Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Poseidon, and the World’s Edge

Athens, one sunny day. 

We are in the midst of one of those discussions - I don’t mind - if you wanna go, we’ll go, but if you don’t, I don’t mind that either.

The bus isn’t due for about 20 minutes. I stay and mark time, hoping it (the bus) will pass by before she gets back. She disappears to check rates for a hotel around the corner.

Within a couple of minutes she comes bearing the inevitability of two decisions: we’ll not be staying at that hotel; and we have time to catch the bus, which is just now arriving. Tired, reluctant, we embark.

It takes us down a long stretch of coastline, covered with hotels and bars on one side, and row upon row upon tract of duplicate houses on the other.

Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion, Attica, Greece
They seem to go on forever, these Athenian rivulets coursing into the wilderness. After an hour the city is finally left behind. As we make our way down the winding coastal road toward Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon, views of some of the smaller islands and beyond, toward the Peloponnese, pass by our window.

Another hour and we pull into a tourist car-park. The temple site appears to be ours alone, as we wander our way through a diminishing crowd making its way for the exit. But another tour bus is just now arriving– very late in the day - so we pick up the pace. By the time I reach the top I’m running. I want to get photos before this new lot ruin them, by getting their unnaturally bright parkas in my viewfinder.

We reach the small summit, and everything lies before us – The World, stretched out, laid out.

The new crowd follow just behind us, stay a moment, and leave – an unexpectedly brief ebb and flow that I am able to restrict from my lens. We are alone here once more, to rest and contemplate.

I think this place should suffer only a maximum of two visitors per hour. Crowds do not suit it, not at all. It can only be appreciated alone or with one other; and when those two have gone, it needs breathing space for a moment, to catch it’s wind.

An innocuous perimeter fence surrounds the temple. They trust me here, that I won’t climb on it, won’t push it over, although I quite easily could. Only the shape, the bare outline remains. As always over time, the delicate parts disappear into the wind and the earth, and the hard parts remain, leaving just a hint of what was. We are left to guess, to fill the gaps – an active role, at least.   

The abyss. The beautiful abyss...
In the northeast corner, stands a small but perfectly formed tree. I imagine it to be as ancient as the temple itself, its diminutive size reminiscent of the clock that stops at its owners death.

She and I have split away from each other, and are having our own experiences and moments in the presence of this magnitude. As I construct a Hockneyesque montage of the place, I keep stumbling across her in various spots looking into the distance, moody and windswept. This place not of her birth, but a Homeland no less.

Standing alone for a few moments, I am buffeted by the wind, looking out into what must once have seemed the abyss. The promontory drops away steeply, straight down to a rocky shoreline. To the south, there is just ocean stretching away for ever, tempered by the occasional bleak island. There is nowhere else, at this moment.

The sky meets the ocean in a razor sharp streak. I believe I can see the curvature of the earth in this endless horizon.

I am at the edge of the world.

Imagine this as your last glimpse of land, before you leave across the sea in a delicately constructed vessel, open to the elements and to the tempest. You are about to lose sight of Greece - perhaps forever your nervous mind tells you - and as you turn eastwards to pass by Sounion, you look up the cliff face and see Poseidon's Temple looking over you. A timely reminder to pay your respects - and make your pleas - to the god that governs your fate for the foreseeable future.

But it’s time now, and we have to leave. There is a bus waiting.

1 comment:

  1. Edgy, but serene - and a nice reflection of a slower paced holiday (as opposed to an innocuous package coach trip).

    Nice bit of prose Gov!