Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Homecoming (Επαναπατρισμός)

As the day dawned, its importance descended onto the city, which had become a hive of activity on every corner. Policemen began taking their places in key positions, roads were closed off, television camera crews set up their equipment, journalists and reporters crowded the press rooms of the airport, the museum, and the offices of the Ministry. Television programmes were constantly interrupting their schedules to provide updates of the arrival of important dignitaries, the latest speeches made by the Minister and his office, and the most poignant of all: reporters out on the street, conveying the feelings of the exuberant onlookers, local residents, whole families, three generations huddling together under their umbrellas to avoid the burning sun, all standing patiently on every street surrounding the holy site. Some had bought folding chairs to sit out the long hours of waiting ahead of them.

view from the acropolis
The city awaits expectantly...

The day would be a long one, but no one seemed to show any signs of giving up, despite the scalding temperatures. No one was going anywhere. All the balconies surrounding the site were spilling over with people. Everyone had taken their places like sentries outside a guardhouse. This was a one-in-a-million opportunity that should not be missed. There was no guarantee that it would happen again; at least, not again in one's own lifetime: that was for the next generation. Those that could not attend had positioned themselves on a sofa, a couch, a divan, an armchair, or even a bed, any place where there was a television stationed before them. There were also those that had decided to celebrate the occasion in style, meeting up with friends and acquaintances in cafes, tavernas, bars, restaurants. All the big screens in the electronic shops were tuned into the same frequency, reporting the events of the day as they were unfolding, up until the moment of climax that everyone was awaiting.

*** *** ***
Behind the glass, overlooking the crowds, in the comfort of their new home, the sisters waited expectantly. They knew something important was happening. For the last six months, there had been no visitors at their place. At first, they had missed the smiles, the attention, the pointing, and the general awe of their guests, but they had seen this kind of thing happen to their neighbours at various times. They knew that it signified the start of something big. Instead of the regular visitations from locals and tourists alike, especially the large contingents of school children - their personal favorites, reminding them of the life they could have had, had they not been chosen to be the custodians of their ancient heritage - they were now being pampered by artists, technicians, archaeologists, architects, reporters, journalists, stonemasons, painters, plasterers, and almost every jack of a trade.

All of a sudden one day, they lost their vision; they no longer had a view of the light coming from their old house on the hill, the only home they had known until the day when they were moved into their temporary shelter, in anticipation of the construction of their new home, into which they had been moved relatively recently. Being tightly covered in trasparent veils, they could not see what exactly was happening, but they could still sense the excitement from behind the screen. It was their lost sister's space that was being treated with the greatest care. They could still remember the day when she had been taken away from them; their wails of anguish at the violence that had been inflicted upon her kept the whole town awake. Her captors did not find her an easy catch; they had given up uprooting any of the others, abandoning her maimed sister in amongst the ruins of their former home. Thus, she had gone unaccompanied, and they felt guilty for her loneliness.

There have been many defacers of the Acropolis over the centuries: some were accidental (like the first fire to break out on the site) while others were more deliberate (like the anti-pagan defacement by the Christians). But the last defacement is the one most remembered: look what he did (one of the Caryatids is clearly missing).

As the day dawned, a sixth sense overcame them all. They could feel her presence close to them once again, a sensation they had never felt so intensely until today. Could it be...?

*** *** ***
The plane finally touched down at the airport, but only a few people came out of the doors once they opened. Whoever they were, they were not important. All eyes were on the underside of the plane. A conveyor belt had been installed, linking the door of the plane to the long trailer that was being pulled by an articulated truck. As the box exited from the cargo area, a magnetic arm grasped the container firmly; no error allowance was permitted on this occasion. The box inched its way outr slowly from the plane and moved along the purpose-built corridor. When it finally reached the inside compartment of the cab that was pulling it, a priest wearing gold-coloured apparel and sporting a long grey beard began chanting solemnly as he thrust forward a burning censer in the direction of the container, its fragrant contents of aromatic franincense permeating the air. When he had finished his dirge, the container door was finally closed and the truck began its slow journey to deliver the container to its final home. It was not a lonely journey; police cars were flanking it on every side, their lights flashing menacingly, but their sirens silent.

The journey was an easy one through the empty roads, cleared of all traffic for the duration of the voyage. The real excitement started when it came onto the city streets, which throngs of spectators had lined in the hope of catching a short glimpse of the passing cargo. As the cab drove by, the spectators cheered and the crowds immediately began to disperse, scurrying away to find the television screen closest to them, to revel in the continuation of the journey until its final destination.

the caryatid fakes
These ladies are copies of the real ones...

The climax came when the truck finally stopped on the road leading to the ancient site. Officials took their positions and the container door finally opened, revealing its sacred cargo. Again the flurry of priests and censers, the setting into motion of the machinery and equipment, and the enormous arm suspended over the whole scene. Slowly the crane moved into position, the container was opened from all sides, and the arm was lowered over the cargo. Some people began clapping. As it began its ascent, the crowd began cheering wildly, shouts of glee coming from all around. It was anticipated that there would be a commotion of this kind; the crane operator had been instructed to wear earmuffs, lest her mind be distracted from the commotion. The box hovered in the air for only a few minutes, before it finally came to rest gently in the designated area where its contents would be revealed.

