No Dancing at the Parthenon
So I finally got arrested for dancing.
Woke up this morning on a ferry boat to the sound of a guy yelling at me like I was a vagrant.
Looked around, saw an old Indian guy blowing snot out of his nose on the floor next to me. Realized I was a vagrant.
The ferry had come into port at Athens. Literally everyone but the Indian guy disembarked while I slept.
It was 5am. The sun was a long way from rising. I have no guidebook covering Greece – didn’t even know where to tell a cab driver to take me. I wandered the streets for an hour until the first coffee shop opened, then loitered there until it was early enough to get a hotel room without paying for the previous night.
Finding a taxi took half an hour. Turns out the bus drivers are on strike today. When I found a guy and he discovered I’m American, all he wanted to talk about was politics. When he found out I’m from Seattle, all he wanted to talk about was grunge music.
He took me to a reasonably cheap hotel near the Acropolis and I slept for six hours. Waking in the afternoon, I set out on foot for the Parthenon.
Talked to some ancient Greeks.
“Where you from?”
“America? Too big.”
“Okay. Um. How about Switzerland?”
“No. America is a big place. In what part do you live?”
“I see. Seattle is very different from Alabama.”
“Yes it is.”
“FUCKING SHIT ALABAMA!”
“They still hanging blacks in Alabama.”
“Yeah, we stopped doing that in Seattle a while ago.”
Greeks don’t beat around the Bush. People often ask me if I have trouble traveling as an American. The answer is no. I generally get a positive response for stating my nationality – or at least the benefit of the doubt. But I haven’t spent much time in Europe. I’m learning the reception isn’t quite as warm these days.
At least they know the difference between a red state and a blue state.
I don’t like wearing messages on my clothing, but it might save me some trouble while I’m here if I state my political affiliations concisely across my chest.
One thing European attitudes remind me of is how narrow the spectrum for debate is back home. Even the fact that it’s a spectrum is irritating. As Jon Stewart points out, opinions can have a Y-axis.
We’re confined to arguing over stupid crap like gays in the military. If we were to let Europe in, we’d be arguing over gay orgies in the military – which is, to me, a more compelling point of contention.
Even the graffiti in Greece is achingly wishy-washy.
Continued walking up the hill. I seem to have a knack for finding the less trodden entrances to places like this.
Oh, look. An amphitheater.
Ancient amphitheaters are everywhere. How come they stick around so much longer than every other kind of structure?
…hey, you know what? I bet it’s the lack of roofs.
I’m starting to realize there’s a difference between having an interest in history and an interest in really old stuff. Rarely does the really old stuff tell us much about why its creators were important. We think it’s going to, but then we get there and it doesn’t. So we take pictures and we leave.
I’ll admit that as the dancing video goes, standing in front of the ancient stuff is largely obligatory. There are places like Angkor Wat and Abu Simbel that leave me truly astonished. They have a magical quality. But the Taj Mahal? Pyramids? Parthenon? To me, it’s just a pile of rocks that doesn’t say anything worth saying.
The sun goes behind some clouds, so I sit down on the bench, pull out my Sudoku book, and I wait for it to come out again. A short guy in a black leather jacket sits next to me. He pulls out a scratchy AM receiver and starts blasting some Greek talk radio, absolutely crushing my moment of serenity.
The sun begins to go down and a couple Japanese guys are taking pictures of each other. I ask one of them to hold the camera while I dance.
“10 seconds,” I explain.
“Okay. No problem.”
So I start to dance, and the guy in the leather jacket gets up from the bench and walks into the middle of the shot.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asks.
“You can’t do that here. You must delete it.”
"You're joking, right?"
"Delete the picture right now!"
“I’m not going to delete anything.”
The Japanese guy senses trouble. “10 seconds,” he says, hands me the camera and leaves.
“What you are doing is disrespectful.”
“I don’t think it’s disrespectful.”
“Give me the camera.”
“I’m not going to give you the camera.”
