Ritsos’s cat

I passed this staircase on Peseidonas Road during my run. Note the cat. There are cats everywhere, and they are well fed and content.

I went running in Vouliagméni, along the Lemos peninsula, which is where you’ll find the most exclusive beaches, restaurants and tourists and, lording over them all, the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens resort. Most of my runs here are modest in length: to the end of the peninsula and back. But, since the distance is not that great, I add a bit of mileage along Poseidonas Road.

About halfway up the sloping peninsula stands the entrance to the Four Seasons. I stopped to take a photo and almost instantly a suited man materialized from nowhere to shoo me away. It began with, “Can I help you, sir?” in Greek, and quickly escalated from there.

“No thank you. Just taking a picture.”

“You cannot do that, sir. No photos allowed.”

“Just a photo. Not trying to get in.”

“But our guests…”

Yeah, right. I took the photo and moved on.

I think I am temperamentally unsuited to luxury surroundings. At the slightest provocation, I become belligerent.

A few minutes further up the hill is another, smaller entrance to the compound. But I think of the first, bigger one, as the mouth, where luxury guests are first received. Where they are subsequently marinated and processed for several days in the rarest juices — poolside, in the yoga studio, dining room and spa — before being extruded at higher pressure from the smaller opening up the hill.

The smaller entrance, further up the hill on Lemos Peninsula. I was not challenged when taking this picture, but my photo may already be on file at Interpol.

Ritsos on a pedestal

On the way back to our rented place, I passed by a monument to the poet Yannis Ritsos. The base is inscribed with some lines from his poem Eirini (Peace), topped by a statue of a big-hipped woman writhing like a flame. Ritsos is one of Greece’s greatest modern poets (he died in 1990), and was revered as much for his courageous politics as for his writing.

In Greece, it’s possible to sit down for an ouzo with a car mechanic or an academic, and chances are you can get them to recite a few lines and even entire poems by Ritsos or, for that matter, Seferis, Elytis, Kavafis and the rest of the modern greats. Musicians often set their poems to music, and the songs become hits. People dance to them, hum them at work, blast them from their cars and sing them in the shower. Unthinkable in North America.

Panagía Faneroméni Church, on Poseidonas Road. Apparently the church was built by a shipowner to commemorate a daughter who passed away. The volumes and shapes of a traditional Greek Orthodox church are all there, but shorn of any ornament.
Another view of the church. I spied it from our cab when we arrived, and returned several times.

* * *

Years ago, Shari and I visited Monemvasia, in the Southern Peloponnese, where Ritsos was born. Tourists flock to Monemvasia for its famed Venetian fortress, which dates from the Middle Ages. The fort’s ruins rise at the end of a tiny peninsula, and within the tumbledown walls you’ll find meandering laneways lined with small shops and restaurants, as well as beautiful people who own villas facing the sea.

Greeks from surrounding villages also flock to Monemvasia, but for a different reason. They’re after the town’s famed amigdalotá, or almond cookies. Drivers pull up, buy several boxes for family and friends, and zoom off.

On this trip, we had lunch inside the fortress, behind the great fortified gates, whose weathered grey wood still bears rusty traces of the original iron cladding. At that time, the restaurant was still owned by Yannis Ritsos’s sister and, as everywhere in Greece, cats prowled the small square where we sat. I don’t remember what we ate, except that at some point Shari took pity on one of the cats, meowing and rubbing against her leg, and fed it a morsel of fish from her plate. A moment later the cat pissed on Shari’s sandaled foot.

We will be going to Athens tomorrow.

The end of Lemos Peninsula, looking back. The cranes are busily building something new: either an extension to the Four Seasons resort with the longest name in the world, or an entirely new resort.

6 thoughts on “Ritsos’s cat”

  1. No stray dogs? Please steer clear of the “authorities” so that we readers can continue to benefit from your discoveries. Love your view from Athens btw.


  2. What a fun read, I chuckled several times. I really enjoyed the “off the beaten track” observations and your fabulous photos.


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