Welcome to

   Pianonoise!

...the lovers of sound seem to be the strangest folks to include among philosophers; They would never willingly attend a serious discussion or spend their time that way, but they run around to all the Dionysian festivals omitting none, either in the city or the villages, as if their ears were under contract to listen to every chorus. Are we to say that all these people, and those who learn similar things, and those who practice petty crafts,  are philosophers?

No, [Socrates] said, but they do resemble philosophers.
--Plato, "The Republic," book V (475 d-e, trans. Grube)
 
   Home    About     Listen     Site Index     Godmusic     Blog    057 < >

 













Greek Week
 Conclusion

back to part one
back to part two

If you have not already booked your trip to Greece to get an orange, let me tell you about our day at the ruins of Mycaeana. This is an ancient burial ground which dates back well before written civilization. We think that several important personages are buried there, unless they were all trying on large amounts of jewelry when they died. Greek civilization goes back several millenia, but even they are new arrivals to the parade of humanity. It is sobering.

At the bottom of the mountain, someone has decided to set up a monument to commerce; her temples may be transient, but her ideals are at least as old as the Mycaens. Seeing that the juice for sale comes fresh squeezed on the spot from the local oranges, I can't wait to try some. It is hard to write this without drooling all over the keyboard.

 

Many in our group remarked that possibly the most interesting thing we saw on the trip was the amphitheater at Epidauros. The ancient Greeks didn't have microphones, and had the ancient problem of reconciling this unfortunate acoustical fact with the need for hundreds of paying customers to bear witness to their theatrical ingenuity. They invented a type of massive outdoor theater which allows even the merest onstage whisper to project easily to the back row (well, the tour books say this--it may be a slight exaggeration, but the acoustics are nonetheless stunning, and a tragedian need not shout out his or her lines to be heard). The focal point of the stage is at the stone of Dionysus, the God of wine, revelry, and post-performance partying. Our courier, Tassos, was kind enough to demonstrate the acoustics of this wonderful place standing at the stone. Our choir had a go at it as well. Here is what they sounded like from the top of the theater (or pretty close). In days of old, there was a wooden structure in the back, a stage area. Now some of the stone seats are not safe to climb on and are roped off. But the magnificence of the theater remains.

 

It may be hard to reconcile the majesty of the ancient marble monuments to bygone glory with the functional hominess of a Greek trailer park, but, although that was very definitely not on our itinerary, we had a chance to visit anyhow, and it too was a highlight of the trip, in its own idiosyncratic way. On our way to visit the ruins (of Mycenae) we traveled through a nature preserve. You would think that Greece does not need a nature preserve. The rocky hills and splendid forests of Greece are everywhere, and there are few smokestacks and freeway overpasses wrecking the view. But here there were trees and plants we hadn't seen before, making for some really splendid viewing. We didn't have much time, so we simply enjoyed it out the window as the bus rolled leisurely past.

                  

On our way back from those ruins described above, Tassos, or perhaps, Ioanna, or maybe it was Zeus playing a trick on us--thought it might be fun to try an alternate route, being a little adventurous, and wanting to see a few square inches of Greece in which they were not expert. Those inches turned out to contain a route to the sea, and the bus was forced to take a right turn onto a very narrow dirt path which would permit no further turning. It wound past the Greek equivalent of a trailer park, complete with simple farmers and their farm animals and, eventually, into the front yards of some very surprised people. As the bus came into view their jaws loosened and the expression in their faces could not have been more disbelieving if they had seen a UFO. I take it that large, magisterial coaches do not often travel that road.

After some negotiating with the owner of the property at the end of the road, he moved his car, or rather, since the driver of the car was sleeping or the car was inoperable (I don't recall which) several of our party moved the small car by pushing it manually out of the way, and the bus had room to turn around in the yard. I hope we didn't upset the cows too much. The people will have something to talk about for a while, apparently. Which is only fair, since, so will we.

Most of our trip to that point had been spent in rural Greece. We saw beautiful countryside, quiet towns, and avoided a rush of tourists, both by coming in March, which is not exactly the height of the tourist seasons, and also by avoiding the large cities. We now drove into the heart of the biggest. 1 in 5 Greeks, I was told repeatedly, live in Athens.

The site of the 2004 Olympic games greeted us in style. We stayed at the very palatial, and very tall, President's Hotel, which was quite a contrast from our previous accommodations, not so much in opulence, but in size.

 

Our last concert took place at the American College of Athens. It was greatly appreciated by a lot of high school boys who did not seem to be there for the quality choral music being presented. I was pleased to have a 9-foot Steinway at my disposal. The concert went rather well, but the audience was not very quiet. Before the concert, we took a tour of the grounds. Around every corner we were greeting by a couple of Greek boys eager to show off their mastery of English, and very subtly and craftily subliminally show that they were also politely interested in the girls.

We had actually had very few problems on the trip in this regard. Some of the girls got whistled at a couple of times, but this was for climbing the ruins, which is off limits in most places, and guards with whistles see to its enforcement. Once, touring Patras, we went past an open-air cafe featuring lots of very hungry-looking men seated at tables--I tried to very matter-of-factly appear that I knew karate.

Our last day in Greece was just as amazing as the first. To begin with, I would like to thank the Greek Meteorological society for providing 75 degree weather and a perfectly blue sky. One does not get to visit the Parthenon that often, and it is good if it doesn't rain the day you do.

