Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day Two in Athens: Don Quixote, the musical comedy, in Greek

Day two in Athens was on Sunday, and it was similarly busy. We got started earlier, stopped by the hostel breakfast area for a quick breakfast, and headed straight for the Agora. The Agora was the meeting place and marketplace of ancient Athenians, similar to the Forum in Rome. It has the foundations of stalls from vendors, open areas, a drainage system, and now it has a little museum as well. Apparently there is the regular Ancient Agora as well as a Roman Agora, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if we saw one or both, because sometimes it’s hard to tell what things are what.

In the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, which I mentioned yesterday as the best preserved temple in Athens. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go inside, but you can see in through some of the doorways. I’ll post pictures next week when the internet is fixed.

We barely left ourselves enough time after the Agora to make it to the Parliament building for the changing of the guards, but we did make it. The guards are similar to those at Buckingham Palace, but their outfits, if you can believe it, are sillier. They have tutu-like puffy skirt things, tight leggings with bands tied around their knees, shoes with huge pom-poms over the toes, and red hats. They also perform a very strange march when they are changing the guard. It would be unwise to make fun of them, though, because they all have guns.

The actual changing of the guard was a pretty standard ceremonious sort of thing, with music played by the guard band and marching around and such. Interestingly, they are not behind any sort of enclosure when performing the change, so police officers continually have to shoo tourists back away from the area. I took a video of part of the ceremony, so I might post that later.

We made our way back from the Parliament building by way of some streets with a lot of shops and an old church which we were unable to identify. We tried to shop, particularly for dresses, but we couldn’t find anything that was both inexpensive and attractive. It was easy to find one or the other! Eventually we gave up and headed for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, by way of a quick lunch on the go.

The Archaeological Museum of Athens is very well-known and well-respected, and with good reason. It has all sorts of artifacts from “pre-history” (what is pre-history, exactly?) through more recent, though still ancient, history. One thing to note about Athenians, particularly museum workers, is that they don’t like you to pose with the statues. We found this out by (repeated) trial and error. You can take as many pictures as you want of the statues and artifacts (with a few exceptions), but as soon as you try to be in a picture with the item, they come and scold you. Nonetheless, we persevered, and I have a very few pictures of us posing with statues. And pottery. We saw it as stimulating the Greek economy by preserving the need for museum guards.

In any case, the collection is very extensive, with statues, weapons, jewelry, paintings, a ton of vases and pottery, and so on. I especially liked the Stathatos collection, which consists primarily of jewelry, but also some other vases and things, collected by a woman who was very interested in ancient Greek history and had married a rich man who supported this interest. Most of the items are in extremely good condition. The couple donated the collection to the museum in the 1950s, where it has a special exhibition hall that is much nicer than the rest of the museum.

Also, there is a collection of statues and artifacts that were discovered from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of the island of Antikythera. One of the artifacts is the Antikythera mechanism, described as the first mechanical computer, used to calculate astronomical positions.

After the museum, two of us headed back for dinner and the other went to catch her flight. We took the metro to get back from Omonia Square, which is supposed to be a landmark but it was unclear why. As for the metro, some of the stations are the nicest I’ve seen anywhere, and I consider myself a public transportation aficionado. The one where we got off had a mini museum inside!

We ate at God’s Restaurant again. I had the most delicious Greek salad I’ve ever had (good thing, because we were in Greece!) and we shared a flat fried cheese thing with lemon that was also really good. And of course, we had baklava for dessert.

At that point, we started seeing a lot of people walking in the direction of the theater, so we figured it was time to get going. For a few more minutes, we hung on to the hope that the show would be in a language we could understand (first choice English, second choice Spanish, which seemed a reasonable hope for a production of Don Quixote). As we walked with the rest of the crowd, though, we could tell this wasn’t really a show geared towards tourists. When we arrived and the programs were entirely in Greek, our suspicions were confirmed. Fortunately, the atmosphere was exciting, the theater itself is magnificent, and the actors were good. There was also a scene with pyrotechnics when Don Quixote is fighting the windmill! The theater is a mix of preserved parts of the ancient theater and restored parts that are intended to look the way the theater did when it was new. One difference is that squishy seat pads are provided. I think we need more outdoor theaters in the U.S.

As for the production itself, to my surprise it turned out to be a musical comedy (I could tell it was a musical myself, and other people laughing told me it was a comedy, even though I had no idea what was going on and obviously didn’t get the jokes). It would be misleading to say that I stayed engaged (or even awake) through the entire performance, but I still enjoyed the experience.

And that’s pretty much it for Greece! After the end of the show, we got our stuff from the hostel and went to the airport, where unsurprisingly our flight was delayed, but we got back to Barcelona just fine.

As for Monday and Tuesday, I have nothing special to report, except that the intensive schedule didn’t start until today. Also, spinach turns out not to be a good investment, because it goes bad very quickly after you open it, even if it’s in the fridge.

Also, the girl of the couple I’m living with is on vacation visiting her dad, so it’s just me and her boyfriend, which forces me to speak in Spanish at home, which is good. Spanish isn’t his first language either, so we get a kick out of sitting there with our dictionaries trying to have a conversation. Her absence is also the reason the internet is not fixed, because she’s the one who needs to set up the new system. She’ll be back on Sunday, though, so by Monday hopefully I’ll be able to put up pictures!

Whew! Long post!

1 comment:

  1. Busy lady, what did you not see in Athens?