Segunda-feira, 29 de Novembro de 2010
In Memoriam, Part 1


 29th March, 2010.


The sounds of the train in movement and the music from my old mp3 player forbid me from falling into a deep sleep. Another short nap and I'm awake once more and ready to inspect the environment. The seat has the same touch of an aged couch and the carriage has seen better days. The tray isn't big enough to allow me to draw something decent on my notebook. An old man snores behind me. I'm traveling in first class, which is the equivalent to the second class in my country if we're talking about quality. 

But outside, there's a beautiful landscape.


Greece is a country with multiple biomes, from arid plains to green and cold mountains. The view fascinates me and I began my photo collection for the day with fitting music coming from my MP3. The harmony from the mountains made me forget about all the problems I had faced so far and the ones I had yet to face.

I see some people getting up and moving to the carriage's exit. I stood in my seat, knowing it was not the time yet for me to get going. But instead of stopping at the next station the train kept moving forward and immediately I hear a lot of people complaining. I didn't understand what they're saying, but it was easy to tell they're upset. I had been told this was something frequent.

The mountains are soon replaced with villages, and from villages we move on to tall buildings and metropolis. And the train makes its final stop in Athens. 


From the train station to the metro. There's no time for me to stop until I get to the hotel. Compared with the metro stations of Lisboa and London, most stations in Athens are visually boring. While some have expositions of ancient artifacts for the tourists to see, others are made of plain white walls and nothing else. Something told me those stations were built on rush for the Olympic games in 2004, but I could be wrong.

It's in the first metro station where I saw him and my mind snapped. No, it wasn't love at first sight but artist senses tingling at that one individual's appearance. Tall, simple shirt and pants, probably same age as I, hair's height by his neck, probably shorter, well trimmed beard and glasses. You see, character design is one of my passions, and that guy's profile resembled too much as one of the characters I used to draw frequently. 

I couldn't help it. I had my camera ready, but I had no possibility of taking a decent photo of him inside and outside the train. We got out in the same station; I swallowed in dry and called for him.

"Ey! Do you speak English?"

He says yes, but his phone rings. I'm told to hold on as he answers it, and I wait patiently. 

"May I ask something?"

"... Yes?"

"... Can I take a photo of you?"

He blinked at me, speechless. I explained why: I told him I was into character design and wanted to take a photo of him so I could draw it in a near future. He was still speechless. I told him it was ok if he didn't want to be photographed, and I would get going. He said he was in a hurry and was sorry. I apologized and saw him go away forever before I could hand over one of my portfolio cards.

I went downstairs calling myself stupid and pathetic. To ask a stranger if I could take a photo of him, what was I thinking? 


I finally get to the Monasteraki's station. I had been given instructions to not stop at the square, but keep moving forward to the hotel, I would have time later to inspect the square at later hours. It's tempting to stop and take a look around the square because it's flowing with activity. The sky's cloudless and the temperature is just fine. Another cheerful day in the Monasteraki square with the Acropolis and the hidden merchant streets of Plaka standing behind it.

Going up the main street, I find my hotel's entrance hidden between shops. The hallway looks charming and well kept, with a host behind the counter ready to attend me. His English is flawless with a hint of Greek accent mixed in it, and our interaction is brief. Minutes later I'm in the 6th floor opening the door to my bedroom.

It's much smaller than I expected. The view from the window isn't exciting either, just a simple Greek street with traffic overload. There's a bottle of ouzo and a small bag of nuts as a complementary welcome gift sitting in the counter. I was satisfied, the room wasn't expensive, and it had a good bathtub in the bathroom and a bed with a real mattress, something I hadn't seen in over a month. 

But I wasn't going to stay three whole days inside the hotel. I consulted the tourism pamphlet I fetched from the hallway to check for available tours around Athens. There's too much to see in so little time, but a tour around Athens for the following morning would cover the major landmarks, like the Parthenon. And in the day after that, I would go visit the Temple of Poseidon. I would have a busy schedule but I would also still have enough time to buy souvenirs for my family and friends.

I sent a couple of SMS to my mother to reassure her I had arrived safe and sound to the hotel, and went back to Monasteraki. Before going out for lunch, I brought a pair of sunglasses from a street kiosk (the same sunglasses I would later lose in Delphi). I went to this restaurant right around the corner which seemed to be less busy at the time compared with all others. After a satisfactory meal with gemitas as the main course, I went for a walk.

