In Athens, oranges litter the streets. Being from England, it’s hard not to notice (and point to) that every time you see it. Immediately I wondered if I’d ever see an orange fall, then one morning I heard a thud. So I didn’t see an orange fall – but I heard it.
There’s not much that will endear me to a place more than nonchalance. Athens has it in spades. On Friday afternoon, I handed a €10 note through the window of a nondescript cabin – to a lady in her 50s, probably, smoking – and then wandered freely up the ακρόπολη. I would’ve paid more and waited longer for the privilege, but adore the fact that I didn’t have to. No fuss, no fanfare, no unsightly fences – just cold, hard, greater-than-you-can-comprehend history.
And then there’s the pie of the day. Spinach, feta, filo. What’s not to love? And Greek salad for two that would feed many more. Souvlaki from a carefully sought hole-in-the-wall, so fresh that the bread keeps it bite and so perfectly seasoned that you keep exclaiming it so. Lamb κλέφτικο baked in parchment, delivered quickly to your table on a cascading terrace in the sun. Coffee – freddo cappuccino – like an Athenian. House wine by the jug; cold tins on the climb down from λόκκα λυκαβηττού. An early-morning run along the Διονυσίου Αρεοπαγίτου – so surreal you have to pinch yourself. The juice of eight oranges for breakfast, squeezed over ice. (Do Athenians ever buy oranges?) Bright white, square buildings set against brilliant blue skies that leave no doubt in your mind: I’m in Greece now.
In Athens, more than anywhere, I’m conscious of what it is to be human. To exist in civilisation. To be just passing through a much bigger expanse of time. Eating, drinking, trading our wares, making our livings, loving each other – and trying to make each other laugh.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.