Friday, June 11, 2021

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Day Three - Wonder

The day began hot and sunny and somewhat late, so we grabbed a cab up to the Acropolis.  It's about a half-hour walk from the hotel, but I've been having issues with arthritis in my hips, and knowing that we'd be climbing around the rest of the day, we decided to play it safe. We checked with the staff at the front desk about distances and routes and finally got to meet George, with whom K had been corresponding regularly about the finer points of our stay. He pointed out sights on the map, carefully marking the location of the hotel and noting that in certain areas, we should be careful of pick-pockets. Duly warned, we set off.

Our Monday morning cab driver, as has each driver we have encountered in Athens, generously offered to provide us a tour of the city, rather than merely delivering us to our desired destination. Not only that, but for a very reasonable sum of something like 200 Euros apiece, we could have a half-day trip to the Temple of Poseidon, on the coast, and watch the sunset from there. He was concerned when we declined that we would regret it, and he let us out of the cab still shaking his head: were we sure? we would love it, he was certain. He pressed his card into K's hand before speeding off. It was our first introduction to the delightfully entrepreneurial, enterprising, and hospitable nature of the Greek people. 

The Acropolis sits on top of a limestone plateau, with a sheer stone cliff sides of around 100 feet. Because it also has natural springs, it has been a fortress and place of worship since the beginning of recorded history. Before the Greeks, it was occupied by the Mycenaeans, who built a fortress here around 1400 BC. Athena, the patron goddess of Athens has been worshipped here since about 800 BC.  In 480 BC the Persians invaded and took over the area, burning the existing structures to the ground. When the Greeks retook the area and later rebuilt, they used the burned rubble as fill - which ultimately preserved those earlier remnants. The existing structures were built as a cohesive project between 450-400 BC. When the Romans later occupied Athens, they made a few expansions, added some ego-boosting statutes (I'm talking to you, Agrippa!), and generally made use of the temples for their own pantheon of gods. 

Interestingly, the buildings were constructed using paid labor, not slave labor. The architects and sculptors, laborers and surveyors were free men. (It is possible that slave labor was used in the quarries where the marble was obtained.)

Odeon of Herodes Atticus 

Odeon Of Herodes Atticus from above

As we rounded the hill and began the climb, we first encountered the Odeon of Herodes Atticus - an ancient theater that has been updated and currently hosts events. It was originally built by the Romans in 161 AD, so it's relatively new compared to the rest of the Acropolis!  The marble seats/steps were added in the 1950's. 

As we entered the terrace where we could purchase tickets, a crowd of registered tour guides began to hail us. In Greece, only registered/certified tour guides are authorized to give tours at the historic sites. We chatted with an elderly woman guide who told us her entire life story before deciding to proceed unguided. (We have not yet met an introverted Greek. I'm sure they must exist, somewhere.)

The sheer scale of the Acropolis complex is astonishing. Walking on the original marble steps, slippery with age, is humbling. It is also disturbing to consider how Britain (and France, to a lesser degree) plundered this site. 

The Acropolis includes a number of structures: the Beule Gate (Roman construction), the Propylaea, which is the entranceway, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Pantheon, the Erecthium, and others.

The Beule Gate

Entering through the Propylaea, you feel a sense of anticipation and grandeur - which was certainly the intention.

To the right of the Propylaea, just before you enter it, is the smaller, square Temple of Athena Nike (Athena Victory). It held a wooden statue of Athena, which was worshipped by her cult. 

Temple of Athena Nike from the Propylaea steps

Temple of Athena Nike- front view

The Propylaea

As you climb through the Propylaea, you emerge onto the "top" of the Acropolis proper. What you would have seen, in its heyday, was a 30 foot tall statue of Athena the Warrior (Athena Promachos), whose gold-tipped spear was supposedly visible to sailors coming into the nearest harbor. The statue has long since disappeared and no one knows what happened to it. 

Site of Athena Promachos

Ahead lies the Parthenon - the largest and finest temple of its kind. The architects used tricks to deceive the eye into seeing it straight and level on the approach, even though it is slightly tilted inward. The sculptures that once adorned it were breathtaking. It is hard to imagine the skill and craftsmanship that created this temple which still exists more than 2500 years later. Ham-handed attempts at restoration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused damage, and now restoration efforts are trying to remediate that damage as well as further preserve the remaining structure.

The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena the Virgin, and her cult was based here. 

The Erechtheion sits across from the Parthenon, and encloses the the most holy site at the Acropolis: the spot where Athena and Poseidon battled over rulership of the city. Poseidon's trident struck stone and a spring of water burst forth, but Athena's sword yielded an olive tree. An olive tree has stood in this spot at least since 900 BC. Inside, there were two "cellae" or worship areas - one for Athena Polias (Protector) and one for Poseidon. The Porch of the Caryatids is the most recognizable part of the Erechtheion. Lord Elgin, in his looting of this site, stole one of the caryatids which is among the "Elgin Marbles" at the British Museum. 

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion

The "Room" Where it Happened! The Olive Tree from Athena

The stones in front of the Erechtheion are the remains of the older Mycenaean fortress.

There are numerous other, smaller shrines throughout the Acropolis for the worship of Zeus, Aphrodite, Dionysius, among others. The remains and ruins lay stacked like puzzle pieces, waiting to be reassembled.

Greek culture thrived until the rise of the Romans, who had overtaken the Greeks around 150 BC. During the later years of Roman rule, as Christianity took hold, these formerly pagan sites were converted into Christian churches. After the fall of Rome in 476 AD, Athens became part of Byzantium. It was later occupied and ruled by the Ottoman Turks, starting in 1453. They converted many of the sites into mosques, adding a minaret to one end of the Parthenon. As Athens lost population, the Parthenon was used to store gunpowder. In 1687, the Venetians laid siege to the city and a mortar hit the Acropolis and ignited the gunpowder, which exploded and destroyed the center of the Parthenon.

Thousands of years of history have visited here: victor and vanquished, gods and worshippers, builders and looters. And now us. 

My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Days One & Two - Gratitude

I had time to paint my nails before we left for the airport, and even then we left 10 minutes early.

Smooth drive to the departure area with B behind the wheel. Waved to the front of the line at check-in. Hombre's giant suitcase weighed in at 49 lbs. and my modest 24-incher at a mere 41. TSA fast-pass? Check. It doesn't seem real: no drama, no stress. Is it possible we are embarking on a two week vacation? How did we pull this off? Who even are these people? Mercury retrograde, be damned!

We've been itching to travel for a while, but hasn't everyone? Our last trip together (other than to see family) was to New Orleans in November 2019. We sold our dear Rooby last summer, so no camping lately either. During Covid Times our circle grew smaller and smaller - I have a 2.5 mile "commute" to my office and hombre works from home. The grocery store is across the street from my office. We have so much to be thankful for, and yet...the itch persists.

A friend who's a travel agent suggested to us back in February that travel deals were amazing as the world was ready to reopen, and we had amassed a nice balance of affinity points that begged to be used. Why Greece? I'm not embarrassed to admit that as a literature and history nerd, I like to see the places I've read about. I like to stand in history, not just imagine it. The islands and water and culture appeal to both of us. Plans were made, travel guides borrowed from the library, Rick Steves queued up on the telly.  I downloaded the Duolingo app and practiced rudimentary Greek each evening.

We boarded the flight to Atlanta, the first leg of our trip, and settled in across the aisle from each other. The woman next to K turned to him and said, "Are you together? I can switch seats, if you'd like." At each step it only got better. Every flight was on time. Our luggage transferred smoothly to each plane. Flight attendants seemed genuinely happy to welcome us aboard. Prosecco flowed. Delta served us legitimately good meals on the long leg of our flight from New York to Athens. Our travel agent arranged for a driver to take us to our hotel, and once we had retrieved our luggage, there he was, sign in hand, lead foot not yet apparent. When we checked into our hotel, they announced that they had upgraded us to a suite with a view of the Acropolis. We could even see the Mediterranean, white ships on brilliant blue off in the distance.

