Modern Life in an Ancient City

Back in Athens, when I  close my eyes and approach the threshold of dreams my last thoughts are always the same: This is incredible. I am falling asleep in an ancient city.

Before my building was here, who and what was here? Who were the families and what were their stories?

I suspect that my neighborhood, clogged with pollution-stained concrete was once open land; somebody’s farm.  Somebody’s thoughts, somebody’s dreams. Somebody’s life. Somebody’s death.

These are my thoughts before I dream.



Often I look at Greeks and yearn to ask them “Do you still care about your past?”

I once asked an old man and he looked me in the eye and said: “This is what we think of ancient Greece” as he threw his lit cigarette on the ground and smeared ash across the sidewalk with his shoe.

“That’s what I think” he said as I walked away.

I decided that living in modern Greece is like trying to breathe under water. So I draw my patience and energy from what used to be in this ancient city that tries too hard to be modern.

There must be people out there who feel as I do.


While visiting the Parthenon it’s obvious to see how important it is for Athenians to bring their children to the Acropolis for the first time. I once saw a little boy, he must have been no older than 6, running around with joy in his eyes while pointing out structures to his father.

I hope this joy stays with him for all his life and every generation after.


 So today’s Monday Zen is for the ancients whose memories dominate my heart and fuel my every written word.

Tree on the north slope of the AcropolisPine tree on the north side of the Acropolis slope, near the sacred springs.

Flowers at the entrance of Odeon of Herodes Atticus an ancient theater located at the southwest Acropolis slope.


I am often told that I’m too romantic and Ancient Greece is dead.

Too romantic? Perhaps. Is Ancient Greece dead? I refuse to believe this.




4 Responses to “Modern Life in an Ancient City

  • In my youth I learned from my mother, who was an immigrant from Greece, that modern Greece and ancient Greece were very different things. It was not something that she just, mind you, sat me down one day and taught me. I sort of gradually intuited it over the years and eventually conversed about it with her. She loved the history of her native country, and many of our kin were the same way (they were always the best tour guides of the ancient world when I visited as a boy), but my own experience of both Greeks in Greece and the diaspora here in America is consistent with the more disappointing observations you make here—albeit generally lacking the outright flair of the old man stomping on his cigarette.

    I always enjoy your posts. I think this one in particular, giving me a chance to reflect in this way (and forgive me for that), is very poignant. Do we not, in loving and trying to breathe in antiquity, find that it is an inherently sorrowful joy?

    • Thank you Virgil! Your honest comment has given me much to think about.

      I was first exposed to the Greek culture in my mid-20’s. Exect, of course, from everything I was taught in school. When I first came to Greece I was surprised (and so naive to think so!) that Ancient Greece was metaphorically and literally in ruins. At that time, I made it some sort of quest to figure out what happened. I think a large part of that answer can be found in Greece’s painful recent history.

      Now when I’m back home, visiting the States I tend to gravitate toward the diaspora…when in Astoria Queens I’ll see Greeks at cafes with the saddest eyes. As if they were longing for something, and now I can understand. They often tell me they love Greece more than the Greeks in Greece.

      “Do we not, in loving and trying to breathe in antiquity, find that it is an inherently sorrowful joy?”

      Beautifully put and opened my eyes. Thank you! 🙂

  • Please keep posting. A truly calming influence on my life. <3

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