The one place I knew I had to visit on my 2013 round-the-world trip was Athens.
I needed to go there as a pilgrimage, to pay respect to the city’s patron goddess Athena who was a big inspiration in my life.
When I was growing up, the social circle that my parents were in was not the most liberated. Around the age of seven or eight, I remember what my parents’ friends would say when they see me and my sister. “Look how pretty you both have grown.”
I hated that. There is nothing that I did that affected how my features were growing. I wasn’t in control of this “prettiness”. I also thought that it wasn’t the most sincere thing to say, especially to a kid.
My feminism sprouted from there. I was perplexed why the adults couldn’t talk about my achievements instead: How well I’ve been doing in my studies or how much books I read. (OK, they’ve talked about the book part a lot but that’s only after a while.)
The problem with calling little girls pretty is that they might internalize the messages and would think that beauty is the only thing worth striving for. And what would you do after your beauty fades?
Discovering the Goddess of Wisdom and War
Sadly, there was no internet then for me to find strong female role models. But I finally found one, thank Zeus.
Watching Disney’ Hercules: The Animated Series, I became fascinated with Greek deities. I borrowed books from the library about Greek mythology and to my surprise, I found a Goddess of Wisdom and War.
I remember being very surprised and told my mom, “Ma, there is a Goddess of Wisdom! She must be really smart.”
I interpreted it as “It is OK for a woman to be smart! She is a kick ass Goddess who was born from the head of her father!”
That was the motivation I needed at that stage in my life. A role model to show that it’s ok for me to continue being the little smart-ass I was/am.
And from then on, I’ve kept Athena at the back of my mind and promised myself that I will visit Athens some day.
Visiting Athens in 2013
You know sometimes a destination can be underwhelming because you expected too much? For me, Athens was the opposite of that.
Visiting Athens for Athena was the only item on my To-Do List. As long as I visit the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, I was a happy traveller. I didn’t care if it was a few years post riot. I needed to go to the Parthenon.
When I visited Greece, it was slightly after the riots and the Greek economy was in shambles. I was expected slums and lots of homeless people.
But the part of Athens that I visited didn’t have those. It was a beautiful Mediterranean city with the ancient sites that I adore.
People were drinking at cafes during work hour (maybe that’s why the economy’s not so well). I love the taste of the 1 Euro Frappes: the sweetness of the sugar, the sourness of the coffee, the bitterness of the grounds and the coldness of the ice.
I love the Greek alphabet. At each train station, I tried to piece which Cyrillic alphabet goes with the alphabet I’m familiar with.
I love the Byzantine churches that seem to be hiding in little corners of the city. The insides are even more gorgeous with mournful murals of saints. (I would prefer Greek deities but I can’t be choosy.)
There’s just too many things to love.
But there are parts of the city that I haven’t seen. When I was leaving Athens to head to Mykonos Island, the train passed by the “real” neighborhood. The one with identical-looking houses with graffiti. I didn’t see that side of Athens when I was there. I’m not sure I want to, or maybe I don’t need to.