So different from Rome. It struck me today as I was walking through the National Gardens: Rome is a city of continuity. Everywhere I went in Rome I encountered evidence of the continuous evolution of culture — art, architecture, religious worship and power. The significance was overwhelming because of the connections to today’s life. Churches built 1,500 years ago are still in use. Streets, walls, bridges and buildings remain in place for centuries, with evolution occurring within or below or above. Rome continues to be the living mash-up of all that it creates, demanding a direct confrontation with the past (I wrote about my reaction to this here).
Not so in Athens. The worship of the city’s namesake — Athena — ended almost 2,000 years ago. The antiquities are isolated — modern Athens seems to work around them, not on top of or within them. On the surface, Athens feels like a city of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a black hole of extreme history at its core. The connections to that big rock in the center of town aren’t as obvious. History doesn’t feel so “heavy” here.
But then there’s the heaviness of my own history. Ephemeral triggers — smells and sounds, the sad, sleeping dogs, the language — are bringing me right back.
The uncanny sense of simultaneously belonging and not belonging.