This city smells like cat pee.

When I went to India for the first time, I had to keep a journal. My first entry was all about how goddamn smelly the city was—Bombay at night, even in late 1996, was a hot, muggy place and the airport in particular was disgusting and poorly ventilated. The unexpected animals outside and the perpetually congested traffic—I think my exact words were “this city smells like manure.” I don’t know, though, because as soon as my mother read it, she ripped that page out and threw it away. So much for honesty.

Well, it’s really not so bad here; the only stray animals are cats and dogs, although the former are in incredibly large numbers (the latter don’t surprise me as much); the latter, though, are pretty tame. In fact, we were followed all the way up Likavettos Hill (which is 944m above sea level, don’t know why I remember that) by a random stray dog who, above all else, was uncollared. (The belief is that the city neuters/spays and vaccinates stray dogs, and then puts a collar on them.) But yeah—all the way up, all the way down; and today’s expedition to the Acropolis began with a rather chubby dog following us, who was then replaced by a thinner dog after some mutual conversation between the two. Personally, I think that they realized that the thinner dog was more likely to get food out of us. It wouldn’t surprise me if the dogs have learned to expect food and love from large groups (obvious tourists, that is).

Yeah, the title’s a lie, as far as I know; out on 33 Stilponous (the apartment’s address), there’s a whiff in the air that quickly dissipates once you’re outside, and there really aren’t as many animals in the center, closer to the Acropolis. There’s this one pedestrian walkway that we’ve dubbed Dogshit Lane or boulevard or whatever, though, for the “presents” in the middle. Anyway, it’s a city and I think some would say that a little smell is worth not killing or uncomfortably housing animals en masse. Hell, the Metro stop under Syntagma Square does NOT smell like urine, which is a vast improvement over the CTA Red Line, so, relatively speaking, Athens is winning. At least until you add in the cigarette fumes, which…well, they have rules, but they’re more like guidelines more often than not, and I’ve learned to expect a need for shampoo if I go to any cafés or tavernas. Someone told me that the Hellenics are a nation of chain-smokers; I can believe it.

But anyway. It’s definitely far easier to learn a language when it’s everywhere—knowing how to read it from the start (with a little added help on the first day here explaining diphthongs—you should be so proud I know this word—and the freakin’ vowels) has been surprisingly useful, thanks to all the words derived from Greek in English and French.

It’s quite an adventure. I think I could easily get used to living here, although of course I’m talking without being here in the winter, or for that matter having to find a job or living here without being continually occupied. Then again, the latter applies to a whole lot of things. There are certain habits one can easily fall into if one lives alone…but that’s a topic for another time, another place.

At the moment, I will continue to enjoy Athens and our day trip (tomorrow) to Euboia…actually, the story in Thucydides on how they were conquered by the Athenians is one of my favorites, simply because of the way the Spartans failed to do anything decisive. I even drew a cartoon about it.

On today’s exploration: the Areopagus is god. damn. slippery, stupid Acropolis limestone (so named because of the pink veins running through it), and the tourists crowding the Acropolis itself arrive in absurd quantities, so unfortunately I think I’ll appreciate going there early. My favorite part of the museum (former stoa of Attalos) was, naturally, the mass-produced ostrakos (or whatever…) for the expulsion of Themistocles.

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