Artifact or Junk

We had been stationed at a military base in Northern Italy for 2 ½ years, and at never had the chance to get to Greece. So, in Easter of 1987, we celebrated by taking our children, 18-year-old Athena, 17-year-old Marc, 10-year-old Diana and baby Bryan to Greece for spring break. Our oldest, Marlowe was on a mission in Rome, Italy.

We arrived in Athens and discovered that the arrangements for our hotel had been mixed up. Here we were without a room during the busiest season—Easter. However, the hotel clerk made some calls around and finally got us a room in a new unfinished hotel for the night. With Bryan crying and everyone unhappy, we waited outside the room while they made up the room and walked up the stairs; the elevators weren’t working yet. However, I was only glad to get a bed for the night.

When we got settled, I wasn’t sure how fortunate we were. There was still construction going on to make the hotel ready to open before Easter was over. Hammering and other loud sounds went on all night. A storm howled outside almost as much as Bryan did inside; I got a headache.

our Greek relic

Ed and I went for a walk along the beach early in the morning leaving Bryan with the older children. No one was sleeping much. As we walked along the stormed tossed beach, Ed saw a small carved copy of a marble Phoenician ship with its sails broken off among the flotsam and seaweed dredged up by the storm. He insisted it was a valuable ancient relic brought up from the depths of the sea by the storm. I insisted it was no such thing; it was a simple carving made by one of the local fishermen who, when he broke the sails, threw it away.

Back at the hotel, everyone joined in with their assessment of the item. Marc joined Ed proclaiming it a priceless relic. Athena, towel-drying her freshly shampooed hair and frustrated because she couldn’t use her hairdryer because the electric current was 220 not 110 volts, just shook her head and rolled her eyes. Diana, impressed with Ed and Marc’s edicts of its value, was excited to think we’d found something so valuable on our first day there. She couldn’t wait to go down to the beach and find gold coins from the Trojan War, or something like that.

Exploring ruins with a baby

“It can’t be anything valuable.” I finally stated.  “Besides, if it were, we couldn’t take it out of Greece. There are all kind of restrictions against taking ancient artifacts out of the country.” Bryan just gurgled, happy to be getting fed.

We changed hotels to a downtown international hotel and went into Athens. I was fascinated by everything, but Athena looked and acted blasé (typical teenager).  Ed had his eyes open for everything, military and otherwise. Marc quickly got bored with shopping so after we went back to the hotel for lunch, he said he’d stay there and take care of Bryan while we went back downtown shopping.

Ed on acropolis

What a story Marc had to tell when we got back! He’d taken Bryan down to the hotel bar, thinking that the cute girls would coo at Bryan and start talking to him. He’d quickly discovered that a baby was more than an attention-getting device for girls—everyone commented on the blond baby.

Marc started talking to a man there who turned out to be a Libyan Air Force pilot who spoke English.  Marc became nervous when the man asked what Marc’s father did and why we were in Greece. This pilot had been in Bengasi, Libya a little over a year before when the United States had bombed there. Because of Ed’s position in NATO and the U.S. army, Marc was very vague in explaining what his American father did for a living. 

On the bus back to the hotel, a Lebanese man had talked to Athena and made her very paranoid because he was very anti-American. He told her that the little four-year-old girl with him had had almost all her relatives killed in the Palestinian wars and was staying with her grandmother in Greece trying to get a visa to Australia.

The next day we went to the Acropolis, and I was prepared with all my guidebooks to teach everyone the history of Greece. I love history and I study up on wherever we are going to go, and lecture to everyone out of the guidebooks at every site.

Athena posing on Acropolis

There Athena poised next to the statue of the goddess Athena that she was named for, and I was standing next to her with Bryan in a carrying pack, telling the history of the Acropolis. Diana was skipping all over the ruins and Ed had disappeared. Marc was shaking his head and trying to ignore me.

Later we went to Mars Hill. I stood where Paul the apostle stood as he taught the people about the “unknown God.” My reverie was broken as I heard Athena laugh.

“Diana was trying to look cool and flip her purse and she flipped it into her face and about fell over.” Athena said.

Diana with purse

“And I got a movie picture of it happening,” Marc crowed.