And thus began our adventure: with kindness from strangers, with gratitude for our amazing good fortune, and with a face-splitting smile I couldn't erase.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inaugurate Thyself

At first I was just sick.

My stomach twisted in knots, my mind and heart disbelieving.

We had worked so hard. Phone calls, door knocks, voter registration. I stood at the polls from before they opened until well after they closed, feeling cautiously optimistic as we posted the tallies and locked up the voting machines.

And then the texts from my friends started coming:

"Did you see the news?"

"They called Pennsylvania for Trump."


"How can this even be happening?!!!!!"

I turned on the radio as I drove through the darkness. The commentators on NPR were equally disbelieving. My stomach continued to churn. I've been disappointed with the outcome of other elections, but this was different. Very different.

It took no time at all for ugliness to erupt. Students in middle schools, elementary schools, and high schools taunted their classmates. Vandalism of Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques and Black churches was reported. Bomb threats, attacks, and the visible presence of the KKK and White Nationalists became everyday news. Women were groped by young men shouting, "Grab 'em by the pussy!"

What had we become?

And that's when I realized, it wasn't the loss of the candidate I supported that was so upsetting, it was the notion that there were people who I knew for whom Trump's lies, racism, misogyny, and divisiveness were acceptable, and for some, even laudable.

When he mocked Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter, his supporters shrugged it off. Apparently it didn't bother them.

When he ridiculed the Khan family, who lost their son as he defended our country, his supporters were nonplussed. Was it because the Khans are immigrants? Is that why there was no outcry for this Gold Star family?

When he chose a running mate who has made it his mission take away the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people and women, his supporters cheered.

When he was shown on videotape admitting to assaulting women and using vulgar language to describe it, his supporters waved it away. As woman after woman came forward with accounts of his attacks, they denied the overwhelming evidence.

When he made repeated racist references to Hispanics, African Americans, and immigrants, his supporters didn't bat an eye.

When he supported an ex-KGB Russian prime minister over U.S. intelligence agencies, his supporters didn't even grumble.

For people who profess to be Christian, who say they are not racist, none of these things were deal breakers.

And that is the source of my dismay: that so many people could find Trump's utter lack of morals tolerable, and that the progress we seemed to have made toward tolerance and justice over the last eight years was apparently so fragile.

My Black friends were not so surprised. They see things I do not see. In my world of white privilege, I thought we had made more progress. I thought we were better than this.

But you know what? We are better than this.

As the days rolled on, it became clearer. Razor thin margins in 3 states had provided enough electoral votes to call the election for Trump, but Clinton was the clear winner of the popular vote, by almost 3 million votes. And there were a significant number of votes for other candidates.

I believe that we really are better than this. By more than 3 million people we are better than this.

I will march in Washington D.C. this weekend. I will make myself heard. I will advocate. I will call my legislators. I will support progressive candidates. I will continue to work for inclusion, for welcoming diversity, for racial justice. I will not accept that Trump's agenda is the agenda of the citizens of the United States of America, because it is not. I will not give up.

Instead, I will inaugurate myself:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of Citizen of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Join me, won't you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

That Time I Sat Behind Bella Abzug and Her Fabulous Hat at the DNC Platform Committee Hearings

I slipped quietly into the back of the conference room at the Bond Court Hotel in Cleveland. A woman a few rows in front of me wore an enormous, beribboned hat. It was May 1992, and not many women, aside from fully turned-out church goers, wore hats during warm weather.

"Who is that?" I whispered to my companion.

"Bella Abzug," she replied, "Congresswoman from New York."