“Then take your things and come with me.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Then I will call the police and you will go to jail.”
“Who are you? Show me some identification.”
“I will show you identification later. Come with me right now.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you show me identification.”
So the guy goes and he gets a security guard.
“Show me the video,” says the guard. I show him the video.
“You cannot do that here!”
“It is against the rules.”
“What rules? Show me the sign that says No Dancing.”
“Remove the video.”
“Then come with me.”
The guy grabs me by the arm and starts pulling me down the steps. This is incredible, I think. How far are they willing to go with this? How far am I willing to go with this?
They take me to the front entrance and explain to the head guard, in Greek, what I was doing. The head guard pulls me down a path, around a corner, and behind a building, so no tourists can see.
“Listen to me. The Parthenon may mean nothing to you, but to us it is a HOLY RELIGIOUS SITE!”
Oh really? And when’s the last time you made sacrifice to Athena?
“Give me the camera.”
“I’m not giving you the camera.”
“Give me your passport.”
“I’m not giving you my passport.”
“Then you will spend the night in jail.”
“I’ve slept in worse places.”
I hold my hands out in front of me for cuffing.
He leads me inside to what can vaguely be described as an interrogation room. Maybe it's just for lunch breaks, but in the moment it feels a lot like an interrogation room. He asks a couple more times for the camera. The response doesn’t change.
The guy in the leather jacket who started all this asks, “In your house, do you not have rules?”
“We don’t have any rules against dancing, no.”
“At your work. They do not have rules?”
“As far as I know, I’ve never worked anywhere that had a No Dancing policy.”
“Why do you do this?”
“I’m traveling. I do this everywhere I go.”
“And you do not think it is disrespectful?”
“I think it’s anything but disrespectful.”
“You are American, yes?”
Had to see that one coming.
A policeman walks in and asks what this is all about. They go through it all again. I’m led out the gates to a squad car. More discussion.
Another policeman asks, “What is it that you did?”
So I dance for the cop. He shakes his head. “You cannot do this here. Delete the film and you can leave.”
And into the car I go. We get to the police station. They take me up the elevator and sit me down with the guy in charge, presumably the precinct chief.
He asks me all the same questions. I give him all the same answers.
“Show me this video.”
I play the Parthenon clip. I also still have Ephesus and Troy on the camera, so I show him those too.
Again I’m asked, “Why do you do this?”
“It’s a memento.”
He still doesn’t get it. A young female cop who speaks better English translates for him. I notice there are at least eight officers surrounding me, all very interested in what’s going on.
I suddenly want very badly to leave this place, and it strikes me that I can’t. I’m being held for questioning. The situation is new to me.
The chief starts yelling at the cop who brought me in. It’s all Greek to me, but the tone is clearly along the lines of “Why are you wasting my time with this shit?”
A little more yelling and the chief asks for my passport. This time, I give it up.
One of the cops sits down with me. I can see the sides of his mouth curving upward. “We’re going to let you go.” He winks at me discreetly. “We just need to take down your information.”
He has me write my name, my mother’s name, my father’s name, my passport number, my address, and the name of my hotel in Athens.
I get up to leave. The guy in the leather jacket, still standing by my side and clearly a little embarrassed, tries to justify himself to me. “In other countries, the policies are maybe more…elastic…but here, you must not do these things.”
The police chief asks one more time, “Will you delete this video?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
“Okay. Get out of here.”
And that’s my story.
I’ve never had any experience with civil disobedience. I think of myself as a spineless wimp and I guess I imagined I’d fold pretty quickly, so it was nice to learn that I can withstand a little intimidation when the matter at hand is truly ridiculous enough.
I don’t know how I would’ve held up if there’d been anything serious at stake, like life or liberty. This was just about the pursuit of happiness, which trails a distant third.
I wasn’t even going to use it in the video. The lighting’s bad and it’s just not all that interesting. But if I’m willing to go to jail for a thing, I should probably get some use out of it, huh?