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our story thus far

Post #117 • September 30, 2003, 11:31 AM

Saturday: A smooth flight in, excepting the transfer at Charles de Gaulle, which involves a cross-airport sprint to a gate that does not want to let me on the plane, and does so only after I beg. Also, I get fleeced by a very nice cab driver.

Hotel Central in Athens is beautiful. The Carsons, who teach at the Aegean Center, treat for dinner: xorta, tzatziki, tomato salad, and bacalao. Veganism officially goes out the window for the duration of the trip.

Sunday: with Jeffrey and the group to the Akropolis, which is being dismantled and rebuilt to replace the internal iron supports with titanium in time for the Olympic Games in 2004. Ralph Mayer says that rusted staples are as strong as new ones for holding canvas on stretchers, but I don’t know if the same is true of marble. Jeffrey is angry: the columns were placed within centemeters of precision, and they will never be able to put it back correctly, he says. Nevertheless, even one-third undone it looks magnificent. In the Akropolis Museum: the Calf-Bearer, the Deplos Kore, the Kritios Boy, more kore, and friezes. The pedimental sculptures were carved on the back even though the backs would be invisible: Athena could see them, and she insisted on perfection. Dinner with some of the group at Eden, Athens’ vegetarian joint; the soy souvlaki is good, but my quiche tastes, um, healthy.

Monday: an early rise for a 5 1/2 hour ferry ride on flat seas to Paros. The students I talk to are preternaturally bright for their age and are ready to talk politics, art, religion. I see John, who at 55 looks as boyish as ever. We settle in to the Aegean Village apartments. Ouzo and meze with John. I try ouzo every time I come to Greece and every time I hate it, but it’s the principle of the thing at this point. He has some good advice for me about art and teaching that I can’t repeat here. A dog that I’m nearly sure is the same one that led C. and I down to the cave of Archilochos in 1997 is in the street taking shots at the flanks of cars and trucks as they drive by. Dinner with Packs; Gabriel is 11 and feisty. We talk about the school. It is doing well; he owns his own building and now no longer has to worry about capricious Greek landlords. Applications continue to exceed spots available in the program. Tourism has enriched the island – everything is freshly painted and in repair – but tourism has taken a big dive between 9/11 and the conversion to the euro. This could help the school in the long run because the program brings in people consistently for three and four months at a time, and is a stable supplier of tourists of the best sort – academic tourists.

Tuesday: school meeting to make the important announcements: renting motorcycles is forbidden (a student who was an experienced rider came within 20 minutes of dying in an accident last year), no (no!) toilet paper in the toilets, be safe, be careful, focus, work your tail off.

I join up with Jane to help teach painting. Jane is a superb teacher: a powerful mix of clarity, gentleness, and forcefulness. She makes a half-dozen profound points that escape me in their particulars but impress me with their feeling: you enter into a painting slowly, looking at paintings takes practice and experience, things that are invisible to you now become available as you make more paintings – all things I can verify from experience. As Jane goes to her singing ensemble, I take over and talk about my life as an artist and show the work on my website. I’m grateful to think that when I was in the students’ position I wondered if I could have a career as an artist, and I’m able to report back that I could, and I did, and I am.

Dinner at the Happy Green Cow, Parikia’s vegetarian joint, which has doubled its prices since 1997. Tourism and the Euro have driven prices up. When I was here last time is was about the same price to eat out as cook for yourself. Now the locals have figured out what the tourists go for and charge them American prices. Sandwiches from the bakery are seven euros, but a good old tiropita goes for 1.50.

Out in the street, a perfect orange crescent moon and the clacking sound of backgammon.

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