In January of 1981, I went to Greece. It was a gift from my soon-to-be in-laws. They were living there for several years for work. My fiance and I were still in school, and the trip was wedged into winter break. We left on the 7th and returned to Boston on the 28th. I was a few days late returning to class, but it was my last semester in school, and I had an easy schedule.
My in-laws paid for my ticket and we stayed in their apartment in Kolonaki, a wealthy Athens neighborhood full of restaurants and museums. They took us to Delphi and around the Peloponnese. I had lunch on the water in Nafplio. I stood in the ancient theater at Epidaurus. I visited, and revisited, the Temple of Poseidon of Sounion. It was incredibly generous of them; I appreciate it to this day.
Up to that point in my life, nothing compared. I had never ventured beyond New England and New York City. I had never flown. I had never been given three weeks to just go somewhere and explore. I was an English and Philosophy student going to what many consider to the be the roots of Western Civilization. The moment was not lost on me. Writing in a journal during the overnight flight to Athens, I marveled about “hurtling through the air, at 600 miles per hour, 41,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, in a metal tube with wings.” I said it was like Kruschev in Disneyland; for me, it was.
I have a handful of things from that trip: a small statue of Socrates, a journal, a few dozen photographs, and the coaster pictured here. I just rediscovered the coaster when I was moving some things around in my kitchen. It’s 35 years old now. It probably cost me a dollar. It’s worse for wear. Only after scanning it did I see the crack running straight through it. I remember breaking it shortly after that marriage ended. It was a too-obvious metaphor, but I re-glued it anyway.
When my ex and I had time to spend in Athens itself, we went to the museums, shopped, and ate. It was winter and cool; it was easy to get around. I had enough spending money to do all the basics and a little extra to buy a few things. At least then, and probably now, when you want to buy both the kitschy and the non-kitschy in Athens, you go to Plaka.
I bought gifts for my family–small rugs for my mother and sister, statuettes of satyrs for my brothers, and a necklace for my grandmom. I seem to remember buying a number of these coasters and other tiles in different forms, but the rest are long gone, some from use and others, as I recall, victim to the sad little ceremony of dividing our belongings during the divorce. A sticker on the back, determined to stay on all of these years, tells me the coaster was “Hand Made by Niarchos.” I searched the web and was delighted to find pictures of some of the others I bought. I could buy some for $3.00. Maybe I will.
I re-read my Athens journal every few years, and will set out to re-read it again now. That long plane trip ended in a scary, gymnastic landing in high winds. The trip was a track meet. We did three and four and five things every day–a museum, then lunch, then shopping, then dinner, then something at night. As I wrote in my two blog entries about Sounion, the trip was both an adventure back in time and an exploration into my deep and complex feelings about my father’s death only two months before. The journal goes from exhilaration to exhaustion, without a stop in between. It’s worth another reading.