In October I made my first visit to Greece to spend a week in Athens and another in Delphi for a conference about world shamanism. My own presentation was about the Inuit epic Kiviuq and issues of colonization and global warming. But first, Athens.
Closed for Renovation
Magic began. Before leaving home I had made a divination on the poetry of Hafez. The poet recommended taking things one at a time and being in the moment.
Nonetheless, on my first morning I studied my map and started with a plan. After finding both the Cathedral and the Tower of the Winds closed for renovation, I remembered Hafez and started meandering up the enticing hills toward the Acropolis. The door of one small church stood open, service in progress. I cautiously entered at the back. The whole service was sung by the priest and one woman and the music resonated beautifully with the sunshine coming through the windows onto the frescoed walls. I sat down. As time went by, occasionally someone from the small congregation went forward and harmonized. The atmosphere was relaxed and so beautiful that I felt taken to another world, whose energy was powerfully peaceful — my first sense of the Greek sacred landscape. I later learned that the church is named Koimesis Theotokou, translated as Church of the Dormition of the Virgin. Further history says that in 1456 women and children were hiding from Ottoman invaders in the nearby Acropolis. As the enemy came closer they escaped to this church and were saved.
Everywhere you turn, Athens is imbued with ancient history — and then around the next corner busy, crowded modernity. I trekked further uphill, looked down onto the temple of the blacksmith Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora, and came back to my hotel through busy streets — exhausted but delighted.
Word Magic and more music
I had prepared by learning ten words of Greek and most of the alphabet. It had stood me in good stead on the first day so I decided to learn one more word every day — a resolution that didn’t survive the whole trip but was fun.
The first essential after that first day was omorfi — beautiful. I expanded it to “What beautiful music,” having no idea when I’d have another opportunity to use it. Next day, after finding the Museum of Folk Art closed for renovation, I went on to the museum of Popular Greek Musical Instruments. The museum is full of old photographs, recordings, and of course stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. When I came out, the sound of one of those same fiddles came from a nearby square. Sure enough, a man was busking. I sat down on a bench and listened. On the other side of the square was a stone gate — that went only to an empty lot behind it. To my surprise the busker was playing some of the tunes I used to play with my Bosnian friend Zelko, although quite different versions. Again I was carried away.
Tossing some money into his case, I managed to say, “Ti omorfi muziki. Efkharisto,” feeling a spooky sense of destiny. Before coming to Greece I had no sense of affinity with the place, and yet had been drawn by the possibility of visiting the famous oracle at Delphi. Now it was proving to be something more, the power of the earth in certain places, the long history, the spirituality of various times. I came to feel there was no coincidence in the fact that these two musical delights had happened within a couple of blocks of each other, and later there was a third — a fine guitarist from the Congo. Now don’t get me wrong, there are buskers all over Athens, some of them very good. But there was not always the overwhelming sense of magic in the music and place.
I did get tired of tourists, and worst of all, of being one. The Greeks are very patient in giving directions for the thousandth time, but it must be irksome, in spite of giving a needed boost to their economy. In Russia I often had fun passing myself off as local and got away with it most of the time if they didn't look at my feet. (I don't wear high heels as locals did.) I can get away with it in many other European countries as well.
But not here, that's for sure
Although one morning in the metro station I used some of my new Greek words to ask for a ticket. The ticket seller asked me a long question in Greek and only when I gave a dramatic shrug did she ask in English if I was over 65. It was kind of her to give me the discount since it is supposed to be for Greeks only.
There were other lovely moments. On a cruise through the islands a man came past my seat when our ship was rocking. He turned his wobbles into a smile and a dance step for my benefit! Lots of wit and singing in many places. I heard an excellent operatic baritone chanting out some advertisements on one of the busiest corners in Athens. I didn't understand, but enjoyed.
By now my legs were really tired. I had known I was not in shape for this. And yet the hills kept beckoning. At last I got to what had been a temple to Demeter and Persephone in the Ancient Agora, now more of a ruin than most of the others. And realized that it was located very near my favourite little neighbourhood. Could it be that the energy had moved a few blocks over?
At the Temple to Poseidon I began to understand the connection between the gods and politics. The temple is located on a point of land strategically placed so that guards could alert the city quickly in case of enemy attack. Prayers to the God of the Sea also served to protect nearby silver mines.
At last it was time to go on to Delphi. I had fallen in love with Greece and was often surprised that I really did not know the language. It seemed it should just flow easily from my mouth. When it was time to go home I bought a goat-bell, as a reminder of the music.
Thanks to Pavlos Kavouros and Jennie Frost for help and inspiration.
© Kira Van Deusen 2016