will detail the historical significance. It's quite warm upon exiting for our van rendezvous and the van tie-downs need to be secured but there's no problem returning to the hotel where we have a beer in the lobby and greet publishers from Australia. Evening meal is on the roof terrace with an amazing city view.
Our day will be on the harbor front with the Sharman's and Janz's. It's a beautiful, warm sunny day and I'm happy to forgo museums for a chance to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront. We marvel at the super yachts and Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior that is docked along the pier and are thunderstruck by a veritable ocean liner that we later learn belongs to a regional king. It redefines the word opulent and one can only imagine the interior furnishings. We first enjoy some drinks in a nearby cafe and then a full lunch at the marina's end. The heat has zapped us and we're glad to re-board our van and return to the hotel where I lie down for a short nap before we're ready to go to the exhibition.
We load into buses after a short nap and drive to Zappion Hall in the middle of City Park where our exhibition is taking place. We're nearly the first ones there and are greeted by a phalanx of folk drummers lining our way to the long ramp that leads to the inner courtyard. Beautiful young ladies dressed as vestal virgins hold torches and flutes of special champagne with a sprig of sage in it that offers a twist. We visit with other delegates and scope our seats for the opening remarks. Speeches and a blessing by an orthodox priest precede the official opening of the exhibition and we tour the marvelous paintings, have our pictures taken before our works (I am represented by 2 small Venetian watercolors and an old water mill that has been shown many times) and exit the galleries for appetizers. We snack and have our first dolmas. It's been a long day and after visiting with many other members we reload the bus and return to the hotel where we assail our beds.
We rise and have a very light breakfast. Our plan is to take a city tour and we'll wait until a van and guide is arranged. I try reading the paper on the patio while Anne begins packing and am almost immediately set upon by an inebriated Brit who I think might be coming on to me he sits so close and begins talking in personal terms. Weird. Anne rescues me after a bit and we go to the vans. Christina will be our tour guide and our president joins us for an exhaustive 3.5-hour tour of Athens. Christina shares her deep knowledge of the ancient city. I ask a few questions but am more satisfied to soak up the information while hanging on for the bumpy ride and congested traffic. We ascend the highest hill and are staggered by the incredible view overlooking this metropolis of 5 million. The Acropolis dominates everything and gleaming from recent renovations. Christina, as a classic historian, is unhappy with the concrete exterior of the new Acropolis Museum but explains that this is her personal view and not the official feeling. She explains the influences of the Romans, Turks, Francs, Venetians and others who have left their mark on the city, even bullet holes preserved from fighting during the Second World War. We'd like to get out of the van for a bit and Christina suggests we visit the ancient Agora. The dense traffic is nearly at a standstill and it's way past lunchtime when we finally arrive at a drop-off point. The site isn't very accessible and the weather is too hot to go pushing through the complex so we're satisfied to listen to our guide's interpretation of the area and then grab a cafe table for authentic dolmas and stuffed peppers and tomatoes. We're able to acquire a Greek beer stein for our collection. Our companions have gone off on their own and we're pleased to return to the van and creep back to the hotel where we meet in the lobby with the US Publisher to discuss the possibility of a cross country trip to meet with the student members. We then return to the room where I do this writing while Anne continues to pack and get ready for our last event: dinner on the beach. A large beachfront party hall is laid out with food, drinks and a smokin’ band that greets us as we enter with shouts of Oupa! and their guitars. A female pop singer preceded by folk dancers belts out disco numbers and pop hits and gets everyone up for a good time. People are dancing, conga lines form and sashay around the room. Anne takes to the dance floor with Sharman and then is dancing with the general crowd. We go around by our table and shake a leg. It’s a terrific way to close out an extraordinary week and we’ll be re-living the memories for years to come. The sunset was spectacular and the smiles on our friend’s faces are a purer form of joy. Knowing that we need to get up at 3:00 AM begins to weigh on us so we ease out to the vans just ahead of the majority of members and are soon back at the Hotel Intercontinental. Anne puts me down and then finishes packing.
I might’ve gotten an hour and a half sleep. Blearily, we rise out of bed and will get by as best we can. We gather our gear, check the room one last time and head down to the lobby and catch our transport after saying goodbye to some friends. The airport is already a busy place and we’re checked in and have a snack in the lounge with some caffeine to fuel us for the flight to Frankfurt. We’re late leaving and begin to freak that we might miss our connecting flight to Seattle. Fortunately, we’re okay and I get lifted into my seat and settle for the long flight. I read some, watch Easy Rider and Pulp Fiction, eat more, drink lots and try to take a nap. The piercing cries of an infant 2 seats over negate that possibility and we’re even more shagged out upon touchdown in Seattle where incompetent porters who can barely get me into my chair meet us.
Someone from the ground crew helps and we’re off to buck a tremendous line through customs. Really embarrassing that SeaTac should be such an ordeal but it’s not enough to otherwise dampen a fabulous time. Anne is able to retrieve our bags and the van from the lot and we come home exhausted. It’s only 12 noon and we’ll have a hard time staying up to get on local time. Mom gets a report and sees the many photographs Anne has taken. It’s fantastic to be home. We’re grateful that there were no serious mishaps and that my poor chair survived. We will look forward to the next celebration in 3 years time and connect with our dear friends and share art, love, history and spirit.