Athens from our eyes

How does one know when they’ve experienced an adventure? Money spent, distance traveled, a feeling of well-being, elation or exhaustion? Maybe some of all these things. Maybe none of them.

When I’ve had an adventure, initially I’m filled with endorphins and euphoria. I probably smile a lot, and talk about it nonstop. But long after the fact, it’s when memory snippets sneak up and slide past my mind’s eye with startling clarity, transporting me immediately back to that moment that I realize I’ve had a true adventure. I believe this stored file of our best life moments is what gets us through tough times, it’s where the elderly brain seeks solace and peace, it is content for dreams, and what flashes through the mind at the end of life. It also serves as inspiration and encouragement to seek out more opportunities to load the brain’s hard drive with more good juice.

One of these memory snippets crept up again recently from our wedding trip to Greece in 2004. Beyond remembering one of many happy moments of that trip, this recollection gets me thinking because it was a surreal moment as it unfolded. I couldn’t explain its origins, but I knew enough to pause, listen and observe until it receded from the space I was occupying. It lasted a minute or less but I sensed I was voyeuristically witnessing a special moment for some other group of people.

My fiancé and I were standing, nearly alone, in the elevated area of the Roman Agora. We were surrounded by ruins, mosaics, temples and columns. Ahead of us we had a sweeping view of Athens, all desert khaki and olive greens. It was balmy warm for October, and the wind was blowing just enough to rustle nearby palm fronds. The day was Sunday, our first full day in Greece, and the enormity of finally being somewhere outside my home country and a place that was part of an ancient civilization, including the remarkable and breathtaking Acropolis over my shoulder, was only beginning to sink in.

Athens is a massive city, generally loud, expectedly fragrant. But it was quiet where we were. We’d paused just for a moment from exploration and picture taking when from a distance you could hear a group of men singing. Immediately you could sense their voices were in motion, but couldn’t place how. I remember standing there shoulder-to-shoulder with Travis, breeze lifting my hair and crossing my face as our attention followed the lovely sound of the chorus. It was approaching below us, somewhere within the bustling city and they were clearly moving on a train with open windows. The men sounded jovial, and like comrades singing a rousing patriotic anthem. The train passed and the voices dimmed without us ever glimpsing with our eyes what we’d heard with our ears.

Maybe they’d all just left temple or mosque. Maybe they were university students finishing their night before. Maybe it was a weekend wedding party moving to the next stop of the celebration. Maybe it’s some tradition that happens every Sunday, or every day, in Athens. I also ponder never having seen any actual train while there, and I then I fancy it might have been the Hogwarts Express that nobody but us could hear as it glided like a vapor through the city.

These are the thoughts that go through my head when I’m standing there again visually following my mind’s memory of what I could see while I was listening. And once again, I’m smiling with the Mediterranean sun on my shoulders, the breeze making me blink, while enjoying a new adventure.