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Mycenae

Eventually we walked down Agro Corinth to the car and drove down the mountain and on through the Peloponnesian peninsula to Mycenae. I was determined to stay at the inn in which Heinrich Schliemann had stayed while excavating the ancient ruins there: La Belle Helene. I had trouble finding it: Mycenae is apparently a popular lunch stop on the guided tours by which most visitors "do Greece", and the old facade of La Belle Helene is wrapped in a glass "lunchroom." But we decided to stay there anyway, and after settling in returned to the site of the ruins.

Mycenae is the palace of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, they say. One approaches it up a wide ramp, through heavy doors under the famous Lion Gate, built about 1550 BC.- a thousand years before the Parthenon. The gold masks and jewelry found here in the late 19th century and thereafter are in the Athens museum; we’d seen them there the day before. But the palace itself is impressive in its own right. On this bright spring day there was none of the foreboding atmosphere some have described: it was like being in a giant playhouse, with rocks or blocks delineating the rooms, but no roof above. Stairs and doorways and rooms are readily discerned: here is the courtyard; this must be a bedroom. And down here one can find the tunnels to the cisterns; the rudimentary indoor plumbing. Everywhere amid the stones grew wildflowers.

 The nearby "beehive" tombs were immense and haunting.

Yogurt and honey make a nice lunch, but by seven o’clock (early in Greece) we were hungry for dinner and walked down the road in the town of Mycenae. The lunchrooms seemed closed for dinner - the tourist season had not rightly begun. But a call from one, "lady, lady, I fix you barbecue" was not to be resisted. We went in, chose lamb from the grill and chicken from the stewpot, and sat by the space heater - the night had suddenly grown quite chilly. A young couple came in  - English, it turned out, and we invited them to join us by the heater. The son of the household, Stavros, came with his mother, and interpreted to her as we ate. I produced pictures I’d brought as icebreakers - family, pets, New England autumn leaves, a photo of our house. "Your man?" the mother asked, pointing to a picture of my husband. "that’s MY man" as her husband arrived, with compatriots, to sit and watch television and argue politics. We stayed for hours, joined by an Iranian who wanted us to know that not all Iranians liked the Shah, eating and buying  - and being treated to - rounds of metaxa.

The young English couple, Phil and Rosalind, were travelling with Eurailpasses but there’d been a train strike, so we invited them to join us the next morning on our drive to Epidaurus. The next day was raw and chill, but we visited ruins along the way, and by the time we began speaking softly - and audibly - to one another across the empty theatre at Epidaurus, the sun was again out. We were sorry not to see the theatre in operation, but glad to have it almost to ourselves. Phil, a graduate student who knew some botany, could identify the wildflowers at our feet as we walked around the ancient resort.

I picked a sprig of wild thyme and tucked it into my trenchcoat's pocket. Months later, finding it there returned me briefly to that dramatic scene.

 

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