It’s really summer now, June has come, even the last lingering schools have finished, and in Athens, the digging season is about to get underway.
One year ago I was about to start my first dig season at the Athenian Agora. So not only was it my first time ever doing real archaeology, something I’d been wanting to do since ever, but it was also going to be at one of the most famous historical sites in the world, in the shadow of the Acropolis.
I worked at the dig for six of the eight week field season. It was hard work under the hot Grecian sun and you couldn’t sit down, but it was never boring, and the people and the community was really great. So though my opinion of the work started out tepid at first (I spent a whole week dusting dust off of dirt before even digging) by the end of my six weeks I was really enjoying myself and I wanted to finish out the season with the other diggers. It should be noted however that if you ask any of the other Smithies who was on the dig with me that you will get radically different opinions from my own. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when saying I’m the only one of us who would do it again.
Well, the field season starts tomorrow. All week on Facebook I’ve been seeing people returning to Athens ready to start another summer covered in dirt. And honestly, there’s a part of me that wishes I were heading back too.
When I first arrived in Athens I was pretty put off. We landed at Pireaus, the port, and so we drove into Athens and let me tell you, that is not a nice drive. (Take the metro, much nicer) We were driving past grimy buildings advertising sleazy strip clubs and the like, and every blank wall was covered in graffiti. We knew that Athens showed more of the strain of the financial crisis than the islands we’d been hopping through, but I for one didn’t expect to see such a different side of Greece so soon. So my first opinions of Athens were not very complementary, and it actually wasn’t really until the end of those six weeks that I’d noticed how much they’d changed.
Athens is not like any other city I’ve been to in Europe, but then Greece isn’t like any country I’ve been to either. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern influence, which the Greeks don’t like to admit because of a very long and sensitive relationship with Turkey. Athens is chaotic, the apartment buildings have the same look as those from across the Middle East and South Asia, and it really grows on you. It sounds cliché, but the people really are warm and accepting, they make you feel welcome and over the past year I’ve found myself thinking of Greece much more than I thought I would.
For this summer at least, the dig in Athens will continue with out me. But maybe a short weekend trip will take me back to one of those islands. Like Crete, where the restaurant owner insisted on drinking three (3!!!) shots of raki with us after lunch. Or Hydra, where there are no cars and a table full of aunts and uncles spontaneously burst out in folk dances at dinner. Or maybe even Santorini, which though I’d have to share it with every other tourist in Greece, happens to look like this.
Every clichéd picture you’ve seen of Greece was taken in Oia on Santorini.
Growing up I never understood why people would vacation in the same place every year. Why go back when you can go someplace new? But Greece made me get it. It remains the most stunning country I have visited and has an amazing culture, history, and of course cuisine. And I would go back every summer for a view like this.