Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moon "Smiles" on the Acropolis

This photo taken with my iPhone.
Greece's economic woes almost cost the capital its marquee event of the summer; a full-moon night on the Acropolis.  At the 11th hour, the government came to terms with the security guards of arguably the world's most famous hill on who would foot the bill for the evening.

Had the dispute not been resolved, 89 other monuments and archaeological sites around the country would have (and were) open to the public. A special concert was given at the (new) Acropolis Museum.

But everyone knows that seeing the Parthenon up close and in-person is the big-ticket item for Athenians who 364 days of the year can only see the marble temple glowing overhead and at a distance. Even better - entrance was free.

"Don't stop to take a photo," a man said in heavily accented English to keep the crowd moving. "There are 3,000 people behind you."

His pleas were in vain but Greeks and tourists alike snapped their photos quickly and made space for each other. SLRs and camera phones were most people's weapon of choice, with point-and-shoots saved for group shots probably destined for anywhere between a family bookshelf and facebook.

They had to move quickly because at 9:45pm the floodlights were flipped down, leaving the temple lit only by the full moon. The crowd oo-ed and ah-ed in unison as the temple changed hue, but remained largely visible, especially on its south side.

Spotlight on the Propylaia, gate to the Acropolis.
A carnival mood infected a people beaten down by austerity and a crowd conspicuously larger than usual for late August when many families are still on island vacations or visiting relatives in rural areas. As 9:00 pm, the start of the festivities, approached, the metro system strained to accomplish giddy Greeks, their chattering creating an even louder din than usual in the train tunnels.

The column of bodies filed out from below and turned the walkways around the Acropolis into a happy mob scene where on most nights one would find not much more than a smattering of jet-lagged tourists. On this Tuesday night, not a table could be found in the trendy bar district of Thiseio (named for Theseus). They were filled with the foot-weary from the hike in the dark and those who thought it more prudent to get a head start on the evening's drinks.

The whole evening might have been a bust had the Acropolis security guards not backed down.  They had reason for concern. 500 short-term employees have allegedly been waiting almost two years to be paid.  The guards decided to donate their wages from the evening to a prominent Greek charity, "Smile of the Child".

Werewolves are supposed come out on a full moon. This time it seemed to summon Greece's better angels.

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