An Olympic Stadium
After exploring Kerameikos and grabbing some eats at home, we ventured out to the Kallimarmaro Stadium.
Athenians built this marvelous stadium in 330 BC for the Panathenaic Games. It fell into disuse for a while but was restored for the first modern Olympics in 1896. Restored again in 2004, it hosted the finish for the Olympic marathon as well as archery events.
“Kallimarmaro” means “beautiful marble.”
Those sleek marble seats look beautiful, but my bony bum hurts just looking at them. I wonder how many people come with cushions. I wonder if there’s a cushion vendor at events. Now there’s a capital idea!
Next, we wandered through the National Gardens en route to the parliament building. We stopped to enjoy a pond with loads of ducks and a single black swan.
Love the classical architecture of what I can only imagine is shelter for the ducks.
Then we found a busy turtle pond with some entertaining acrobatic turtles.
We discovered some interesting trees that I dubbed “dead-elephant” trees because the giant, sprawling, gray bases make it look as though the trees are growing out of dead elephants.
Familiar Books . . . in Greek
Nearing the parliament building, we passed some tables with books for sale and spotted some familiar kids’ books with Greek covers. That was fun!
Mike figured out the Harry Potter title by sounding out the Greek for “Harry Potter.” Note that the Greek version of J. K. Rowling uses as TZ for the first initial. There is no J in Greek.
I’m so glad we learned the Greek alphabet and some pronunciation. We’ve had a heap of fun and enjoyed a lot of surprises because of it.
Evzones and the Changing of the Guard
And then we arrived at the parliament building for the changing of the Presidential Guards.
I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be some solemn event, but I can muster no solemnity. It strikes me as Disney-style entertainment.
Members of the Presidential Guard, the Evzones, are a special unit of the Hellenic Army that guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. These guys are supposed to be symbols of bravery and courage.
Remember the flag raisers at the Acropolis? That’s another duty of this special military unit.
Okay, I will admit to generally being unimpressed with ritual and symbolism. In fact, I suppose my inclination when it comes to rituals is to muck them up, whether that means simply foregoing them, refusing to do them, questioning why anyone does them, mocking them, or something else. I tend to think the importance assigned to rituals and symbols is overblown and even silly.
But I was curious nonetheless, and I wanted to see it—especially after seeing the traditional uniform in the guidebook, which gave me the giggles.
I was not disappointed: It looked just as funny in person! I think there are three official uniforms, maybe more. We saw the winter every-day one. The fancy ones are used for special events and on Sundays at 11, I understand. You know, because Sundays . . . and eleven. What better reasons could we possibly need for making that occasion special?
All three uniforms involve white leggings and skirts. I choose to leave the word “kilt” to the Scots, who do them right. I will not ridicule kilts; I love them. These Greek things, however, are so full from so many pleats that “skirt” is more accurate. I read that each has 400 pleats to represent 400 years of Ottoman rule and oppression.
Since the excuse for those pleats is symbolism, wouldn’t it make more sense to leave those 400 pleats and years behind with a more flattering Scottish-style kilt to represent overcoming that time and unfortunate style? Or maybe people here genuinely like them, the way I like kilts. Fair enough, if that’s the case.
The fancy shoes are red, which could be cool, but “cool” is kicked to the curb when you put pompoms on the toes—the meaning or point of which has not been addressed anywhere I’ve seen. Mike thinks they were used in battle to throw the enemy into fits of laughter so they could be more easily overwhelmed. It probably worked.
Pleated skirts and shoes with pompoms—is anyone else thinking “cheerleader”?
How many Greek kids do you suppose dream of growing up to be an Evzone?
The soles of the shoes are embedded with clicking hobnails or something. Clicking shoes aren’t by themselves ridiculous; it’s how you use that clicking, and the Greeks don’t use them well.
The rest of the uniform is fine. Or maybe I couldn’t take my eyes off the skirt, leggings, and shoes.
Oh. Wait. That way-long silk tassel coming off the beanie and draping down the side of the guy’s face looks like a long, black ponytail.
For sixty minutes at a time (three times in a 48-hour period), the guards stand stock still with no expression and no eye movement whatsoever.
I don’t doubt this is hard to do, and I don’t for a minute think I could do it. The guidebooks insist these are elite, highly trained military pros, but . . . really? I’m curious why this falls into the realm of military and not, say, religious monks. Isn’t this more like meditation than guarding, fighting, or defending? What is the point of this, really?
And I wonder if women serve as these guards. We didn’t see any. Physical traits factor into who is selected for these unique positions. For instance, height. These guards are all over 6.13 feet tall.
As happens with other amusingly clad parliamentary guards in England and Canada, during their hour of motionless duty, visitors squish in beside the Evzones for pictures. I imagine they endure silliness, teasing, and maybe even abuse. And then they change places with another guard.
The choreography of the change underwhelmed me. It was very slow, silly walking. John Cleese would be brilliant. My 18-second video will give you the gist. The guards are supposed to be in sync, but in this case they aren’t. Frankly, I blame the slow pace: There’s no rhythm to count out.
I would be at least a little impressed by perfect synchronization—however silly the action. They should work on that.
Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—my camera battery gave out after 18 seconds. Or did the camera just get bored and quit? You can find a full-length video on YouTube, if you really want to.
One move my video doesn’t capture: the foot brushing the ground in a backward sweep, like a horse does when counting. And speaking of horses, while the toe half of the shoe is studded with hobnails, the heel is fitted with a horseshoe.
Some suggest the slow movement is necessary after the guards have stood stock still for an hour. That may be true, but I’m going to need to see the science on that before I’ll be convinced.
A story reported on several websites says that during a demonstration in 2001, someone blew up a guard shack with a molotov cocktail. The flaming shack didn’t elicit so much as a blink from the guard. He stood there until a camo-clad military guy gave him an order to move.
Wait. Why are these guys called “guards” again? Does anyone else think it would be more impressive had the guard caught the miscreant?
This kind of entertainment builds up an appetite, though. Time to go home for dinner.