This morning, my phone dinged to let me know what photo I’d taken on this day last year. It was this one.
And this year, I just took a quick image from the western door.
Photographs help with long view of our time on the planet. So do words, memories. In the writing I am doing right now, I am in Greece in 1976. I am 21. I am visiting the Acropolis for the first time and am enthralled by the Caryatids of the south porch of the Erechtheion. I have never forgotten them and revisiting that time is not just an experiment in nostos but a reminder to my aging self about the strength of a woman’s body.
I climbed the hill of the Acropolis in winter. The marble steps were slippery under my Greek sandals. Dry stalks of summer plants fringed the path – wild oats, henbane, the dessciated leaves of coreopsis. A few seedpods from spring’s poppies. At the bottom of the hill – cypresses, pines, olives, with the prickly leaves of acanthus under their shade. Did I pay? I must have, though I don’t remember. But I do remember the Odeon of Herodes Atticus just off the path, the five gateways to the Propylaia, the temple of the Athena Nike, the Parthenon (of course) with bereted men taking photographs of tourists highlighted against it. What I remember best and most was the Erechtheion complex—the temple of Athena Polias and the Tomb of King Erechtheus, and the porch of the Caryatids. There were originally six of them, though one was removed by Lord Elgin in the first decade of the 19th century and sold to the British Museum; a replica of the lost sister remained when I was there. In 1978, the remaining five maidens were removed to the nearby Acropolis Museum and replicas installed in their place. But in 1976, they stood in their original beauty, holding up the entablature of the porch on the south side of the temple; and for me they became profound emblems of strength. Their bodies were foundational, structural; they were not the objects of anyone’s gaze, their own eyes farseeing. Their clothing closely fit their strong bodies, one leg taking the burden of the building’s weight, their leg bent forward to demonstrate their strength. From behind, I could see the intricate braiding of their long hair, thick and bold, serving to enforce the strength of their necks as they support the burden of the entablature.