I was still learning. Learning the people, the issues, the talking points. I was a newly elected member of the executive board of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the National Organization for Women and I was attending the platform committee hearings for the DNC. I was rapt, listening to Nancy Pelosi, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Madeline Albright and Jesse Jackson.

Most everyone has a moment, a moment when the political becomes personal and the only option is to join the fray because staying silent is no longer possible. My moment came during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. I was not yet married and newly moved to Chicago. As I unpacked boxes and organized our apartment, I listened to the hearings on NPR.

I heard Professor Hill calmly and clearly describe the behavior of Clarence Thomas, betraying no emotion. She spoke as women speak who have learned to erect walls around themselves in order to go about their daily business unscathed by the leers, jeers and fears of men. There was no doubt in my mind that she spoke the truth. She had no motive to lie; everything to lose and nothing to gain by giving this testimony.

I listened in disbelief as the Senators questioned her, disrespectfully and disdainfully. I learned what "gaslighting" meant that autumn. And I was pissed. I had recently finished my first full year of practicing law and during that year, I was subjected to plenty of nonsense from the men I worked for, the judges I worked with, and my adversaries. It was not as though I did not know this sort of thing happened. I was, however, shocked to see it happening so publicly, even proudly, by men who were supposed to uphold the Constitution and directed toward a woman who was smart and dignified and composed.

Enough was enough.

I registered to vote in Illinois that week. I located a local chapter of NOW. I voted for Carol Mosely Braun for Senate. And I studied for the Illinois bar exam.

When we moved back to Ohio a few months later, I swung into action. I joined Greater Cleveland NOW. I studied the issues. I spoke at local events. I spoke at legislative hearings at the Ohio Capitol. I wrote to my legislators. I marched, I rallied and I picketed. And I attended the Democratic National Committee platform hearings.

(That's me, right in the middle!)

Later that year, I met Hillary Clinton. She was campaigning for her husband and when I heard her speak, all I thought was, "I want to vote for her!" I asked her, as I shook her hand, when she would be running for President. She smiled and laughed, and said "Not any time soon."

Last night, with my daughters by my side, I watched her win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. I doubt they understand why I had tears in my eyes, and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that means something: to them, it's not such a big deal that a woman was nominated for President of the United States of America. 

But it is to me. 

It is to me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I Am So Very Sorry

I love you, you know that, right?

My sister, my sister-in-law, my friends from church, my writing buddies, my friends from the old days in NOW, my former clients, my neighbors, my friends from law school, my friends from college, my friends from high school and elementary school, friends of my friends who became my own friends - I'm picturing your faces, each of you, as I last saw you in person or as I see you on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

And I am sorry. So sorry.

Because I don't see you as "other" in your gayness, and because you choose not to dwell on the awful things that are said to you and about you, and because I see you smiling with your partners, husbands and wives and children and pets as you go about your everyday lives, I assumed, wrongly, that the hate out there in the world was more trivial than it truly is. That it was annoying, but not life-threatening. Because of the way you live your lives, I assumed that it didn't touch you.

I was wrong. I was myopic.

And I am sorry. So sorry.

I am sorry that it never occurred to me that you have to decide, on any given day, if you are willing to withstand comments, stares and rudeness by simply holding your partner's hand in public. An act of love and affection has greater weight for you, and I never realized just how much. Even simple, personal choices like your clothes, your hairstyle, your make-up (or not) are loaded with the amount and type of attention they might draw.

And I am sorry. So sorry.

I see you as my friends, my family, my colleagues: witty, smart, handsome, and beautiful; loving, compassionate, and generous, and all those other amazing things that you are.  I don't see you as victims.

I always saw the Kim Davises and the Pat Roberstsons and the Westboro Baptist Church folks as outliers, kooks, and fanatics; well outside the mainstream. And then a hate-filled man with a gun invaded a space where you could be free from the weight of the hate in the world, for just a little while. He killed and injured innocent people: human beings who just wanted to relax and have a good time in a safe place. I never saw it coming.

