Thursday, August 20, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 9 of 10

Day Seven: Santorini/Athens
The morning is insanity. The airport in Santorini is small and crowded, as you would expect, with lines of passengers spilling out onto the sidewalk. Inside there are a dozen Chinese women buying refrigerated sandwiches from the small kiosk, and on the roof are tables where everyone is smoking. Although we all have assigned seats on the flight back to Athens, people crowd against the doors to the tarmac, then cram onto a lumbering bus, which rides us out to the plane itself. People rush, again, to board.

After about thirty minutes, we’ve landed in Athens, dumped into a choked mess of traffic and angry drivers—it takes almost two hours to get to our hotel. Kip and I are rattled by the speed of Athens, after having been downgraded to the lull of Santorini. We throw down our bags and walk quickly to the Archaeological Museum, only a few blocks away, and after discovering that they are open later than we previously thought, we step into a coffee bar across the street to eat bad sandwiches next to two loud smokers.

Athens needs a better museum. The artifacts here are some of the oldest, most extraordinary objects in the history of known history, they are the tiny beginnings of what we know about culture and art and democracy—at least in the West. But the building is old and badly ventilated, and at the most basic, very unpretty to look at. I think they should build a room for the Elgin Marbles, which were stolen off the Parthenon and now reside in the British Museum in London. (Here, they are called the “Parthenon Marbles,” naturally.) The Greeks should make themselves ready for their return, I think, and maybe in the new Acropolis Museum, they have.
Kip implores that we choose a contemporary restaurant for dinner, enough of these “taverna” type traditional places with all the same food over and over. I agree. We look to our guidebook for a new restaurant, something younger. Dare we hope for something gay?

Cook Coo Food is buried in a neighborhood that feels like the East Village—with rock show posters for bands called “Gods of Blood,” “Drunk Motherfuckers,” and “DeathWram”—I realize now that the neighborhood we stayed in before was more Upper East Side. The walls of the restaurant are decorated in blown-up photos of sign language letters, a hundred hands and fingers all along the walls. From the ceiling hang chandeliers that look like silver crowns spotted with fake roses—very gay. We order the tomato fritters, which the witty menu has listed as “Santorini’s favorite!!!” They are fantastic, the freshness of the tomato covered up, briefly, by the hot crunch, and then the cool touch of mint. Kip orders a roasted pork thing with feta and potatoes, and I have a vegetable coconut curry. On the walk home, we find a pastry shop with a freezer full of tiny ice cream pops—pale green, as big as your thumb, for only pennies.

That night, I have a dream about someone I went to high school with—Pearl Hwang, of all people. She and I are driving my car around some nameless town, and in the back are all these electrical cords that I know connect to some matching set of vacuum cleaners, somewhere. Then—the way things happen in dreams—they are stolen. Then the police come. And, turns out, Pearl is undercover, and she takes down some details about where I’ve been, even though she was with me in the car the whole time. In the morning, I tell Kip about the dream as he brushes his teeth.

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