This summer, I had the opportunity of visiting Greece. The hammering of bad news on the country sat awkwardly in my mind with my eagerly anticipated visit to the historic sites. The nation threatening to collapse is the cradle of an ancient civilization, the blueprint of western moral and civic guidelines, not to mention a paradigm of harmony and beauty. I was not expecting to unravel any sign explaining the paradox of those extremes but I was eager to hear the locals giving me their views on the crisis and on the past.
Athens appeared languorous in the August heat, its energy only punctuated in spots by heavy traffic. From the heights of the Acropolis or Mount Lycabettus, the city sprawls and stretches under a harsh light and a blue sky, like a mantle of stranded ships pushed to shore from the Piraeus into dry land. Plaka, at the foot of the ancient citadel, is a remainder of the provincial village Athens was less than 200 years ago, its meandering streets inhabited by cats, climbing bougainvillea and the music of church bells. I sensed here the existence of an eye, an invisible presence, heir to the oracular practices of the past. Mass tourism is one of the most ecologically damaging activities of our societies and in spite of its impact, it could not defeat the impressiveness of the artifacts that preside over the Acropolis, the harmony distilling from those stones when the top is reached while the city unfolds at our feet. The eye lives there, unperturbed by the passing of time, as fierce as in its glory days.
I looked for the second eye in other parts of the Athenian fabric. It had to be somewhere, looking ahead to a future, uncertain and hopeful. Where was it located? As I left the agora, wrapped into the scent of the pines and the untiring sound of the cicadas, I was not sure what signs to heed to discover it. Was the air of idiosyncratic modernity in the streets a clue? A vitality simmering through the present difficulties? It mixed strangely with a frayed urban style, perhaps a reflection of the painful cuts the country is undergoing. Or it may all be in my mind, a foreigner in a strikingly alluring country, looking for a second eye, the one that would make sense of the first, ready to propel the country forward. I needed to look into the eyes of the city like somebody falling in love. I left Athens with the search pending, seduced by what I had seen, ready to consummate in a near future my love affair.