After four decades, a return to the rural Greece of my childhood
Several summers when I was a child, my parents headed off to Greece without me. But this isn’t a tale of injustice — they were going to work, not play. My mom was an archaeologist, and worked at the museum in Ancient Corinth, where her duties included cataloging votive figures left for Demeter and plucking stray plants from cracks in the capitals of columns.
That may not sound like Indiana Jones stuff, but they had their share of adventures — for instance, they have a plausible claim to be veterans of the Greek military. In 1974, Greece was on the brink of war with Turkey, and the Greek government assumed the barbaric Turks would immediately bomb Greece’s archaeological sites. So the army directed my parents and other foreigners working on archaeological digs to catalog the nation’s cultural treasures, which would then be buried to protect them from the Turks.
The Turks never bombed anything, but it was a good idea to inventory everything dug up at Corinth over a century or so — that had been done haphazardly, to put it kindly. My parents got to work doing their duty for the Greek army. When the bottom drawer of one ancient dresser proved impossible to open, my dad resorted to a prybar, and discovered the drawer was filled with gold coins — a small fortune that had been dug up, put away and forgotten.
In 1976, when I was seven, my parents decided I was old enough to come with them, and brought my best friend Andrew along with me for company. After a sleepless night in Athens — so this is jet lag! — and a couple of days amid that city’s wonders and chaos, we got on a bus for Ancient Corinth, where we’d be spending the summer in a little pensione near the museum and the dig site.
Ancient Corinth was startling for a kid from suburban Long Island. It wasn’t much more than a village: a few streets around the plaka, surrounded by hardy, squat trees — olives and oranges and figs, with the open areas nibbled by sheep and goats. Below us, across the plain, was the deep blue of the Gulf of Corinth. In the center of town was the museum and the dig site. The ruins were mostly Roman — tumbled walls that delineated ancient streets and the stumps of houses, now far below street level. But the…