Greek life

Glorious October: the first two weeks

The beginning of this month has been completely gorgeous – days are sunny and in the mid-to high-70s, mornings and evenings are in the 60s.  We’ve been taking advantage of these beautiful days to explore the area on foot and by car.

The first Friday of October, I went downtown with Papou.  Our main destination was the Megaro Mousikis, Athens’ concert hall.  Built 26 years ago, it sits on the pretty Vassilis (Queen) Sophia Avenue. Megaro Mousikis holds concerts, operas, ballets, and even conferences. We were headed there because Papou treated Demetri and me to see Norma live from the Metropolitan in New York, and he’ll babysit the kids while we have an evening out. In the history of babysitting, I’m not sure if there’s ever been someone who watches your kids for free and pays for the parents’ activity.  Best guy ever.  Norma is a Bellini opera; the lead role was made most famous by Maria Callas, Greece’s pride and joy. It’s Papou’s favorite.

While we were there, Papou also bought ballet tickets for later in the month – Sandy is in the US for a stretch, so Katerina will go with him.  With two sets of tickets in hand, we left the music hall and walked next door to a beautiful garden café nestled under a bunch of trees – a quiet little gem in the loud city.  The café is famous (at least to us, Katerina and Papou) for its tyropita; a cheese pie made with four different cheeses and baked in kataifi dough, which is very delicate and looks like thread.  After we finished, we wandered past the palace, the American school of Archaeology and through the Kolonaki neighborhood to the funicular that goes to the top of Lycabettus (say leh-kah-vi-tos) Hill that sits 900 fit above the city.  Because ancient Greek life centered around the Acropolis and Philopappos, it seems not much is known about Lycabettus.  Mythological tales say that Athena dropped the rock here by accident when she was creating the Acropolis. Regardless, from the top you can see all of Athens, the surrounding mountains and and all the way to the Aegan.  At the top is a church for St. George, a bar, a tavern and a coffee house. We had a coffee, came down and walked back to the metro along Panapestimio Street. I showed Papou my favorite shoe store; he showed me many more important buildings — Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office, the Benaki Museum.

Saturday, we met some new friends, Theordora and her son Ermis, at the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center (SNCC), a brand new building that opened last year.  Niarchos was a shipping tycoon; in the early 1950s he built the largest tankers (ever) for his fleet. The demand for oil in the 50s and 60s is what made billionaires out of Niarchos and his rival Aristotle Onassis. Both families now have large philanthropic organizations that do charitable work around Greece – in fact, the Niarchos Foundation was the major grantor for the jeweler residency program at the Elias Lalaounis museum.  The SNCC is absolutely gorgeous.  The complex hosts the national library and a museum, but it’s also got beautiful grounds with paths and trees and picnic areas, a labyrinth for kids to explore, giant chess boards, bike rentals for kids and adults, and a terrific view from the top.  Even the parking is super slick.  The boys played football (soccer) and chess (skaki), cruised around the labyrinth, we all went up to the viewing tower and left just as the rain started.   Demetri and I left for the Opera soon after getting home, while Papou was prepping pizza AND spaghetti for the boys.

Sunday was the icing on the weekend cake – family lunch at Anna’s house.  There were 10 of us – we four, Anna, Vasillis, George and little Katerina, and Theodoris and Mina.  (Anna and Theodoris are Demetri’s cousins; their grandmother is Papou’s sister).  Anna’s meal was fabulous and we all had so much fun – I just love these four kids together.  Little Katerina was my best Greek tutor yet; she taught me all the parts of the body as demonstrated on Elsa and Olaf.

The following Wednesday, October 11, Demetri left Greek class to meet his dad and some of Papou’s college friends from the University of Michigan. They spent the afternoon in a Taverna in Monasteraki, the ‘flea market’ neighborhood of Athens.  It’s a major tourist attraction – if you’ve even gotten an evil eye charm, a pretty, wrapped olive oil soap, a Greece magnet or an Olympiakos jersey, it probably was bought right here.  They ate well and told stories of the Michigan days – both in Ann Arbor and Detroit, where they all lived after graduation.  Demetri and Michael were born in Michigan and all these friends knew him as a baby.

Both kids had field trips this week to theaters — their school does nifty excursions and there’s so much to take advantage of here.

We topped off the first half of October with a super weekend away … the next post tells you all about it.

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