When I was searching for directions to Comicdom Con 2010, Athens, I ran the address through Google maps, which showed me a route to the convention. Then, seeking further clarification, I emailed the organizers of the convention, and Dimitris responded that the directions were indeed accurate, and that once I made a left on Alexandras and then a right on Ippokratous and then a left on Skoufa, I would be there!
However, I had failed to explain that I would be using public transportation, and Dimitris naturally assumed, since I had mentioned Google maps, I would be driving to the event. And thus began my journey on that hot Friday afternoon, up Alexandras, searching in vain for Ippokratous, asking, but receiving, for the most part, blank looks to my question, “Do you know where Ippokratous is?”
Thus I decided to turn to my internal navigation device—my intuition—after a brief detour, which just didn’t feel right, and continue my route—West, was it?—along Alexandras, figuring eventually I would run into Ippokratous, asking along the way, again, and noting, more familiarity with the street by strangers as I traveled westward.
Luckily Athens is a manageable city, even on foot, and I have one friend who frequently travels on foot, crossing the borders of various neighborhoods to get where she needs to go. But Athens also has a terrific public transportation system, to which I avail myself, since the idea of driving in Athens leaves me, well, feeling shriveled, and I see no sense in owing a car when public transportation and an abundance of taxis will get you where you want to go relatively quickly, and without anxiety.
Nonetheless my frustration continued to grow as I marched uphill on Alexandras and finally pulled into a Starbucks to break the cycle of increased perspiration, and chill with an espresso and bottle of water, before I resumed my journey. And, as I had done previously, I asked the barristas, “Do you know where Ippokratous is?” when another customer sprang forth with the answer. “It’s at the next light,” she said. I was so happy to hear that! I was getting close. Couldn’t be much farther than that, I reasoned.
Space and Time
While I sat at Starbucks, sipping espresso, smoking cigarettes, and cooling, I decided to write Dimitris an email, scolding him for his—what I imagined to be— The Greek Concept of Time and Space!—a highly relative and figurative and shifting idea, based on actual experiences, which I will explain below, not realizing that our mistake was based on a simple misunderstanding, which could have been easily cleared up, had it not been for those nasty critters, assumptions.
I first noticed the peculiar nature of time during my marriage to a Greek man. In the early stages of our marriage, as we worked to adjust to one another, and build our own historical frame, I found him referring to events we had both experienced as having occurred yesterday. It wasn’t long before I began to question this idea of yesterday, since my reference and understanding of yesterday, did not match his—at all! At the time, I assumed it was a personal idiosyncrasy and not part of a larger theme.
I vigorously defended my idea of yesterday and drilled him on his own.
“When exactly was yesterday?” I said.
Gradually I came to realize that the parameters of yesterday were wide and extended back in time to a period of months. We worked on this aspect of our communication techniques and eventually came to an understanding that concepts of time were indeed relative, and so we frequently—mostly, I did—asked for clarification whenever in doubt. End of problem.
Time and Space
Not more than a month after I arrived in Greece, while blissfully walking down Patission, a central street, I had the misfortune of having my purse picked. Totally unaware of what had happened, I only realized it when I stopped in a clothing store, and the woman there told me my backpack was open. I could have left it unzipped, especially the outer pocket, but doubted leaving the central zipper unlocked, and as I dug into my backpack, I found my wallet missing. I had been nabbed!
One of the steps I had to take because of this theft was to report it to the Police in the district where the theft had occurred. So 2 days later, I launched on yet another journey, and searched for the right district to report the theft, which I knew of only by reference to from my neighborhood police station.
I first queried the bus driver who said he had no idea where the station was. But because I was armed with additional information, courtesy of my local precinct officer…
“It’s right by PASOK’s headquarters—” (Police Officer, Patission Precinct)
I then asked the location of PASOK’s central headquarters, the political party in power currently, which he knew, of course, so at least I knew what stop to get off, before searching for the station.
Though not far from the bus stop, it was an uphill climb, and I stopped along the way, asking for directions.
“It’s up ahead,” said one store owner.
“Up ahead?” I said. “You mean like…”
“Make a left at the corner, and you’ll find it.”
So I followed his directions and sensing I was not going where I should be going, I stopped yet again, and asked another store owner.
“Oh,” he said. It’s down there. You passed it.”
Strange, I thought. I didn’t remember seeing it…
So I began my trek downhill this time, but still not being able to see it, I felt compelled to stop once again and ask for directions. This time, I stopped at a pharmacy, and the pharmacist there, at last, gave me specific directions to the station. I was one street off, she said. “Take the first left, and at the end of the block turn right. It’s the next block down.” And sure enough… There it was. At last!
(Despite my eyes being in hyper-drive that day, I never did spot PASOK headquarters.)
Now it could be a male thing. I’m not sure. Or perhaps a tendency for Greeks to think in broad and general terms, rather than specifics. Think Philosophy! But again, I don’t know. But there does seem to be a reoccurring theme here, which I see based on my limited experiences, which leads me to suspect the Greek concept of time and space is unique.
Lost! (that would be me talking)
Be advised, however, that almost all taxis are equipped with navigation devices here in Athens, and the drivers make good use of them, so no problem there.
And as for Google maps…
There is room for improvement. For instance, it would be helpful to have directions based on public transportation systems in cities, yet I realize this is probably a monumental project and requires much work. And while driving directions are sometimes helpful when looking for approximate locations and routes, they can easily lead you astray. And finally, I don’t why, but Google does offer walking directions. I don’t know how they manage to do this, but I have referred to them once or twice, and find those too could use tweaking.
Ippokratous was indeed at the next intersection, just as the young woman had said.
Getting to Skoufa from there, however, was not anywhere as near as I had hoped or imagined!
However, I was determined to get there…