“Did neither of you feel how momentous it is to stand here on Mars’ hill?” I asked.

“Are you going to start reading out of your guidebook if we say no?” Athena asked.

“I give up,” I said, walking away. Ed walked over with Bryan in the carrying pack and asked if I was ready to hold him. “Yes, maybe he’ll be impressed with this place,” I replied.

We were walking down the hill toward town when we picked up the tablecloth lady. She walked beside me and harangued me to buy a tablecloth. She enumerated its quality in detail, but I kept saying no, but it made no difference. She kept on pleading with us for blocks. Ed would pop in occasionally with “too much” and she’d look at him and talk to him for a minute and bring down the price a little before pleading with me, telling me how nice it would look on my table, how wonderful it would be for my family to sit around it as they ate.

Bryan as a three-month old in Athens

Finally, Ed gave up and said, “I’ll buy it just to get some quiet.” As I looked at him in astonishment, he asked, “You did want it, didn’t you?” I nodded. He paid for it, handed it to Marc to hold and asked, “Now where do we go next?”

Our highlight of the trip was a three-island one-day excursion onboard a ship. The ship dropped us off on each island, then came back several hours later to pick us up and take us to the next island. We enjoyed the first island. It was so different than Athens. Marc saw slabs of whole lamb meat hanging on a butcher shop window and told Diana it was our pet dog, Sissy, whom they’d slaughtered and hung there. It took me a half hour to settle her down. Everyone took turns carrying Bryan to take the burden off me, but I still got tired easily, as I was still anemic and worn out from his emergency C-section six weeks before.

Just as we were coming into our second island, I hurried to change Bryan’s diaper before we went ashore, and Diana stayed with me reminding me to hurry or we’d be left onboard. Sure enough, by the time we were ready to disembark, the ship was just pulling up the ramp in our faces. Diana began to cry and holding her in one arm and Bryan in another, I tried to calm her. They explained they couldn’t go back. The harbor was very narrow, and many ships were in line to dock; each ship had to hurry in, drop their people and go right out again in so many minutes. It would be at least an hour before they had another opportunity to drop us ashore again. A crewmember took Diana to the bridge, let her “steer” the ship, and even let her talk to the captain.

Athena talking to someone onboard cruise

Later, between islands everyone was in the main area of the ship playing bingo (it was free). Diana was so excited and concentrating on the game, while Athena and Marc were putting lemon slices in Bryan’s mouth to see him make faces. Suddenly Diana yelled “Bingo.” She took her card and ran to the front of the large room where they were calling numbers. They explained to her that they were playing blackout Bingo and she just had regular Bingo. She was so disappointed that they gave her a few postcards and she came back to us. Marc gave her a few lemons to suck on.

We were there in Athens on Good Friday, and we saw a fascinating ceremony of them carrying a symbolic crucified body of Christ through the streets, before taking it into a chapel. We video-taped the ceremony and all the festivities in the streets, but by then we’d moved into the American hotel and Marc and Athena were having so much fun with the American teens in the bowling alley that they couldn’t be interested in historic stuff.

As we got ready to go to the church to see the finale of the Good Friday celebrations—the fireworks and celebrations to commemorate resurrection of the savior, Marc and Athena decided not to go with us, but to go to a cool Greek disco they’d heard about. We were outside the church crushed in the middle of the crowd at midnight, with Diana half asleep and Bryan asleep in my carrying bag, when just as the fireworks began, Athena and Mark appeared.

“There were no cute girls at the disco,” Marc said.

“No, they’re all here,” Athena added. “So, we came here, too.”  Ed pulled me close and hugged me. The fireworks lit up the sky and our faces glowed in their reflection. Marc lifted Diana up, so she could see better. Bryan slept on oblivious.

I thought of the tiny carved Phoenician ship we’d found at the beginning of our trip. Was it a rare ancient artifact? Was it a useless broken tourist toy? Or was it what we make of it? 

One thought on “Artifact or Junk

  1. You sounded like you were struggling and this trip was just hard. Yeah i don’t know what artifacts or junk had to do with this story but yeah junk. Too bad you couldn’t enjoy a trip of a lifetime. I know you enjoyed it to some degree but it sounds like more of a trial than a joy.

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