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Yassou! A Postcard from Greece
If you LIKE Greek columns you'll LOVE this
Hello! I have pneumonia, and I’m in Greece!
For whatever reason, my 2023 has been cursed and I have the bedraggled innards to show for it. My hagfish sinus infection somehow morphed into pneumonia. And yet, I persevere, wheezing my way across the Atlantic!!!!!! No, it’s not Covid under this mask, my eyes assure my Italian seatmates as I bark into my KN95! It’s no longer contagious as I’m on day 4 of antibiotics, don’t worry, my eyelashes quiver in Morse Code!
WHY can I not be stopped, you may ask? Because we are about to film the final episode of Islands Without Cars, the PBS travel series we have somehow been filming for the last 15 (!!) years, an episode here, an episode there, a pandemic restricting travel there, etc. For our last episode, we are going back to the very first island we ever profiled, so long ago that we didn’t have access to High Def so PBS won’t even air it anymore as it doesn’t match the rest of our episodes. We are going back to show how (if) the paradisiacal island has changed in the 15 years since we last left it. It’s a place that has had a mystical hold on all of us in the many years since we last visited. It’s the place where, if I need to shut my eyes and “go to a better place,” it’s always Hydra, in my mind’s eye. I can’t wait to share it with all of you.
In the meantime, I landed in Athens yesterday. I asked my cab driver if I could roll my windows down and he said it would be “too windy” as his were already rolled down (ok?) but after we traded the highway for inner-city traffic and he belched, loudly, twice, at a stoplight, I felt justified in going ahead and rolling it down without asking, and he knew well enough to not balk (or belch again). A belch-tante, if you will.
This morning, I purchased a “skip the line” ticket from the Acropolis website, and walked the half hour across the city and up the hill. A dude in his 20s with crazy bright blue eyes stopped me and told me he was staying in a hostel and needed my help because he was having some health problems. I stopped him there — “I can’t help you with that, sorry,” — and kept walking. I heard him call me a “fucking bitch” as I carried on up towards the ancient gathering place. I’m sorry sir, I should be stopping YOU to ask YOU for help with my health. I should have brandished my steroid inhaler around like a spear, maybe wheezed a stanza from The Odyssey on him for proof! But instead I smiled politely, a woman alone in a strange land, and endured his curses towards my back.
I stood in a long line to enter the Acropolis, so ready to enter Antiquity via time and space and my downloaded guided tour app, and the guy who beeped my QR code held up his hand.
“You need to go down there to the ticket office and have them print you a ticket with an entrance time on it.”
“But the email says the entrance time - right here, see? 9am!”
“It must say it next to the QR code.”
“But…why? I have to go stand in that crazy line?”
“Can I…not do that?”
I trudged back to the ticket office and found a long, unmoving line of other people who this was happening to. A Greek tour guide approached us and said the government just changed the administration of the Acropolis YESTERDAY and today was the first day of this new system, where everything needed to show a time.
“This is so DUMB.” I exclaimed to the Spanish guy behind me.
“It is RIDICOLOS!!!” he yelled back.
I eavesdropped on the French women in front of me who had some intel coming back from the front of the line. I spoke to her in French, which, nothing makes a French woman more excited than an American who can speak French (I know this because she said “WOW, you speak INCREDIBLE French for an American, I cannot believe it!!!!! We French don’t speak any other languages, but…”
“…You expect Americans to speak French perfectly?”
“Yes!” she agreed. “I know it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.”
The infuriated Croatians ahead of them asked us to give the intel in English. We were really all together, there, victims of a stupid bureaucratic indecency, strangers from 5 different countries, sweating in outrage together under the Greek sky. I delightfully offered my one Croatian phrase, which I said was weirdly a propos for the situation - it means “May the devil take away your happiness” and they laughed and said, yes, this is what is happening to us right now!
Eventually the Frenchwoman asked what I did for a living and I told her about Islands Without Cars, which her daughter immediately googled on her phone. Here they are, just after waving about wildly in excitement when they found me online:
Here the Frenchwoman is about to say, after looking at whatever picture came up on her daughter’s phone, “But NO, these photos, but you are so much prettier in real life!!!” (thank you??? ugh) Eventually we triumphed over the line by finding another, shorter way to beat the system, and we entered all together, the 4 of us, marching past the beep beep of the QR code beeper tyrant in a DIFFERENT line, exchanging French custom cheek kisses inside the entrance to the ancient citadel. A thunderstorm roared overhead - was it Zeus, alerting us (brag) that he gave us some help from his temple on high? Or was it international roaming/4G, enabling me to use the chat feature of the website and demand a refund so that I could use the ticket ATM that had less of a line?
We’ll never know for sure.