Friday, February 10, 2006

10. Me and My Shadow

He is as disproportion'd in his manners
As in his shape.
——The Tempest,

The Acropolis is the most famous hill in Athens, though not the highest (that'd be Lykavittos) or the one with the best view (that'd be the Areopagos, in my opinion). Home to renowned works of classical architecture such as the Parthenon, the Erechthion, and the temple of Athena Nike, the Acropolis has come to symbolize its home city.

And very early in the morning, as the eastern sun starts to peep over the horizon, the Acropolis casts a long shadow westward across Athens. And perhaps during certain hours of the day in certain months of the year, when the earth is angled toward the sun just so, that shadow might travel about a mile north-northwest and land on the small, unassuming building at 59 Leonidou St. that houses Athens Christian Center.

So I can't say for sure that we weren't staying "in the shadow of the Acropolis." But I don't think you'd be happy if you booked a hotel that was described to you in those terms and then found out it was a mile away. You sure as heck can't see the Acropolis from Leonidou Street.

Nevertheless, it's an easy walk. (This map shows the driving directions, but the walk is much shorter.) We walked and/or took buses or the newly expanded Metro system to and from almost all of our gigs in Athens. And we enjoyed the exercise — it's a very walkable city. This was one area where Q. and E. didn't mislead us: they had instructed everyone to bring comfortable walking shoes. And considering the way people drive in Athens, we were probably a lot safer on foot.

Furthermore, apart from its purported proximity to the Acropolis, we weren't misled about Athens Christian Center. It actually made an ideal base of operations: close enough to central Athens for our purposes, but out-of-the-way enough to be relatively quiet and more or less secure. Q. had warned me that our accommodations would be modest, and this also proved true: it was a simple cinderblock building with a large cement courtyard. Inside were a sanctuary, a couple of offices, a few classrooms, toilets, showers (Q. had paid to have the showers built), and an upstairs recreational room. We slept on air mattresses anywhere there was enough flat space to put them down, indoors or out.

We arrived in Athens minus four suitcases (mine, Sarah's, Hannah's, and Desiree's). Somewhere along a line of communication from the airline to the courier to Haris (the youth pastor at Athens Christian Center) to Q., the impression was formed that because of the Olympics, trucks weren't allowed on Athens' streets after 5 a.m. — so we should expect the courier to arrive with the suitcases in the middle of the night. I volunteered to sleep by the courtyard gate that first night and let the courier in. It was quite warm outside but too noisy to sleep, and naturally the courier didn't show up until 8 a.m. or so — no restrictions on truck traffic being in evidence. It's tempting to blame the whole misunderstanding on Q., but that would be assuming things I don't know for certain. It would, however, be congruent with the other examples I intend to offer.

Prior to my attempt to sleep in the courtyard, Q. invited me to accompany him on a midnight stroll to the Internet café he'd been using. He'd been staying in Athens several days and already knew his way around quite well. This would be the first and last time Q. and I went anywhere together in Athens by ourselves.

If Q. reminds me of anyone, it's documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. They have roughly the same build and fashion sense, and similar speech patterns. They have the same thin veneer of ingratiating, boyish charm masking a deep layer of aggression that can erupt into hostility in a second. They both have an extraordinary talent for mixing a few facts along with a lot of half-truths and insinuations into a potent stew that can seem very persuasive until you examine it carefully. On politics, however, they probably differ significantly — although I can't say I know exactly what Q.'s politics are, other than that he professed not to have any.

On the way to the Internet café, we passed through Omonoia Square, which is on a major traffic hub at the north end of central Athens. A huge stage, one of many official Olympic venues in the city, dominated the square. "We had Feveri$h here the other night," said Q., "and the whole place was packed."

So Feveri$h — one of the groups I thought Loudmouth would be sharing venues with, hanging out with, or at least getting to see — had played its gig before we even got there, and then moved on. (The same, I later learned, was true of Jimmy & the Pullet Pluckers.) But at least the venue was there, and it looked like a great place to play. And if Q. could get Feveri$h booked in that venue — which is what I thought he meant by "We had Feveri$h here the other night" — he could book us there, right?

It depends on what your definition of the word "we" is. More later about that.

At the time it didn't occur to me to be disappointed. We soon reached the Internet café, and I have to hand it to Q. — that really was the best Internet café in town, at least of the ones I tried. There we happened to meet an interesting character: Marc Price, better known to just about everyone as Skippy on the NBC show "Family Ties." Marc was in Athens with an NBC camera crew doing feature stories from the Olympics. Q. introduced me to him as a talented American bouzouki player, and Marc seemed intrigued. NBC might want to do a segment about me, he said. Q. gave him a phone number.

Slight problem there: I had told Q. and E. which instruments I was bringing to Athens, and my bouzouki was not among them. I did not wish to embarrass Q. by pointing this out in front of Marc, so I just kept my mouth shut. I knew he was trying to hype my abilities as much as possible in hopes of getting NBC to cover our band, and I have to admit it was flattering to hear him sing my praises. But I knew he had no idea what he was talking about.

What I didn't yet realize was just how often Q. used this kind of hype and half-truth to make things seem bigger and more impressive than they actually were. But I was about to find out.


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