Monday, December 10, 2012

Athens Walk, Dec. 10, 2012

I'm sitting in a cafe waiting for a sandwich. I'd hoped to go to a fine restaurant but the dark streets bothered me so I decided I liked it here at a cafe near my hotel where the police hang out. I was here this morning and there were so many of these leather clad guys and girls I thought it was a motorcycle club. By asking, I found out it was the 'municipal police'. I've had a great day walking about Athens, mostly around Omonia, where I started from, and Syntagmos, the centre of the city where the Parliament Buildings are. I came across a beautiful church but don't know the name. I asked who a fellow wearing a white skirt was and the priest told me he was "St. George, not the one on the horse, but the Greek St. George." I asked him what he did to become a saint. The priest smiled wryly, "He helped the Greeks fight the Turks."
My sandwich arrived and the sweet waitress has grilled it.  Delicious edam cheese and ham. I've lost weight this fall with hunting and walking so bought a 3 euro belt along with fresh 1 euro a pair of black socks. There are street kiosks and vendors everywhere.
I bought a terrific pair of trousers in Omonia Square at Panagiotropolis for $25 euros, dress wool I believe and the lovely saleslady said she'd have them hemmed in an hour. I'm wearing them now. There are tailors here too. Every craftsman or tradesperson has a little shop somewhere. A whole block of fabric and upholster stores reminded me of New York, Hong Kong and Mexico City where a particular craft or trade will congregate till one day there's a 'district'. These big old cities are in constant flux. It's a vertical city like New York too and I've not even ventured much about the first couple of floors. I've looked at signs showing all manner of businesses are represented 7 and 8 floors above. I visited museums and art galleries this afternoon, enjoying the visual inspiration.
I figured I'm a bit saturated. When I saw a picture of a dog in a Nicholas Guysis painting all I wanted was to be home with Gilbert. The last thing I would have said a couple of weeks ago was I was looking forward to work but actually I am looking forward to the office and routine. I forget how like a third leg I begin to feel without useful work to do. I'm very thankful to have my profession, the opportunity to help people, the education and colleagues and the patients who put their trust in me.
I discussed addiction and alcoholism today with a couple of Irish men and and an English woman who had been in Berlin and known Rudolf Hess. We were sharing how similar and different the disease was. In one person it presents like Schizophrenia and in another it presents like a psychopathic personality disorder. Not surprising, considering it's a brain disease and the central computer crashes. Seeing the men desperately shooting up with needles on the street here I felt good about working at Doc Side Clinic in the Methadone Maintenance Program. It gives people a life back.
 I talked with a former Greek heroin addict here and he described how he had no life when he was on heroin He just lived from hit to hit hoping for death or a moment of relief. They have treatment centers and AA in Athens. The English speaking AA happened first then was followed by Greek speaking AA.
I am looking forward to talking with people too, without consideration of language issues., back in Canada.   Each time I've met an English speaking person I've had an immense sense of relief. Most people's grasp of English as a secondary language is like mine for Spanish and French, rudimentary and focussed on the concrete. Since the conference a week ago, before today I'd only spoken with a couple of people who spoke English such that we could joke. Today I was discussing Israeli politics with a very funny Irish fellow who described Greeks "Like Arabs, they can't get along". He'd just arrived back from Israel and described hearing sirens and thinking it was about traffic only to be ushered outside and down in the basement as he heard bombs exploding in the distance. He said even though there was threat of war and the anxiety about that , he preferred being in Israel than back in Athens because of the chaos and hostility here. His friend had been complaining about the lack of electricity in their area with heat and lights off. She was thinking of returning to Britain because of the rising costs locally though would dearly miss Athens.
This was all for me 'conversation' and 'ideas'. For a week I've been at the 'where is the bathroom… this the way to the Museum?" I've actually raised my voice repeating myself thinking that somehow volume would help my pronunciation. Then I tweaked to technology and took to taking pictures with my iPhone of what I wanted and suddenly getting an 'aha!" I'm beginning to think that while I seem to understand a lot in other languages, English is the one language I can be understood in some of the time.
 It still amazes me to consider the doctors at the World Congress of Interdisciplinary Psychiatry discussing the most advanced terms and ideas of psychoanalysis and neurochemistry in English as their second language. To me that's a kind of rocket science yet we so often take for granted the incredible language skills people have. My nephew Andrew is so fluent in French the French don't recognize him as English. In contrast I'd be the first one shot as a spy if I opened my mouth.
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