Tuesday, April 27, 2010

islands of calm in the chaos


The feeling of standing in front of something you had been dreaming of standing in front of for most of your life is overwhelming— to say the least. I have wanted to sit beside the Parthenon since I was a little girl, and unfortunately when I got to the Acropolis at 2:15, I was told I had fifteen minutes before closing time. Why this enormously important historical site closes so early, is beyond me— it's a real shame. I sprinted up to the top of the hill, holding onto my dress so it wouldn't get carried away by the wind, hoping I might have enough time for a quick sketch.

I was so struck by the fact that my feet were adding to the shine of marble steps curved and polished by an unimaginable number of feet since the 5th century BCE, that I forgot I even had a sketchbook and pen. Sometimes I suppose, you're just meant to appreciate with your eyes and contemplate your self and surroundings a while.

I still don't know what to say.
I wish I had more time up there.



Whose hands held the brushes?
Whose lucky eyes beheld the result?

Monday, April 26, 2010

the breath in the marble

Housed in the stunning National Archaeological Museum of Athens, are dozens of faces I've known for decades, but never met. I am familiar with the creases and lines of Agamemnon's golden mask— I once played the goddess Athena when I was twelve in a play about the tragic hero. I know every curve of every muscle in the tensed body of Zeus (or Poseidon— his identity is not known for certain). I have smiled back at the curled lips of Kouros and Kore, and stared into the black eyes of Augustus. Finally, I get to stand beside them, breath held in wonder.

One of the things I love most about Ancient Greek mythology is that the heroes and gods are flawed, imperfect— they suffered fears and falls, love and loss. They were human. When I look at the expression of the faces, hands and spines of these sculptures, I feel the blood in their hearts, the breath in their lungs. Every unique wrinkle in a forehead, that soft individual bend of the mouth— all so alive, so human. Perhaps every sculptor was a Pygmalion, falling for his creation, carving and chiseling with love, the pulse into cold stone. I look into these faces and I see the person; their suffering, their joy, I think of the hands that captured the person, and I feel connected.

in the city

Wandering around the bustling streets of Athens, I came upon some lovely moments.

And then I treated myself to a mouth-watering gyros— the Greek version of the Turkish döner, or Middle Eastern shawarma. The major difference between gyros and döner, is that in Greece, the pita is dipped in oil and lightly grilled, not the healthiest but definitely the tastiest! The Greeks also drizzle tzatziki in the sandwich, whereas the Turks keep their döner sauceless. I was in love— oh, and by the way, the correct pronunciation is closest to "yee-ros." Expect looks of confusion or disdain when you ask for a "jai-ro."

poseidon and the pool of honey

Thursday was perfect for a leisurely drive to idyllic Sounio, a town on the southernmost tip of Greece's Attica peninsula. On the very top of a cliff overlooking the blue Mediterranean, stands what's left of the Temple of Poseidon. Poseidon is the Ancient Greek god of the sea— one of my favourites— known for being temperamental, he wreaked havoc on those who offended him with earthquakes and storms caused by a strike of his mighty trident. Unfortunately, the site was closed due to a different sort of strike, so I was only able to enjoy the temple's beauty from a little café with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.

On the way back to Athens, a feast was in order at a roadside taverna. Toasted bread, slivers of fried potatoes, salad with a slab of gorgeous feta, boiled greens and tzatziki got our appetites going as we sipped on cool wine and waited for the meat.

The lamb practically melted in my mouth, and just when I thought there was no room left in my body for any more food, dessert arrived. A large dollop of thick, tangy yoghurt with a pool of sweet amber-coloured honey.

I think I need to make this delightful combination a daily indulgence.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

graffiti greek

appreciation and incompatibility

I've often held this feeling that cities are much like people— some you learn to know intimately, finding comfort in avenues like arms, and others you meet with incompatibility and irritation. You may appreciate a city's character and beauty, but you know deep inside that there's no way to grow together. Every so often, there are those rare cities that you fall deeply in love with— your heart quickens when you awake to its morning yawns, you admire the curves of its streets, the light it holds between its buildings.

I'm so happy that I've finally crossed the Acropolis off my list, enjoyed delicious gyros and sipped on a beer in a funky reggae bar in a hip corner of town, but to be perfectly honest, Athens and I did not click the way other cities I've met have. I felt on edge and at times, unwelcome. In general, there was a rudeness from the people I encountered, so much so that I remember the one sweet waitress at the café, the nice lady at the post office and the friendly taxi driver to the airport— who may have ripped me off. I'm thankful I had Nik, Rigas and his friends and family to show me a good time. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

When I stepped through the door of Olympic flight 315 onto the gangway of Atatürk International Airport and saw that "Welcome to Istanbul" sign, I felt a mixture of relief and joy. I felt the excitement of knowing that past the baggage claim sliding doors, a loved one was waiting to greet me with hopeful eyes and a wide smile. My city was outside, and I was bursting inside for that first glimpse of that familiar skyline. I was reeling from some rude and condescending treatment from a security officer in Athens, and a fight with two Greek women who bullied their way to the front of the passport control line in Istanbul, trying to push past me and a group of Pakistani men. I refused to let them pass us, and was subjected to hissing (actual hissing!) and flying hands— they did not get what they wanted. The knot in my chest is finally loosening.

While I was gone, Istanbul unfurled into spring— the hills are fifty shades of green, the Bosphorus a sparkling deep blue. I am home.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

a cairene reunion in athens

Huddled under blankets, squinting my young eyes over small type in the dim evening light, I ruined my eyesight with Ancient Greek myths and legends. I knew Orpheus' tragic loss by heart, and how he braved the underworld to try and mend it, I giggled at Zeus' imaginative transformations in seduction attempts, and I felt sorry for the cuckolded Hephaestus.

Over the years, I have forgotten many of the stories that thrilled and entertained me so much as a little girl, but the fascination with Ancient Greece has never waned. Well my friends, I find myself at this very moment, in a long overdue visit to its capitol, Athens. I've somehow never made it to Athens, and it just so happens that Rigas and Nik, two of my dear friends from The Cairo Days, live in this little city. I've known Rigas and Nik since I was fifteen, but we haven't seen each other in fourteen years. It's wild to think that the last time we hung out, I was only seventeen!

Well I'm about to run off to the seaside and talk Rigas' ear off.
See you back in Istanbul!

Monday, April 19, 2010

the sensuality of a line

Picasso is not one of my favourite artists. I appreciate his work, but it doesn't make me weak in the knees. I did however, unexpectedly find myself swooning over his linework at the Pera Museum's exhibition of his Suite Vollard engravings, which sadly ended this weekend.

My goodness, would you look at those curls and hatches! So sensual and beautifully simple. I must admit, I fell in love a little in that quiet gallery. There's a raw sexiness to those lines— I can't get them out of my head. I contemplated the depth of my ink and held my pen differently today. I've tried my hand at etching and loved it— I think there's a wonderful harmony between etching and pen and ink. Being without printmaking supplies, I'll just have to entertain myself in the meantime with my vast collection of nibs and inks (she types with a grin)!

This heart pumps ink.