August, late 1970’s. All cities look better in the dawn, writes Pico Iyer in an essay on Bombay, and dawn was my first glimpse of Athens. From the old airport in Hellinikon around 4 am I get a taxi to the Plaka, where I find a hotel (who made reservations in advance then?), the kind where you wash out your sweaty shirt in a sink with a tiny bar of soap and hang it out on the grimy balcony. I drop off my luggage and make my way up to the Acropolis through the “back way”, passing through the white Cycladic houses in Anafiotika. Homemade wooden signs point the way up up up. As I climb, the stars fade from view and the sky begins to lighten in streaks of pink and yellow. The sun rises in all its splendor as I sit and gaze at the city below. It’ll be a scorcher, I feel it. My memory is hazy at this point; what did I actually see of the monuments? No matter. Welcome to Athens! Kalosorises stin Athina!
I don’t realize at the time when I return to the states that this sunrise indeed symbolizes a new beginning six years later when I return to Greece to live for good. In the meantime, I move to New York. There, I traverse the city on bicycle. It takes me everywhere from Chinatown to the upper west side, from central Park to Bryant park, from the east river to the Hudson. I battle taxi drivers, bus drivers, motorcycles. Looking up at the skyscrapers, I see they have a desperate beauty in their ascent to the sky. But I prefer, molelike, to burrow underground, spending hours in the lower depths of the Modern Museum of Art, watching films in the foreign film series. I can’t get enough of de Sica and Visconti. I do occasionally surface from the earth long enough to meet my husband who is actually Greek and eventually we move to Athens.
The signs tell me that my New York years are drawing to a close: second bicycle stolen, teaching hours cut, forced to give up my apartment and increasing violent crime, so much a part of the early 80’s scene. No joke, friends are mugged at knife or gunpoint, the sax player who lives below me is murdered and the police come to my apartment asking for information. I walk, my head always turning to see who’s behind me. I jump from fear. Time to get away.
Let’s give it a two year trial in Athens while my future husband does the compulsory Army service. Thousands of students, two children and 36 years later…