Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Still There For The Taking

As a ten, eleven, and twelve-year-old, I lived with my family in the Kifissia suburb of Athens, Greece. Those were formative years, ones I often look back upon with nostalgia, but never so acutely as when I find myself back in my old stomping grounds as I have been for the past couple of days. I’m here in Athens to take part in the Play On Early Education conference with such luminaries as Peter Gray (US), Suzanne Axelsson (Sweden), and Meynell Walter (UK) as well as a score of other presenters, but I’ve spent the last day and a half revisiting my childhood.

Back then, one could actually clamber about on the ruins of the Parthenon, something that was undoubtedly a disaster for preserving one of the greatest achievements of ancient architecture, but that created for me a connection to the place that could never have been achieved by viewing it from afar as one must today. I still remember the cool smoothness of the columns and the god-like height of the stairs that lead into this temple to Athena herself. I often imagined myself to be a child of the time, fantasizing about what it must have been like to live in the age of mythology. Yesterday, I walked to the Plaka, the old maze of a marketplace at the base of the Acropolis where I emerged into Monastiraki Square.

The past was suddenly and overwhelmingly upon me. I was probably 11-years-old. The “cool” kids that summer were making their own “worry beads” by stringing colored beads on leather string. I had an idea for a pattern I wanted to try but was out of the leather. The only place I’d ever purchased it was at a kiosk right outside the train station here in the heart of Athens, so I set out on my mission. I didn’t tell Mom where I was going, and while that was normal in those days, I have serious doubts that she would would have permitted me to travel alone into the city. But, I’d made the trip dozens of times, I had the cash in my pocket, and it just seemed like something I needed to do. So off I went, walking the mile or so to the Kifissia train station, jumping on the next train, and emerging, unaccompanied, into Monastiraki.

It was then as it is today crowded with vendors and tourists. Perhaps I should have been nervous being all alone there, an anonymous child in the heart of a big, foreign city, but if I had by doubts it hasn’t remained as part of my memory. The kiosk is still where it was in 1973. In fact, everything is the same, I think: the train station, the monastery, the stone paving, the sign at the entrance to the Plaka calling it a “flea market,” the backside of the Acropolis looming above it all. The only thing that has changed is that the kiosk no longer sells leather string, I asked. But the distinctive co-mingled scents of newsprint, slightly melted chocolate, and cigarette tobacco that is characteristic of every kiosk in Athens almost convinced me that I was once again a boy on an adventure.

I returned home that day, string in hand, without saying a word to Mom about where I’d been. She didn’t ask because she had assumed I’d just been playing in the neighborhood as usual. I still have the “worry beads” I made with that leather, stashed away in the back of a drawer, a pattern of reds and oranges that reminded me somehow of bacon. As an 11-year-old, I’d worn it daily as a bracelet, a reminder of my secret journey.

I told my story to a Greek acquaintance yesterday who informed me with certainty that it would be far too dangerous for a child to try today, although I have my doubts. I think our perceptions of the world have changed far more than the world itself. That train trip to the Monastiraki kiosk and back is still there for the taking and any childhood that doesn’t include it is the poorer for it.

I've published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you! 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: