Broken Things

I haven’t taken any pictures of the city yet. There’ a reason for that, actually: it’s not very pretty. It’s greasy and grimy and it smells funny. Like car exhaust and electrical surges and too many people. But you know what the best part is? It’s the exact same as any other city just about anywhere…not like I’d know, considering I’ve never been to a foreign city before. So let me reiterate. Athens is just like any other US city, which is dirty and overcrowded.

It was my first time in the actual city part of Athens when we went to the National Museum for our Antiquity class. It’s funny because you go from city-slicking Greeks to Tourist Fiesta by the time you hit up the museum area, which is adorned with people people from China to Britain. We’ve been twice now, and today it was unbearably hot. A dry hot with no wind, which makes it feel as though fire just might catch in between the oxygen molecules just from the friction of you moving against them.

It doesn’t work like that, I know, but the hot air even scorched my throat from a measly half mile walk. There is a difference in kinds of stores here in Greece, though. There’s more bakeries, more butchers and other specialized food stores…and of course everything is in Greek. The Museum is nice enough, lots of pretty broken pots and marble.

Don’t visit it unless you really like pottery and history. And broken things as well.

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Like Marble

What is the American culture based upon? What influences daily interactions, catchphrases, pop culture, and ritualistic habits? Are they derived from the American evolution, from our cohesive North American maturation from colonies to united nation, or were these aspects of daily life carried on from the many countries from which we Americans all hail from?

Or is it a little less complex? Perhaps our behaviors simply originate from the last two to three hundred years, everyday conduct and expression built upon recent pop culture. Whatever the case may be, it is most certainly different from that of the Greek way of life, which consists of strong mythological and historical elements. There’s something guttural, bewitching, and enthralling about the stitching of ancient Greek history and mythology that weaves in between modern life, in both decorum as well as landmarks.

Though Greece may have choked streets, car exhaust and littered sidewalks applying a thin but notable veil of city filth, and other modern necessities that are much akin to American cities, it has something that is absent from my life at home.

Power.

There’s a taught line, in fact many lines, that extend throughout the homes and monuments of this country, stringing together both past and present in a culmination of something beyond just the physical of this world. It joins together the banal, corporeal entanglements of life and the fathomless reaches of the human imagination, or maybe the metaphysical depending on your set of beliefs. It’s a land that is both divine and not, because it holds what is most human and transcendental in nature. Greece is made of so much land, rock, dirt; yet, it contains mountains that brush against the sky in kinship of the elemental unity of the Earth.

And in the way in which Greece interacts with life, so too does it interact with death. We were just discussing the way in which the typical Greek burial is performed: The body is immediately buried, and after three years it it unearthed and the bones are cleaned. If the bones are indeed rid of flesh, then they are put to rest; however, if the case is otherwise, the family member must find the remaining unsettled attachments of the deceased and resolve whatever may be left unfinished. The bones are reburied, and the process repeats until all that is left is clean bone.

This, so different from a typical American cremation or casket burial, distinguishes the Greek vision of death from the American. I mentioned this as an example, though a fairly heavy one, as to the almost reverent nature of this culture. It’s close, deep, and so very spiritualistic.

Simpler cultural tidbits also reflect this, such as the way in which meat is sold and bought. The carcasses of the animals are put on display, chosen by the customer and treated before their eyes. The evil eye, a well known accessory to the tourist, trails back to just one of many Greek superstitions of greed, envy, and a ritual in which to protect oneself from such negative feelings.

I haven’t traveled much of anywhere, not even in the States, but I feel as though Americans are missing something vital in everyday life that this country exudes in every pore of its being. Perhaps it has to do with its longstanding history, maybe the religious influences of so many time periods. Whatever the reason, Greece is inhabited by a spirit, a spirit made of flesh and bone and so much more that I can’t possibly begin to describe.

Is it because America is yet so young? We have a very strong culture of our own, but there is a difference that sets off the balance between here and there. It could be due to the mixture of cultural fusion, so many people from so many places. They mix and mix, diluting the singular identity that the Greeks respect so much.

Well, what do I know? This is my best attempt at describing my experience here so far, my best at trying to compare just what I’ve seen while roaming the winding streets and rolling stairs of this city and country.

Greece, I think, is like marble. Recrystallized carbonate minerals, a crystalline stone and shining rock molded into the antiquity of this culture that relays skill, labor, spirit, and history. It’s marble because it shines, in the most simple and yet radiant way possible. And it retains the shape of its creators, and love of its people.