And I am sorry. So sorry. For the loss of lives, for the pain of the injured survivors, for the terror everyone in that club went through. For the pain and sorrow of their families and friends and the entire community. And I am sorry for how this affects you personally, because I know that it does, in ways that are different than the horror I feel.

I am sorry for being so clueless. I should have known better.

The good news is that, at 52, I am still learning. The bad news is that, at 52, I still have so much to learn.

Photo credit: Therese Fanta

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Scary things in Bathrooms

We were on our way to a family party.  We had been driving all morning. The girls were about 4 and 6 and it was just the three of us. Somewhere along Interstate 77 in rural West Virginia, the alarm call came from the back seat of the minivan.

"Mama! I have to go potty!" the four year old announced.

"How bad?"


"Bad like you can wait a little while or bad like you need to go right now?" I asked, checking her face in the rear view mirror.

"Bad like really soon."

I scanned the road ahead. We had just passed Parkersburg, and it would be a while until we reached the next populated area with fast-food restaurants and more-likely-than-not clean restrooms.

"Okay, honey. I'll find a place to stop."

A few minutes passed.

"Mama, I really need to go."

I spotted an exit sign that boasted a lone gas station logo. Off the ramp, it was several miles of winding road before we came to it. I pulled in and unbuckled.

"Okay, girls. This one might be a little dirty, so hold my hands."

As we entered, I caught the eye of the girl behind the counter. I didn't even have to ask; she pointed to the far corner. One lavatory, unisex. Ugh.

I opened the door to a spacious, if grubby, restroom, with a formerly white tile floor and a big condom dispenser on the wall, alongside a tampon machine.

"Do not touch ANYTHING," I told my girls. "If you need something, I'll take care of it."

As I was settling my younger daughter onto the toilet, lined with paper to protect her little tuchus, the other began to make use of her budding reading skills.

"Fem, fem-i-nine, fem-eye-nine sup, sup-please? Is that what it says?"

"Feminine supplies. That's what it says."

"What is that?"

"The machine has supplies in it that keep underwear clean."

"Why would you need supplies to keep your underwear clean?"

"It's for teenagers and grown up ladies, not for little girls."

"Are teenagers and grown up ladies dirty?"

"No, honey, not at all. Bodies can get a little messy sometimes when they get older. How about we talk about it when we get home? I can explain it better then."

"Okay, Mama. What's this one? Rib-bed for please-yoor? What does that mean?"

Pretending not to hear her, I ask my little one if she's done.

"Almost, Mama. I really had to go."

"Hurry up, please," I request, as daughter number one continues sounding out words.

"What is this Mama? Rib-bed for please-yoor? Lay-text? What IS this?"

"They are supplies to keep people from getting pregnant, from having babies."

"Why are they in the BATHROOM?"

"That's a very good question, honey. I'll have to think about that."

"Can we buy one? I want to see it."

"Sorry, sweetie, I don't have any change."

"Yes you do. I saw it in your purse."

"We don't need those today, so the answer is no. Do you need to use the toilet while we are here?"

"No, Mama."

A relieved sigh escaped my lungs.

"Let's get going, then!"

Hands washed, I opened the door, propping it with my foot as the girls stepped out ahead of me.

Another patron stood just outside waiting to enter.

"I'm sorry if we kept you waiting," I said. "Sometimes we take a while."

"No problem at all," she said with a smile, in a surprisingly deep voice. I returned her smile just as a little voice popped up.

"Mama? That lady talks like a man."

"Yep. She does."

"She was nice, though."

"Yep. She was."

"I liked her dress."

"Me, too, Mama. It had polka dots."

For a mother with small children, there are far scarier things in restrooms than a male in a dress.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sing, Sing a Song

I can't sing.

But I do. All the time. Loud and proud and embarrassingly off-key.

In elementary school, I was relegated by Sister Thomas to the back row of the choir only partly due to my height. Mostly it was due to my lack of ability. In a sea of melodic Little Drummer Boys, I was a "Rum-Pum." I still loathe that song.

