Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Greece: Mycenae Memories

There was a choice between a two-day tour of the Peloponnese which included a visit to Olympus, the sanctuary to Zeus and original site of the Olympic games in his honor to promote civil harmony within the Hellenistic world. Also on offer was a three-day tour which included a huge circuit of the major attractions of the Peloponnese and the complex of Delphi where we were the day before. We went with the one-day tour which would be grueling in and of itself but also by the third straight day of on and off of buses and such. How many times does one go to Greece? It's been over twenty years for me and I remember that trip like it was yesterday. Well, maybe at least last week.

Back on the bus after a quick visit to the preserved - of course preserved - Roman city of Corinth we motored south to the city of Mykines, which is the modern town that's on the map entirely for being the stopping and service point for the ruins of ancient Mycenae. This culture was ancient to the ancient Greeks, as much a mystery some 1500 years ago as they are today but celebrated through literary works such as the Iliad. Fabled King Agamemnon hailed from here and was allegedly buried here at the Treasury of Atreus "Beehive Tomb" just outside the main gates to the mountain compound.

The tomb itself is not much to look at from the inside. A round room with a conical roof completely underground and void of any construction, shelving, benches or other furnishings. Compared to the heat of the day outside the most impressive thing about it was the fact that it was very cold. After a hot minute to look at a round room of nothing, it was back on the bus for five minutes to the base of the royal compound and up through the world famous "Lion's Gate" through which all visitors then and now must pass.

The tour guide was a knowledgeable elder lady with a lot of information to share. My excitement from first arriving in Greece, however, was still barely contained as I raced ahead with my camera to get unobstructed views and camera angles of the complex, the royal cemetery just inside the gate and the breathtaking view of the well defended surrounding plains and distant mountains.

For some reason my lungs decided to develop a case of bronchitis. Huffing and heavy breathing for the rest of the day, I would not be deterred from this (so far) once in a lifetime experience. I made sure that I didn't miss the bus but I wish I had had more time to simply enjoy being in that place, that setting.

The port city of Naufplion was our lunch stop at "a typical Greek restaurant" included in the tour. The view of the harbor below was gorgeous, the sky and sea seemed to merge at the horizon in a seamless blue, pierced by the white of gulls diving for tidbits off the balcony. I had never been happier.

Maria Callas, "La Callas," the vaunted Greek national treasure sang once at the amphitheater at Epidaurus. Seating 15,000 people and in existence since XXXX, the amphitheater is notable for having the kind of natural acoustics that allow the artists to be heard from the stage to the top of the house 55 rows up. Maria was a classic, classical belter who didn't need a microphone anyway and the performance of her signature role "Norma" is as remembered today as it was stunning all those years ago in 1960. Today we went through the tourist paces, scampering up to the cheap seats and then shouting down to our friends - the acoustics only work traveling upwards - to whisper something back to us or strike a match to see if we could hear it.

Maria rests in peace while the stadium today rests only in silent night. We rolled in to the gloaming back to Athens, touched, uplifted, elated, sated, tired.

Gotta go.

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