Athens is Alive


June 29, 2011, Athens, Greece: The Greek Parliament has just voted to pass a measure that would call for deep cuts in spending in order to rein in the Greek debt crisis. Many people who live here aren’t happy about that. From my hotel balcony in Athens, about 15 blocks from Parliament and Constitution Square, I hear the normal hum of city life occasionally punctuated by the pop of stun grenades and tear gas canisters released by police to disperse the protesters. I hear the engines of motorcycles. I also hear Greek music coming from a café over by the New Acropolis Museum.

The view from this balcony looks nothing like the view from the broadcaster's balcony overlooking Constitution Square, the one I'm watching on CNN. But no doubt about it, Athens is alive. In this old city, democracy is nothing new. The goddess Athena was fiercely protective of this place, and it seems she wasn't the only one.

Yes, despite protests in the neighborhood nearby, it's oddly satisfying to be back in a gritty city, back in the action.

It's always a bit disorienting to be plopped down into a new city, no matter how ordinary the day. Be it my entry into San Francisco, Chicago or Athens, it's nearly always the case that the place begin my exploration is not the place I'd consciously choose to begin to make that city my home. I may know where I am on a map, but I don't know which way to find the neighborhoods beyond the hotels where I could actually imagine living. It's then that I typically begin venturing out in concentric circles, making larger and larger ripples from my point of entry as my confidence grows.

This is the first time I've consciously avoided a portion of those circles, but nonetheless, today I begin to get a better sense of my surroundings. I begin to sense comfort and trappings of home, often more in one direction than another. And as it goes, it's then that the ripples start to bulge left or right, up or down, as as I get closer to becoming a part of a place, a part of the life of the city...

Today in Athens, we are just beginning those concentric circles. We venture into places like Monastriaki and Thission, where neighborhood balconies overflow with plants and bicycles. We begin to uncover this city's hometowns, to discover their own versions of our Barrack's Rows and Polk Streets and Lincoln Parks. We are venturing out and making ripples.