At first my lungs struggle to acclimatize to the leaded gas vapors permeating this part of the city, and my North American belief in rules and straight lines is stunned by the Formula One chaos in the street, and by the occasional motorcycle on the sidewalk.
We are lunching on the second floor of the McDonald's across the street from Syntagma Square. We notice the police starting to form a line along the sidewalk out front, and assume there must be some important motorcade en route to the Parliament building. As minutes elapse, the police are now shoulder-to-shoulder, double file, and officers with dogs are scurrying about.
A McDonalds employee suddenly appears at the top of the stairs and yells "Everybody out! Everybody out!" I glance at my watch and reason that these people must take siesta seriously. Seconds later, a machine-gun wielding soldier bursts into the room and barks "Everybody out! Now!" In the crush of people pushing their way down the stairs, we manage to hear someone say that this building is the target of a bomb threat.
Outside, the air is electric with jangled nerves and militarized emergency plans snapping into action. As ordered, we cross the street to a sidewalk cafe. Part of me wonders if perhaps we've ended up in the Gaza Strip by mistake. My legs feel like rubber. Meanwhile, a local languidly takes a drag on a cigarette. "Bomb threat?" he says, and then casually looks at his watch and says "About time."
We quickly learn that you always ask how much something is, even when a price is clearly posted. If it says five euros, you ask anyway. "For you, my friend, three euros." In this part of the world, a price tag is only ever the opening bid.
A big beefy guy with stubby fingers and an expensive suit puffs on a huge cigar as he entertains a couple of high maintenance ladies. The trio are seated in lounge chairs around a low poolside table in this candle- and torch-lit evening. With his slicked-back hair and fast company, he appears to be a Hellenic take on Tony Soprano.
We pass some time sitting in the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, communing with an audience long lost to the winds of history. For me it is is something like a religious pilgrimage, as I had played Creon in a local production of Antigone, and here I am at the site of its premiere five thousand years earlier.