Through a Frenchman's Eyes
Wandering a little too casually through an ancient Athenian site, my sightseeing companion began to clamber over the Ancient Greek walls. As he stumbled North over ruins and hoisted himself over and down into long dug out foundations, I slowly trod the path trod by centuries of tourists. My forehead pinched as I tried to imagine the original inhabitants of Ancient Greece themselves casually wandering across the same portion of the Earth’s crust; I experienced a collective frustration similar no doubt to thousands even before my time.
With a call I was pulled back in to focus. He needed my iPhone, my only camera, as his DSLR had just run out of battery and whilst not quite a photographer yet, but the brother of one, he had experienced a view unique to him and needed to capture it. Squatting mere inches behind him as he manoeuvred his elbows to the perfect angles required to aline the top of the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon with the edges of the phone’s screen, his shoulders lifted in a deep breath and held still.
Within a few seconds and with one perfectly angled elbow rested firm as a tripod on one knee, the shot was snapped, the phone lowered, and the breath exhaled, but in that short time I had been allowed to share in a view few others before me had seen. Away from the main path, tucked behind inscribed ancient columns that were creating impressions in the soft mud from centuries of laying on their side, I saw something that has since recalled a sense of jealousy in me for the photographer’s eye.
Squatting in ancient foundations, and being given the time to consider the contents of the frame, I was dragged in to the Ancient Greek world. Perhaps this had been someone’s house, one with small windows left in the stonework to allow the same view of the Parthenon I could see. More likely, and in accordance with the inscribed columns, it had been a shrine, in which case I saw the symbolic alignment of the ruins in view of the ancient Temple of Athena.
Perhaps a few other travellers had passed by this way, a sense of curiosity sending them away from the path and causing their hand to brush out along the smooth stone columns, much like you see people do in a clothes store when they are not really interested in the colour or design of a piece but intrigued to feel the soft wool against their fingertips. How many would have knelt down next to that column and felt the chill of the stone seep past their t-shirt to slightly cool a body warm from walking up the steep Acropolis Hill? And if they did, perhaps to inspect the inscription or conduct an action as simple as tying a shoelace, did they too follow the curve of the stone and see how it’s reflection of the sun darkened the remains of the surrounding foundation walls, before lifting their eyes to the temple and understanding the significant location of the spot in which their shoes met the grass?
Discussing Acropolis Hill with new friends in the hostel later that night, their words began to wash over me and were replaced with a single recurring question; would their viewpoint have been the same as mine from that simple but well-trodden path down the North slope. Or would it have been more in line with that of the Frenchman who I had witnessed so carefully considering his own frame of reference. I knew the answer. He knew, as I had begun to learn, that through a slight shift in perception it is possible to believe in the life behind the picture, and that continuance of life for thousands of years is what truly takes my breath away.