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It's all Greek to me


This Halloween, I found myself in the city that gave birth not only to democracy, but also-perhaps more importantly-to the quintessential costume for college students: the toga.

Walking around Athens, it's not hard to imagine the ancient Greeks in their togas strolling around the Acropolis and philosophizing about the meaning of life.

But on this particular day, I saw only one such outfit-and its bearer was an American backpacker participating in the evening's festivities, which included bobbing for apples soaked in water and cornflakes in my hostel's very own breakfast-nook-by-day, bar-by-night.

As cliche as it sounds, I've dreamt of going to Athens for my entire life. I've grown up surrounded by the memories of my father's year teaching English there fresh out of college-18th century maps of Greece, watercolors of Mediterranean cliffs, handmade rugs and painted pottery.

But more than that, I've been raised hearing about his transformative year abroad-how he spoke to his family only three times (something I couldn't fathom) and about the political upheavals that were occurring in the unstable areas he ventured to in the Middle East.

Although his Greece was incomprehensibly different from what mine will be, I couldn't help but find my father in each step I took, in each column of the Parthenon, in every bite of baklava, in each of the Plaka's market stalls.

And I couldn't help but imagine my parents exploring the Acropolis exactly as I saw it, and couldn't escape a lingering sense that they should've been there instead of me.

I was, however, able to serve as ambassador for my father. After I told him I'd be going to Athens for part of my Fall Break, he began an odyssey to track down one of his students, who became one of his closest companions during his fellowship at Athens College. It took nearly two months, but the evening before I departed Madrid for Athens, my father had finally reached Pakis and his wife Rita.

From thousands of miles away, he sent me to Greece with instructions to call them as soon as my flight landed, and I dutifully obeyed, earning myself an invitation for an authentic Greek lunch on my third day in Athens.

One of the most outstanding differences between the Greeks and their Italian neighbors is that the former sacrifice an afternoon siesta in favor of lunches that begin around two or three in the afternoon and last until it would be time for an American early-bird special.

Pakis and Rita planned to meet me at three in the Syntagma, also known as Constitution Square because it houses the Greek parliament.

Exuding Homerian hospitality, they took me to one of Athens' most chic restaurants and insisted on ordering far too many dishes than we could possibly eat just so I could try everything. I spent hours hearing about what my father was like in his early 20s, learning about Greece's gradual modernization and its struggles to prepare for the 2004 Olympics, and even discussing the 2008 presidential elections.

What struck me most about Pakis and Rita-and the rest of the Athenians I encountered-was their willingness and eagerness to share their culture with us. Atlhough some Europeans harshly rebuff Americans (but not their money, of course), the Greeks welcomed us warmly. And although I traveled there without knowing a single phrase in the native language, I felt completely at ease.

After being in Florence for my first few weeks, I concluded that I probably couldn't live abroad. But after being in Athens for just a few hours, I became obsessed with the idea of living there at some point, even if for just for one scalding-hot summer.

The blue-and-white Greek flag blows in the gentle afternoon breezes atop its Acropolis perch, representing the pride the Athenians take in their history and in their aspirations for future progress. And while the nature of the people, their culture and their city seemed pleasantly transparent, it's inevitably still all Greek to me.

Victoria Ward is a Trinity junior studying abroad in Florence. Her columns runs every other Wednesday.


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