Pre-Departure: On Ruin & Welcome

Just under a week before boarding a flight that will mark the beginning of my time studying in Athens, I have been reading & rereading the books on my bookshelf as a way to avoid packing. Here is a prose poem titled “Short Talk on Where To Travel,” by one of my favorite writers & Classicists Anne Carson:

I went travelling to a wreck of a place. There were three

gates standing ajar and a fence that broke off. It was not

the wreck of anything else in particular. A place came there

and crashed. After that it remained the wreck of a place.

Light fell on it.

//

I spent a few weeks at the beginning of 2019 visiting Athens, sightseeing & writing as much as I could. As a student interested in antiquity, I found these spaces significant for their ancient identities, as how they exist in modernity. I considered the drastic evolution of human life—how much of the world I know would be unfathomable to the original architects of Athens. Now, folks travel from all around the world to experience these long-empty spaces of commerce, worship, war, & domestic life. Now, because of tourism & the popularity of recreational travel, many of these ruins are re-occupied, re-filled with life.

The word ruin, from Latin ruere (to hurry, rush; to fall down) has been on my mind while reflecting on my first trip to Athens. As with any unfamiliar city, details rush in & out of focus—narrow sidewalks, crowded train cars, anarchist graffiti, cigarette smoke, pedestrian traffic—all textured with the thrill of newness. The most popular sites for tourists are in a state of partial-collapse, temples with crumbled pillars & half-standing walls. These old structures continue to draw new interest, however, so the details complicate, the light lands differently, depending on the audience.

Though Athens has experienced its fair share of turmoil, the chaos felt channeled in ways I learned to read as part of the city’s vital pulse. I saw a city grappling with economic insecurity, political corruption, & an increasingly militarizing police force reflected in tags & drawings spray-painted across all accessible structures, even the ones meant to be preserved without alteration. It seemed like a place came there & crashed—its people painting the ruins brand-new with their contemporary lives.

//

I’m really bad at introducing myself, so I hope that through my writing I can communicate a bit more about who I am & what I’m interested in. Once we become more familiar, I hope you’ll take what you can from my perspective on a city you may or may not be familiar with. For now I’ll say thank you for reading & more soon.

<3

Duncan