I had a Raggedy Ann & Andy portable record player on which I spun a bizarre collection of 45's and albums I scavenged from the recesses of our home. The 45's were mostly leftovers that my Aunt Rosie had passed along to my oldest sister. They included gems from Pat Boone, Chubby Checker and Elvis.

I still know all of the words to "Hot Diggity, Dog Ziggity, Boom - What You Do To Me" and "Dungaree Doll". I can blast out "Witch Doctor" like nobody's business, followed by "I want you, I need you, I -hi-hi-hi, lu-huv you...." in perfect imitation Elvis.

Interspersed among these 1950's gems were later additions, like "In A Gadda DaVida" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "Love Potion Number 9," likely purchased and then forgotten by older brothers and sisters.

Puberty arrived and I began to listen, obsessively, to Tapestry by Carole King, and Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M, which I found in the treasure trove. Imagine the sight of me, hovering over my little portable record player, singing along to "You've Got a Friend" over, and over, and over. It was not healthy. And then I found The Beatles White Album, which was the perfect antidote.

Soon my paper route money allowed me to expand the collection. I loved Elton John and Abba, Jackson Browne and Pat Benatar, Blondie and Billy Idol. I purchased Dire Straits' debut album at Dick's Record Shop, in Ironton, Ohio. The prices at Hills' Department Store were lower, but the convenience of Dick's couldn't be beat, since I could bike there. I was there every chance I got, analyzing the wall where the Top 40 were displayed in that week's order. Each 45 rpm single cost about a buck.

In junior high and high school, when Father Gabis at St. Joe began the process of pulling together our annual Variety Show, I was tapped for comic relief between acts because, clearly, I wouldn't be singing. For acts requiring a larger chorus, I was allowed to hum. Yes, hum. At some point, my friend Sally convinced me that if I stood next to her (defiantly, because at 5'2" with a good voice, she was front-row worthy) and listened carefully, I could follow her alto.

Sally was an enthusiastic and encouraging vocal coach. Without regard to decorum, she'd break out in the middle of "Endless Love" (the lyrics of which were edited by Fr. Gabis to include Jesus as the object of said Endless Love) to shout: "YOU DID IT! You GOT it! I heard it!"

I beamed. I glowed. I sang! And when Sally was absent from chorus practice, I was sent to the back row, to hum once again.

When I got to college, upgraded but still portable stereo in tow, I discovered that not everyone was a fan of my eclectic collection, which now included both Alabama and Electric Light Orchestra. I spent my money on beer instead of records and relied on the jukebox and DJ's for musical variety. I came up with the cash to see A Flock of Seagulls when they came to campus, though. Oh, I ran, alright!

These were the days before karaoke in bars, so my friends and I sang along with whatever was playing and voted on songs with our quarters. Madonna, Prince, The Talking Heads and U2 appeared in my collection of cassettes - no more albums for me, now that I had a Walkman. Mix tapes were the romantic gesture of the '80's, truly, and I have been unable to part with my collection.

With every move, from dorm to dorm, apartment to apartment to apartment, my collection moved with me. At some point in the early '90's, I finally started buying CD's. Now, with a subscription music service, I don't buy anything. I create my own playlists for every conceivable occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, pizza night. I even create playlists for the characters in my novel.

My albums, now merged with Hombre's, wait patiently in the basement along with my cassettes and CD's. Like the well-loved Velveteen Rabbit, they are "real" and I can't bring myself to throw them away. Too many memories.

Though lacking in talent, I still sing anything and everything, everywhere: especially when driving. I've amused fellow road warriors for decades with my shameless in-car performances. It's my personal way of spreading the love.

I'm like a walking Wurlitzer. Put on a song and unless it's death metal or rap, there's a reasonably good chance I'll be singing right along. And probably dancing. And most definitely embarrassing my offspring.