Alice Walker

[image of Alice Walker from Books Alive‘s flickr photo stream]

 

American poets, novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects and composers have found inspiration in Athens throughout most of our country’s life.  Whether the inspiration came from Athenian contributions to Greek mythology, the iconic plays of the three Greek tragedians, the teachings of Socrates, the writings of Plato, the speeches of Solon, the replicas of lost sculptures of Praxiteles, the grandeur of the Parthenon, or the clear skies and Mediterranean warmth, American Classicism and Neo-Classicism owe as much to Athens as to any other city.

Mark Twain, attempting to visit Athens in 1867, was forced to remain aboard his vessel in Piraeus Harbor.  He recounted his experiences there in Chapter XXXII of Innocents Abroad:

But bad news came. The commandant of the Piraeus came in his boat, and said we must either depart or else get outside the harbor and remain imprisoned in our ship, under rigid quarantine, for eleven days! So we took up the anchor and moved outside, to lie a dozen hours or so, taking in supplies, and then sail for Constantinople. It was the bitterest disappointment we had yet experienced. To lie a whole day in sight of the Acropolis, and yet be obliged to go away without visiting Athens! Disappointment was hardly a strong enough word to describe the circumstances.

The passengers conspired to get ashore, one way or another:

We inquired of every body who came near the ship, whether there were guards in the Piraeus, whether they were strict, what the chances were of capture should any of us slip ashore, and in case any of us made the venture and were caught, what would be probably done to us? The answers were discouraging: There was a strong guard or police force; the Piraeus was a small town, and any stranger seen in it would surely attract attention—capture would be certain. The commandant said the punishment would be “heavy;” when asked “how heavy?” he said it would be “very severe”—that was all we could get out of him.


Twain and three others snuck ashore:

At eleven o’clock at night, when most of the ship’s company were abed, four of us stole softly ashore in a small boat, a clouded moon favoring the enterprise, and started two and two, and far apart, over a low hill, intending to go clear around the Piraeus, out of the range of its police. Picking our way so stealthily over that rocky, nettle-grown eminence, made me feel a good deal as if I were on my way somewhere to steal something.

Twain described his mixture of awe and disappointment, once ashore.  The ruins didn’t immediately inspire awe.  Eventually his party neared the Acropolis, and they managed to gain entry:

The garrison had turned out—four Greeks. We clamored at the gate, and they admitted us. [Bribery and corruption.]

Some things seem to never change.  On Friday, the 2011 Gaza relief flotilla was thwarted near where Twain’s vessel was forced to anchor by police order, 144 years earlier.  On board, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Alice Walker, was already writing out some of her Athenian impressions by hand, as she didn’t have a laptop, sure that soon the Israelis would have stolen it from her.

Twain’s Athens had been a sleepy city, seemingly archaic in its tranquility. The Athens Walker alluded to  Friday in her new poem, is a different place altogether.  Alice posted it on facebook late Friday evening:

Sailing the Hot Streets of Athens, Greece
©2011 by Alice Walker

It has been so
hot!
Is it hot
where you are?
Penned up
in a destroyed
place?
In Gaza?

The whole world
distracted
by its weathers
& other
disasters
still is watching
us,
Gaza,
as we yearn
towards each other.

Trying to embrace
each other
to give each
other,
to ourselves
united,
a simple
hug.

The whole world
is watching
Gaza
& it is
wondering how
things
will
turn out.

They are making
it hard
for us to move
Gaza
& sometimes
we are
in despair
but I remind
us
that you
of all people
understand
obstruction.

They know this place
we are in
of not
being able to move.
They know it
intimately.
This place of stalemate
& stagnation, so unbearable
to any heart
that’s free
is where they
hourly
live.

They will forgive
us
if we do not
arrive
on time.

Furthermore,
having left our
own homes
we are
already
there.

I believe
with all my heart
in the magic
and the power
of intention.

The women & men
with cameras
come
to record
our dreams
& our frustrations.
most of them are
young
& we are glad
of this.

We want them
to see their
counterparts
& their elders
attempting to make
this voyage
to endure
this crossing.

We pray they
are of good heart
& balanced
mind.
Even
the spies
among them
we hope
will learn
something
they may never
have guessed
before:

That a boat
filled
with love letters
from children
is a threat
to those
with
apparently
little memory
of youth
or experience
of love.

I have given
my word that I would
sail
and so I do – if not
on our boat
that is not so far
allowed to go
to sea,
then through
the air sending
thoughts and feelings
I sail:
We all sail.
We sail the hot, sticky
streets
of Athens, Greece
longing to see
the faces
& deliver
love letters
to the people
of Gaza.

In her facebook post, Alice Walker, wrote beneath the poem itself:

Written on our beautiful boat whose canopy is a giant peaceful American flag, as we sail the waters off the coast of Greece and are intercepted by the Greek coast guard.

EdwardTeller

EdwardTeller

Alaska progressive activist, notorious composer and firedoglake devotee.

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