Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 5 of 10

Two Weeks Later: New York City

Convinced that I have missed something about the Parthenon, curious about the uncertainty that nicks at me from somewhere, I watch the episode of NOVA in which they explore the building’s restoration. I’m sure that if I just get it, something about my experience there will retroactively change. In the NOVA episode, the architects, artists, historians and scientists, they’re all talking about the building’s beauty, its perfection, the feats of mind-boggling skill, effort, and organization that it took to build something to majestic, so long ago, on such a remarkable scale. But it’s all cold, removed and distant. I’m sure the scholars who have devoted their entire lives to immersing themselves in the lives of the ancient culture, I’m sure they have some sense of life contained in the stone.

But where is it?

I spoke with a friend before I left. “Athens is a shithole,” he said, “You get up there on top of the Acropolis and there’s all this beautiful marble and its just brown and getting eaten up by the smog and acid rain, and you look out over the city and its just disgusting.”

I hate that the exhaust made by the machines of modern man are destroying the beautiful marble. I hate that history, and memory, and the glut of tourism has revised and rewritten everything to the point of the lowest common denominator. But most of all, I hate that I stood there, on the edge of the Propylaia, trying to feel the life-force, trying to cull the ghosts right out of the stone, holding my hand against the cool surface, and I came up with nothing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm loathe to be all "Haiti, Haiti, Haiti," but you should go to Haiti. When you land on the tarpac, you know you're in a very different, absolutely foreign place. Same with the airport. Same with everything.

And in a historical ruin in Haiti, up a wild mountain, there are no modern intrusions. You are only seeing and feeling _remains_.

I don't want to say to anyone, "You'd love Haiti," because it's not that kind of place, but as a traveler and careful looker-- you'd get so much more than most from it.