In the morning we took a bus tour of a number of sites in Athens. Some of them I recapitulated in my walking tour a little later.

     

The Acropolis was once the tallest hill in the Athenian city limits. Naturally, it had to have a temple. Since the gods liked to breathe thinner air, this mountain, like many others in Greece, was the perfect spot for the temples of Zeus, and Hera, and Athena, who was particular to their city--that is, she was their patron-goddess.

Of course, in order to arrive at such a transcending summit you must first pass through a lot of commerce. Instead of three-headed dogs, the road to the acropolis is bedecked with persons trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs. The Parthenon these days is under reconstruction. It is necessary to hold it up with modern-day rigging, part of an ongoing effort, which, like many ongoing efforts in Greece, threatens to ongo for quite a while. There are large slabs of marble waiting patiently to be put back in their positions.

   

The Parthenon itself is an incredible sight. I could use some kind of regal Latin phrase to describe it, but it would have to translate roughly as "Oh my God! I'm in front of the Parthenon! This is awesome!" and I don't normally speak Teenager.

The Parthenon, in fact, is a dominant feature in the Placa district of Athens, and, if you happen to be out walking at night in that area, you can look up and see the temple, aglow, several times, which I thoroughly recommend.

 

This was, in fact, part of the atmosphere of our last, fabulous, moonlit walk through Athens on our way to the farewell dinner on our last night in Greece. Before that took place, however, I had a little shopping to do.

I like to pick up a little indigenous piano music wherever I go, and, since my trek to Taiwan, four years previously, when I received some books of Chinese piano music as a gift, I've been on the lookout for native music to any region I'm visiting. I asked our courier where I might find some, and, as he happens to be a conductor, he knew just the spot. It's a music store in Athens called Phillipos Nakas. It happens to be on the web, so you can visit it too, although you will miss all of the fun of weaving through the streets of Athens on foot.

 

Ioanna's last act in my presence was to explain the route to the store--I would have to go it alone, which was unusual for this particular journey, as we'd been traveling in a herd pretty much the entire time. Not speaking a word of Greek, and having an entire city to get lost in, it was a bit of challenge, but I recognized several of the landmarks from the morning's bus tour, and the route was not all that complicated. It was something like 20 blocks to the store, past some neo-classic buildings, several modern skyscrapers, a lovely garden to Hera or somebody (now I forget), a hotdog stand, and finally, the five-story building which housed all kinds of instruments (grand pianos were on the top floor) and plenty of sheet music. I asked in English how I might find some Greek piano music and was shown some--it was mostly songs arranged for piano, but it does rather sound Greek to me, which was kind of the point (although I could have used an occasional technical challenge or something that seemed written particularly for the piano).

By the time I got there in the middle of the afternoon in 70 degree weather I was a bit tired, so I hung out and played the pianos a little, toured the facility, bought three books of music, and turned back. On the return trip I considered having lunch at a Chinese restaurant just to see how Chinese food tastes in Greece (I'm funny that way) but decided instead on a McDonald's of all things, where, it turns out, they have a curious little item called a McGreek, which is a Gyro that has been turned into a Big Mac (sort of). You are missing something if you've never had one. The key word here is 'something'. It is ambiguous, like the oracle. Hungry as I was at that point, I didn't find it at all bad. Surely it must be better than that breakfast sandwich I'd seen (but not tried) earlier in the trip.  Due to the similarity of two different Greek letters to the English letter O, it seemed to be call itself a "McToot" which, I imagined, was the inevitable result of eating one. But then, I've never been enthusiastic about breakfast food at McDonald's.

We were due to meet at Diogenese's statue before sunset; however, I had a little difficulty, once I was back in the Placa district, finding exactly which street it was down, so my tour included several more wonderful places to see. I also stumbled across the ruins of the Roman agora, of which, having been inculcated with a prejudice against the Roman conquerors by our tour guide, I decided photos where not necessary.

I was really beginning to wonder if I was going to find Diogenese on time, or whether I would have to wander the streets of Athens with a lantern looking for him*, when at last, I found him, and eventually, caught up with the rest of the group.

Which was fortunate, since it was a long way back to the hotel, so as usual, we took the coach. We would have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to make our all-too-early return flight. If you find yourself at the President Hotel in Athens, I'd heartily recommend the fruit plate, which has some amazing sauce to go with it (Bob was pretty sure there was Ouzo in it). It is served downstairs, although the piano bar does have some things to recommend it, including food, most of which the waitress claimed she was out of when I tried to order it (although another member of my group managed to order them five minutes later). The breakfast buffet of course consists of oranges, deli meats, boiled eggs, and don't forget the feta cheese.

While I'm recommending things, I know where you can go for a 10 dollar burnt Whopper--Heathrow Airport. England isn't yet on the Euro, and Heathrow supposedly only takes Pounds, but the persons there were kind enough to accept U.S. dollars so I knew exactly how much I was overpaying for my sandwich (the fries are extra) and, in my hunger, particularly enjoyed what used to be meat at the equivalent of 4 in the morning Eastern time (this was on the way over). The halls of Heathrow are long and winding, which is what John Lennon was really thinking of when he wrote the song.

Despite this, we managed not to lose anybody, going or coming, and all the adults concerned were able, upon safe arrival, to collapse in a stupor, confident in the knowledge that the trip had gone well.

You should really try going to Greece yourself. I hear the oranges calling your name....

 

michael@pianonoise.com