During the weak tourism season, the monuments close way too early. Almost everything in Greece closes early and they may or not reopen during the afternoon. It was past 14h and the entrance to Hadrian's Library was already closed. But it didn't stop me from taking photos around the structure. I walked around, explored, for that day I had no predefined path to follow, and the map was only to check where I was based on the name streets and landmarks. After Hadrian's Library, I went to a roman agora (also closed) and returned to Plaka and the merchant streets.

Gift stores after souvenir stores. One step closer to any store and the merchant would be right behind you and inquiring about your nationality. A couple will attempt to speak in Portuguese and talk about how beautiful my country is. Others will offer a discount based on my nationality, but I suspect they do discounts for everyone regardless from where they come from. While navigating across the streets and taking photos of some interesting buildings (and dogs & cats) I brought what I call of "adventure hat" in one of those stores. It was barely spring, but it felt like it was summer, and I knew I would need a decent hat for the following day's tour.

After a long walk, I arrive to the end of a street with a high traffic road separating me from the Temple of Zeus' entrance. Like all other monuments, this one was closed at the time. More photos, more walking. I decided to cross the street north of the temple and head for the Zappion, a building where Olympic athletes would live in. Around the building there are beautiful natural parks decorated with hidden statues and a fountain.

I was going to get something to drink from the bar next to the Zappion, but the prices were ridiculously high. I was going to return to Plaka by taking a different route from the one I used before when I noticed people going in and out of the Zappion without restrictions. Curious, I decided to go see what the commotion was about, and I hit the jackpot.

They're holding a kiosk fair inside the building. With free snacks and beverages. Anyone was welcome to come in. They're exposing new types of kiosks to be implemented in the streets in a near future and there were companies advertising their products to be sold in those kiosks with free samples for the audience. 

I came out from the Zappion with a bag full of snacks, flyers and a book with Greek publicity to add to my collection of design references and mementos, and a hot chocolate from Cadbury. It was time to retreat, but I still went for a different path. And when I noticed, I was near the Parliament and in front of it, an avenue filled with hotels and cloth stores. Around the square there were fast-food restaurants from McDonalds to Everest. I still visited this one store nearby, similar to Fnac. But I told myself I could come back in another time, and went down the avenue to go back to the hotel. All I could think about was how my mother would love to come to this street and inspect every single fashion store.

I returned to my hotel, dumped my loot in the closet, and after a quick rest I changed my clothes and went for dinner. It was already night but the Monasteraki Square was still glittering with activity, and I decided to go for a simple choose-your-ingredients salad from the Everest. And back to the hotel.

I choose this hotel for another particular reason besides the tourism tours they provide: it has a bar set in the rooftop with a nice view over the Acropolis. But before I went up there, I went to the lobby instead. Why? Computers with Internet, that's why. I didn't bring my laptop, but the hotel had free Internet available. The bad news? Old computers with less than 512Mb of memory, no admin protection and Internet Explorer 6 as the main we browser. It was a good thing that I brought a small pen drive with me, and ten minutes later, I had a portable Chrome and Digsby installed in my drive and I was ready to check my email and contact my family. If I'm not mistaken, I talked with my brother over MSN/Digsby, and later sent an email to my mother telling her about my busy day.

Finally, the bar. And the reviews from weren't mistaken: the hotel did have an elegant view over Athens and the Acropolis, beautifully illuminated. I looked down at the buildings, and I could see inside this particular room. It looked like a badly kept workshop with people working past 10 PM. 

It was getting colder and I went back inside the bar, where I ordered a tea. I sat down, pulling out my red mole cover notebook and a pencil. And I began scribbling. I end up drawing a small comic of the meeting I had with that young man, and how I felt like an idiot after it. I went meta and drew myself sitting in the bar, with the functional mascot and cat next to me, one is yawning, and the other is finishing off with the cup of tea. 

I don't know how to describe how I felt at the time. I just had a unique day with enough memories to make my trip to Athens worth it. But I was still feeling blue. Sadness? Loneliness?

I could go on describing my feelings for that night, but it would be pointless, just like it was back then. Because compared with the events of that day, my self indulged melodramatic blueness meant absolutely nothing.


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