*** *** ***
There had been a lot of activity in the last few days in the sisters' home. They were still under wraps, but if their anatomy allowed it, they would be stewing in their own sweat. They felt a new lease of life passing through their motionless bodies, as if any moment now, they would be released of their pent-up grief and breathe peacefully once again, the turbulence of their past a fading distant memory.

.. who are now in their new home...

The day finally came when their blanketed bodies were once again bared and their eyes could again see their neighbours. As their eyes slowly became accustomed to the light, a new shadow passed over them. Each sister's view was restricted, so that they relied on each other for a wider picture of their environment. Only one sister had a more complete view of their surroundings; her room was behind the other sisters' front-room locations on the right-hand side. Another sister, positioned on the left-hand side, would also have had a better view had her eyesight not been damaged beyond repair when she was violated that fateful day after her lost sister's kidnapping.

But even the sister in the back room was having difficulty seeing. She felt a blurry sensation in her eyes, as if she needed to rub them; what was once an open space to her left was now blocked by--

lonely cariatid in the british acropolis
... waiting for their sister's return.

"It IS true!" she cried out suddenly without further though. "She has returned!" And as she smiled secretly, a chorus of songbirds could be heard emanating in the air of the building, slowly pouring out into the streets surrounding the Acropolis Museum. The citizens of Athens who were going about their daily business wondered where the beautiful music was coming from, as they all turned to follow it in its stream, close to the hill that had been looking over their city for so many centuries.

*** *** ***
The question is no longer 'if', but 'when'.

How long more will she be imprisoned?

*** *** ***

Greece has always been a bit slow to get things up to date, so that her modernism is always out of date by the time she reaches her intended target. That doesn't mean that Greeks are not trying to improve on past errors; they simply cannot keep up with the out-with-the-old in-with-the-new globalised culture that the world revolves around, at the best of times an impossible task in any sector.

One of the biggest complaints about the new Acropolis museum is the lack of explanatory material in the form of leaflets. They are probably still in the making, but of course they will be useless when they are printed, because by then the latest global museum technology will consist of freephone numbers that you punch into your i-pod which give you online information - and Greece will once again be accused of lagging behind.

the acropolis athens
The different layers of colours that make up the view of the Acropolis

This lack of educational material is not just a piece of printed paper - it needs a set of great minds to work out how to present a summary of the centuries-old exhibited works in just a few hundred words (at most a thousand). The Greek state can hardly afford to pay pensions at the moment; the educational material will just have to wait, unless some retired historians (or other do-gooders) decide to volunteer their services for the greater good. That's pretty much how the British Museum got going - collecting foreign antiquities for the greater good of Britain.

There are photography bans in the museum, although that has clearly not stopped many people from sneaking a few shots - they are plastered all over the internet (which is where I got the shot I used in this post). But I'm sure there is a good reason for photography bans. For years, Greece has been accused of allowing the Acropolis antiquities to languish, exposed to the vagaries of pollution. Maybe the authorities are just being extra cautious about the damage that could be caused to them by artificial intense light. This is pretty much the case for artwork all over the world; most art galleries and museums enforce strict bans over what can or cannot be photographed.

The 'what' and 'when' are covered in the small explanations given in the explanatory plaques below each of the exhibits which is helpful. The 'where' might also have been helpful too, but the truth is that most of the exhibits are the remnants of what was not destroyed or looted. Most of the time, it is difficult for archaeologists to work exactly what the use of each item found on a site actually was at the time it was made, especially when the items of interest are simply shards of larger items. The Acropolis has suffered so much destruction (fire, earthquake, explosions, anti-pagan crusades, adaptations for newer functions, and most of all, looting) that it is simply not feasible to expect a thorough explanation of all its mysteries, no matter how learned scholars, historians and archaeologists are.

Hence, the 'why' and 'how' is not covered in the explanatory plaques. But isn't that the information which the visitor to the museum should look up for him/herself? Self-education is an integral part of the cultivation of oneself - it cannot all be given on a plate (that's what makes smarty-pants know-alls rather than truly intellectual people). The Acropolis is not a collection of snobby elitist artwork without explanations. We live in a world where explanations are easy to get at the click of a button; it's a case of teaching a man how to fish instead of feeding him a fish. You can always buy the official guidebook before entering the site; in this way, I didn't have to suffer the same fate as at my recent visit to Knossos; thank goodness I had a brilliant guide.

snacking after visitin the new acropolis museum
Enjoying 17 euros worth of milkshake and apple pie - getting swindled after visiting the Acropolis museum at one of the cafes and tavernas located close by. Plenty of food for thought in today's post...

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