For many years, I have brain-accumulated references to Italy as "the boot." When first learning geography, I learned it was the boot. When a student draws Europe on the board and stumbles around Italy, invariably two or three students shout out, "Draw a boot." When I study a map of Italy, I can't help but see the 1600s story of Puss-in-Boots, including that classic heeled-boot one of the Three Musketeers would have worn along with his wide brimmed feathered hat, atop a full head of luscious dark curls.
While in the air, destination Athens, we pass over a land mass that looks like a boot! But it couldn't be Italy, because the fastest route to Athens would be...no, no, it has to be the boot of Italy. When I check the flight routes, I'm mildly ecstatic because I SAW THE BOOT from the air and it looks just like the boot I've seen and imagined.
Lack-of-sleep dazed, I walk the airport and start observing. As I pass two men having an exchange of words, it is so familiar--their way of communication. It reminds me of my father's associates: Jimmy the Greek, Nick the Greek, and my childhood friend's family. The Greek way of speaking: inflections, hand gestures,--even in America, is so distinct.
Michaelis meets us and we climb into his yellow Mercedes taxi. Not the yellow of a New York cab, but a softer yellow one would paint a baby's nursery when the gender has yet to be determined. It makes me laugh. This fleet of curbside cabs are all baby-nursery-yellow compact Mercedes.
As we move from the airport into the heart of Athens, Michaelis, which is "Just a form of Michael," teaches us a few Greek phrases we will surely need: please, thank-you, and hello. It is amusing how quickly I forget them and Tony's comments about the ease of language acquisition for children. The proof comes from my own easy recall of Greek swear words learned from my elementary school friend Val, born of a Greek mother. I don't use Greek swear words, yet they roll off my tongue 40 years later like they reside in my conversational canon.
"Look, there's the Acropolis," Michaelis points out like a proud Greek. I can't wait for Tony to see it lit up at night. I can't wait to walk through the Acropolis everyday, to climb Mars Hill, to walk among the ancients. We've found that a one entrance fee is EU 20 but a five day pass to the acropolis and the surrounding antiquity and museums is only EU 30. This same kind of bargain is what allowed us to savor Le Louvre when we became members of the Louvre Society.
Our Athens flat is an artist's loft in the heart of an artsy, bohemian district called Psiri. Ten large windows flood the apartment with light and put us practically in the streets. Her paintings hang on the bare walls, her black kitchen, her sparse furnishings, attest to who she is. In the summers, she can be found in Crete. Her working studio, canvases, ladders, paint paraphernalia, are walled off with a "Do Not Enter." However, the cracks in the temporary dividers are an invitation to sneak a peak at creativity.
We are directly across the street from a bakery and a hookah lounge. The contrast is quite amusing because we will frequent the bakery but ignore the lounge. At 5:00 a.m. Athen's time, the streets are quiet except when a truck rumbles and comes to a stop. I peer out our windows to the world and see the bakery is already a buzz. Its lights and movement are the only activity on this quiet street--from my lofty view, I see within the bowels-- the baker moves back and forth, the shop woman is already arranging. Before I adjust to the new time, the bakers will be my morning companions.