Discovering fear in myself always felt like an insult and automatically needed to be tackled and eradicated.
At the end of the week, Lana and I took a ferry from the island of Paros back to Athens. It was late afternoon and we weren’t due for the shuttle to the airport for our flight home until 3 a.m.
We had no intention of leaving Greece without seeing the Parthenon, famed temple of Ancient Ruins 101 located on the Acropolis and dedicated to goddess Athena. When we set off to the city above the city, we discovered that the buses were on strike. So we decided to take a taxi. Then we found the banks were also on strike, leaving us unable to exchange enough money for cab fare. Greece, it turned out, didn’t run all that well, but managed to be glorious.
My injured leg was still bandaged below my shorts, but it had regained most of its mobility, so our remaining option was to walk the hill all the way up to the Acropolis. By the end of the day, after much bemoaning, we made it to the top. We may as well have walked to Turkey, judging both by our sense of complaint and accomplishment — only to find as of two minutes before our arrival, access to the monument was shut down for the day.
We refused to fail at the simple goal of visiting the Parthenon while in Greece. So we snuck around to the side away from the tourist entrance, and climbed through brush and rocks to search for a back route to the temple.
Up on a massive boulder, we had a view of the rocky terrain directly surrounding the grounds of the structure, but the Parthenon itself wasn’t visible.
I was all the more determined to climb to it.
Lana had reached her threshold for daredevilry and decided to stay behind and guide me. I would have to climb down, then up again through more boulders. It seemed reasonably doable — all I wanted was a quick peek of the temple, even from afar, before heading to the airport.
And then he showed himself, far above: a massive Rottweiler trotting around the grounds of Athena’s temple as though it were his private doghouse.
Discovering fear in myself never failed to make me indignant. Fear automatically needed to be tackled and eradicated. Guard dogs scared the shit of me, certainly those presumably trained to kill, which is exactly why I had to continue. All at once, the mission to catch a glimpse of the Parthenon became a life affirming symbol. I steeled myself like a protagonist in the second act of a formulaic screenplay.
You could almost hear the major fifths of epic film scores as my voice took on heroic tones instructing Lana to track the killer dog while I braved trailing to the opposite side of his patrol. Depending only on her warning if the murderous mastiff detected me, I scampered down rocks until she was no longer in view, nor was the dog visible above. Then I climbed up, closing the distance to the stones of all that passion-filled Greek mythology.
At that point, from nowhere trotted out the menacing dog, patrolling importantly right above me.
He appeared to have rounded a corner of the ancient structure — which I had yet to see — from an entirely different angle than he had been a minute before. This made no sense unless he had canine teleporting abilities. Had my best friend, the lookout, failed me?
Though I was still too far below for the dog to care about my presence, I faltered. I took a few breaths and demanded more courage of myself, which didn’t come. But once I saw the vicious killer patrol off and out of view, I forced myself up.
I managed to get all the way up to the last layer of rock meeting the two-thousand-year-old ground of the Parthenon. Even without the beast reappearing, the terrible tickle of fear in my chest hadn’t abated. I ignored it and when I reached the end of the ascent, I inhaled deeply before hoisting myself over. The clamor in my chest eased long enough for me to realize I was practically there. I exhaled happily. I was at the periphery of the Parthenon — which I still couldn’t see. Success! Almost.
I swung my injured leg over and my foot finally touched flat ground. I only had to pull myself up to see the actual Parthenon. I threw a glance at the corner where I’d seen the teleporting Rottweiler to make sure it wasn’t waiting to charge at me. And then I gasped.
The barrel of a machine gun was rounding the corner and heading toward me.
Attached to the machine gun was a military guard. Behind him, followed another just like him. And another. Finally, an entire troop with machine guns gathered above me.
I froze and experienced another moment of stoicism before impending death. I’m about to die in a cascade of gunfire, that damn dog is going to eat my remains, and I didn’t even get to see the Parthenon.
They didn’t fire. Instead, a young soldier anticlimactically indicated that I should climb right back down the way I came. I meekly gestured towards flat ground and perhaps a simpler route, hoping to get a glimpse of the actual Parthenon on the way out. I may have even pointed to my still-bandaged leg for sympathy. But he was stern and wasn’t having any of it.
So back down I went, never having seen so much as an inch of Parthenon pillar.
By the time I reached Lana, it was dusk. She informed me that from her vantage point, she had solved the teleporting dog riddle, and in fact, brilliantly deduced there was not one, but two Rottweilers patrolling the Parthenon (if not an entire pack), because she had seen and you know, counted them.
Lucky for her, from the side of the boulders farthest from the road, our attention was drawn to a purple light in the dimming sky. Without a word, we both crept in its direction and climbed another set of boulders to uncover the source of the glow. Reaching the top and raising our heads above the highest rock, an unexpected vastness opened before us, and below at the center of it, lay an ancient open-air amphitheater.
It seemed to be carved out of the very mountain. We were above the topmost audience-side, but there was no audience. The stage was replete with bright, colorful motion. We had happened upon a magical dance rehearsal. It involved a play of lights and rainbows of streaming scarves. In the hands of the dancers, the illuminated fabric was air-bound and fluid, taking center stage while the dancers took on the roles of props and background. Glowing purple, orange, pink and yellow floated and swirled.
It turned out to be the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, but for Lana and me, it was a spellbinding goodbye gift from Greece, complete with beautiful strips of ribbon.
- Determination and tackling fear are seldom without reward.
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